Next century's most important place in the world--Greenland?

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:58 PM GMT on December 21, 2007

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If one had to pick the region of the world most likely to influence the course of human history this century, the Middle East would be the obvious choice, due to its political volatility and rich oil resources. However, the Middle East may have a significant challenger next century from a seemingly unlikely place--Greenland. Why Greenland? Well, the Greenland ice sheet holds enough water to raise global sea level 7 meters (23 feet). There are worrisome signs that the ice sheet might be more vulnerable than we thought to significant melting near the end of the century, according to research results presented at last week's annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco. The meeting is the world's largest annual gathering of climate change scientists.

For climate change scientists, Greenland is clearly the most important place in the world. You could tell this by the way glaciers with unpronounceable names like "Kangerdlugssuaq" rolled off their tongues in a smooth, practiced manner at talks given at the AGU meeting. At least 120 presentations focused on the Arctic or Greenland, and fully 52 of these concerned Greenland. I attended roughly 20 of these talks, and most of the presenters made it clear that they were quite concerned about the future of Arctic sea ice and the Greenland ice sheet, particularly in light of the astounding Arctic sea ice melt that occurred in 2007. A number of these talks raised the possibility that we've reached a tipping point in the Arctic. A complete loss of summertime sea ice may occur between 2013 and 2040, three of the presenters said, with the resulting warming dooming the Greenland ice sheet to a slow but inevitable melting process over a period of centuries. None of the presenters expressed the view that the current melting of the Greenland ice sheet and Arctic sea ice was due to a natural cycle that would completely halt or reverse in the next few years or decades.

At a talk on "The Recent Arctic Warm Period", Dr. Jim Overland, an Arctic expert with NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, didn't offer his view on whether a tipping point had been reached. Instead, he asked the audience to vote. The options he presented:

* A The melt back of Arctic sea ice observed in 2007 is permanent and will not lessen.
* B Ice coverage will partially recover but continue to decrease.
* C The ice would recover to 1980s levels but then continue to decline over the coming century.

Both Options A and B had audience support, but only one brave soul voted for the most conservative option C.


Figure 1. A research submarine breaks through the Arctic ice. Image credit: Bernard Coakley.

The latest news from Greenland
I was amazed see the tremendous breadth and intensity of research efforts focused on Greenland and the Arctic, presented at AGU. Extra funding has been given to research efforts as part of the International Polar Year (IPY) program, scheduled to run March 2007 through 2009. Satellites like Icesat and GRACE measure the extent of Greenland's ice from above, aided by a fleet of small and large research aircraft. Scientists now have unmanned aircraft that can use runways or be launched by slingshot that can measure the extent of Greenland's melt water lakes. The air armada will be joined next year by the Total Pole Airship, the first blimp used for Arctic studies. Manned and unmanned submarines measure the thickness of the sea ice surrounding the island, and both permanent and temporary bases dotted across Greenland and the polar sea ice house scientists doing land-based studies. Ships and buoys also add data from the ocean areas.

A short list of the results presented at AGU all point to an ice sheet in peril:

- Melting of snow above 2000 meters elevation on Greenland reached a new record in 2007 (Tedesco, 2007).

- Leigh Stearns of the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute showed that the contribution of Greenland melting to global sea level rise has doubled in the last five years. According to the 2007 IPCC report (see Figure 4.18), Greenland may account for as much as 10% of the total global annual sea rise of about 3-4 mm/year (approximately 1.5 inches per decade).

- Sea Surface Temperatures (SSTs) have warmed over 5° C (9° F) over the waters west of Greenland since 1990 (Figure 1, to the right). This has caused the ice-free season to increase by over 60 days per year along the coast.

- The Greenland ice sheet has experienced conditions as warm as those today in the past. Lowell et al. (2007) found organic remains in eastern Greenland that had just been exposed by melting ice, and dated these remains at between A.D. 800 to 1014. Thus, this portion of Greenland was ice-free about 1000 years ago, and temperatures were presumably similar to today's. Erik the Red took advantage of this warm period to establish the first Norse settlements in Greenland around 950 A.D. However, the climate cooled after 1200 A.D., and the Norse settlements disappeared by 1550.

For more information, see our new Greenland feature on our expanding climate change page.

Jeff Masters

References
Lowell, T.V., et al., 2007, Organic Remains from the Istorvet Ice Cap, Liverpool Land, East Greenland: A Record of Late Holocene Climate Change,, Eos Trans. AGU, 88(52), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract C13A-04.

Stearns, L.A., and G.S. Hamilton, 2007, New States of Behavior: Current Status of Outlet Glaciers in Southeast Greenland and the Potential for Similar Changes Elsewhere, Eos Trans. AGU, 88(52), Fall Meet. Suppl., Abstract C13A-06.

Tedesco, M., "A New Record in 2007 for Melting in Greenland," EOS, 88:39, 2007, 383.

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194. surfmom
10:31 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
keeperofthegate - good comment but OUCH!!
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193. surfmom
10:17 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
Many people think it's the humans that run the show, But - and this is why I LOVE weather - the reality is we really don't control anything - it's the weather, it's the earth pulse that truly in the scheme of things runs the show. We've been cuddled for a bit of time here, but watch what happens when states run out of water - they begin to fight, people suffer crop failure and famine, they move or begin to fight, have a big old volcano go off - and poof climate change. What we must be aware of is what our actions do to increase or "fuel" a problem i.e. irresponsible pollution and population growth. The earth has FINITE resources - adaption means recognizing this and then acting accordingly. Ultimately we are in the hands of our planet, and effected by the moods and whims of mother nature - I am humbled by the picture that is much larger then humans
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192. KEEPEROFTHEGATE (Mod)
9:50 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
gw well now this is something the minds will ponder for years to come but in all reality it is nothing more than a uncontrolled experiment create by a uncontrolled experimentor with uncontrolled outcomes
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191. Weather456
6:22 PM AST on December 21, 2007
What is wrong with conserving resources?

Try as we might, our population continues to skyrocket. At some point in the future, we will be faced with a population that has outgrown the planet and then what will we do?

People have to eat and , unless I have missed something, we tend to consume carbon based 'stuff' and exhale CO2 in substantial quantities.


Cant argue with that. In about 5 years, the 7th billionth baby will be born.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
190. Weather456
6:16 PM AST on December 21, 2007
West Coast Storm



Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
189. BahaHurican
5:09 PM EST on December 21, 2007
lin,

I agree with you that we should be taking the best possible care of our world, regardless of whether the GW is manmade or not.

I think it does matter whether it is natural or not for at least two reasons. First, scientifically speaking, we want to establish the clearest possible causal relationships so that our maintainance of the record can be as accurate as possible. Secondly, I firmly believe knowing the cause of the warming can influence the choices we make in response to it. Manmade warming is something we may be able to reverse; after all, we like to think we can "undo" what we've done. OTOH, natural GW is something we can only adapt to. Approaches change depending on the perceived source of the problem.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22138
188. surfmom
10:03 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
There are always consequences for our actions. Irresponsibility and disrespect for earth will have consequences. Yes we must adapt - man has been faced with adapting or extinction - we've managed to adapt. But in tune with this, the earth as an entity wants to survive -- and she will slap up right upside the head - if need be. Population die-offs are not only for the critters - it can be US as well. We need to have creative solutions that respect our planet and work in cinq with her rhythms and patterns.
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187. Weather456
5:51 PM AST on December 21, 2007
Model analyses indicated that this storm has a shallow vertically stacked circulation. It only extends up to about 500 mb.

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
186. lindenii
9:54 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
Scientists doubt climate change

December 21, 2007

By S.A. Miller - More than 400 scientists challenge claims by former Vice President Al Gore and the United Nations about the threat of man-made global warming, a new Senate minority report says.

The scientists — many of whom are current or former members of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that shares the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Mr. Gore for publicizing a climate crisis — cast doubt on the "scientific consensus" that man-made global warming imperils the planet.

"I find the Doomsday picture Al Gore is painting — a six-meter sea level rise, 15 times the IPCC number — entirely without merit," said Dutch atmospheric scientist Hendrik Tennekes, one of the researchers quoted in the report by Republican staff of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

"I protest vigorously the idea that the climate reacts like a home heating system to a changed setting of the thermostat: just turn the dial, and the desired temperature will soon be reached," Mr. Tennekes said in the report.

Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, ranking Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said the report debunks Mr. Gore's claim that the "debate is over."

"The endless claims of a 'consensus' about man-made global warming grow less-and-less credible every day," he said.

After a quick review of the report, Gore spokeswoman Kalee Kreider said 25 or 30 of the scientists may have received funding from Exxon Mobil Corp.

Exxon Mobil spokesman Gantt H. Walton dismissed the accusation, saying the company is concerned about climate-change issues and does not pay scientists to bash global-warming theories.

"Recycling of that kind of discredited conspiracy theory is nothing more than a distraction from the real challenge facing society and the energy industry," he said. "And that challenge is how are we going to provide the energy needed to support economic and social development while reducing greenhouse-gas emissions."

The Republican report comes on the heels of Saturday's United Nations climate conference in Bali, Indonesia, where conferees adopted a plan to negotiate a new pact to create verifiable measurements to fight global warming in two years.

In the Senate report, environmental scientist David W. Schnare of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said he was skeptical because "conclusions about the cause of the apparent warming stand on the shoulders of incredibly uncertain data and models. ... As a policy matter, one has to be less willing to take extreme actions when data are highly uncertain."

The hundreds of others in the report — climatologists, oceanographers, geologists, glaciologists, physicists and paleoclimatologists — voice varying degrees of criticism of the popular global-warming theory. Their testimony challenges the idea that the climate-change debate is "settled" and runs counter to the claim that the number of skeptical scientists is dwindling.

The report's authors expect some of the scientists will recant their remarks under intense pressure from the public and from within professional circles to conform to the global-warming theory, a committee staffer said.

Several scientists in the report said many colleagues share their skepticism about man-made climate change but don't speak out publicly for fear of retribution, according to the report.

"Many of my colleagues with whom I spoke share these views and report on their inability to publish their skepticism in the scientific or public media," atmospheric scientist Nathan Paldor, professor of Dynamical Meteorology and Physical Oceanography at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said in the report.

The IPCC has about 2,500 members.

HEATED DEBATE

The following are comments from some of the more than 400 scientists in a Republican report on global warming:

•"Even if the concentration of 'greenhouse gases' double, man would not perceive the temperature impact."

Oleg Sorochtin of the Institute of Oceanology at the Russian Academy of Sciences

•"I find the Doomsday picture Al Gore is painting — a six-meter sea level rise, 15 times the [U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] number — entirely without merit. ... I protest vigorously the idea that the climate reacts like a home heating system to a changed setting of the thermostat: just turn the dial, and the desired temperature will soon be reached."

Atmospheric scientist Hendrik Tennekes, former research director at the Netherlands' Royal National Meteorological Institute

•"The hypothesis that solar variability and not human activity is warming the oceans goes a long way to explain the puzzling idea that the Earth's surface may be warming while the atmosphere is not. The [greenhouse-gas] hypothesis does not do this. ... The public is not well served by this constant drumbeat of false alarms fed by computer models manipulated by advocates."

David Wojick, expert reviewer for U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

•"The media is promoting an unprecedented hyping related to global warming. The media and many scientists are ignoring very important facts that point to a natural variation in the climate system as the cause of the recent global warming."

Chief Meteorologist Eugenio Hackbart of the MetSul Meteorologia Weather Center in Sao Leopoldo-Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil

•"There's no need to be worried. It's very interesting to study [climate change], but there's no need to be worried."

Anton Uriarte, a professor of physical geography at the University of the Basque Country in Spain
185. lindenii
9:47 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
183. BahaHurican 9:33 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
My earlier response to this was that the concern is not whether the earth has gone through cycles like this before, but rather whether human activities have contributed to an ABNORMALLY speedy movement into this phase of the cycle. If the mentioned warm period came into being in about the same time as the current warm period, then perhaps we could feel more certain that what is happening is a natural process and thus work towards, as seflgamma suggested this morning, adaptation.


Does it really matter, one way or the other?

What is wrong with conserving resources?

Try as we might, our population continues to skyrocket. At some point in the future, we will be faced with a population that has outgrown the planet and then what will we do?

People have to eat and , unless I have missed something, we tend to consume carbon based 'stuff' and exhale CO2 in substantial quantities.

Worrying about what is causing climate change is non-productive. As was mentioned we must focus on 'adaptation', what other choice do we have. If the water rises, fine...I will have some really good beach front property.
184. surfmom
9:29 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
Totally terrific surf this AM in the GOMEX, Water temp 68 degrees, bright strong sun and blues skies. We had a westerly flow this AM that lasted till about 11;30 when the wind made this dramatic switch to the north. Pretty cool, for two hours the flags are blowing one way and then poof they switched and a half hour later the waves were disorganized. Lots of mullet in the water. Interesting to note, we are in a severe drought - BUT NO RED TIDE THIS YEAR!!!! aLSO interesting, the east coast has had lots of rain and they are experiencing a serious Red tide outbreak...makes one wonder. Love those westerly winds - it was SOOOO good, not to have work, and get waves!!!!
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183. BahaHurican
4:17 PM EST on December 21, 2007
172. vortfix 3:34 PM EST on December 21, 2007
Here's where I started out this morning....and I leave you to figure it out for yourselves:


My earlier response to this was that the concern is not whether the earth has gone through cycles like this before, but rather whether human activities have contributed to an ABNORMALLY speedy movement into this phase of the cycle. If the mentioned warm period came into being in about the same time as the current warm period, then perhaps we could feel more certain that what is happening is a natural process and thus work towards, as seflgamma suggested this morning, adaptation.
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22138
182. BahaHurican
4:14 PM EST on December 21, 2007
116. NEwxguy 1:31 PM EST on December 21, 2007
LOL,well Bone,that joke didn't go over to well did it??ROFL



Hey, I got it! LOL
Member Since: October 25, 2005 Posts: 19 Comments: 22138
180. groundswell
9:10 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
HIGH PRESSURE WILL BECOME ESTABLISHED ALONG THE
EASTERN SEABOARD ON SATURDAY AND SHIFT OFFSHORE SUNDAY. A
NORTHEAST SWELL IS ANTICIPATED THIS WEEKEND AND EXPECT HAZARDOUS
BOATING CONDITIONS TO DEVELOP.

from NOAA....so Sunday expect a 4 foot groundswell with light southerly winds. And sun. Good enough for me.
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179. Patrap
3:05 PM CST on December 21, 2007
Itsa Blowing offshore from the System
NEXRAD Radar
Wilmington Base Reflectivity 0.50 Degree Elevation Range 124 NMI Link

Winds noted to 40knts
NEXRAD Radar
Wilmington Velocity Azimuth Display Wind Profile Range 124 NMI Link

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178. IdiotExtraordinaire
9:03 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
Keep trying Pat.......
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177. Patrap
3:03 PM CST on December 21, 2007
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176. Patrap
2:57 PM CST on December 21, 2007
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175. IdiotExtraordinaire
8:42 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
I certainly support this eco push as I feel we are entirely too irresponsible with our enviornment.

It just makes me laugh to hear that people think that we can have such a profound impact on global warming. I guess our arrogance has not shifted far from when we believed the earth was the center of the universe.

Mankind is not as powerful as we like to believe we are. The earths nature patterns will shift with or without mankind on this planet (as it has done many times before).
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174. NEwxguy
8:46 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
I think Bermuda better look out for that storm.
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173. groundswell
8:36 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
weather.gov
National Weather Service

Marine Interpretation Message

A QUIKSCAT PASS FROM
THIS MORNING REVEALED 20-30 KT WINDS NEAR THE LOW AND JUST N OF
31N W OF 77W WHERE GALE FORCE WINDS ARE OCCURRING. IN ADDITION
BOTH SHIP AND BUOY DATA HAVE REPORTED AND ARE CURRENTLY REPORTING
CYCLONIC WINDS OF 20-25 KT N OF 27N AND W OF 74W.

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171. Patrap
2:31 PM CST on December 21, 2007
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168. Weather456
4:14 PM AST on December 21, 2007
some more shots of Folly Beach ocean view Charlestown, SC

Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
165. listenerVT
8:07 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
Would be interesting to see natural deforestation events against human activity.


I just pictured little critters carrying protests signs
marching through our cities.
=^. .^=
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164. listenerVT
8:05 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
104. Patrap 6:03 PM GMT on December 21, 2007

GORGEOUS photo, Patrap!
Happy Solstice to you too! :~)
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158. Weather456
7:55 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
C02 is a greenhouse gas. The earth warms. Warmer air hold more moisture or water vapor. More water vapor. Water Vapor is a greenhouse gas. The earth warms. A positive feedback loop. Where the results of one process enchances another porcess and the results of that process enchances the very first process.
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
156. Patrap
1:51 PM CST on December 21, 2007
Fog,Pollution..and more. Submarines too.

Link
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155. Weather456
7:50 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
There are some possible natural and man made factors influencing Global CO2 levels.

Immense Volcanic Actvity
Cosmic Impacts
The Industrial Revolution
Mass Destruction of Forest (Can be natural or man-made).

Which one contributed the most to present C02 levels?
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076
154. NEwxguy
7:53 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
"The earth has a fever."
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150. Weather456
7:35 PM GMT on December 21, 2007
Many questions....

The increase in CO2 in the atmosphere is beucz of the burning of fossil fuels. Over thousands of years, maybe millions of years..trees took CO2 out of the atmosphere and stored it as carbon (biology class) while releasin the oxygen. Now humans are extracting thousands of years (maybe millions of years) worth of Carbon through burning in just a century.

Will alternative fuels be use when all this fossil fuel is done? But by then, we may have put so much CO2 in the atmosphere that it cannot be reverse in the near term. True?

Is reafforestaion working? Are we putting more C02 in the atmosphere than the trees can take out? Why not build a machine or network of equipment for seperating O2 from C02. Is it possible, expensive or too much work?
Member Since: July 24, 2005 Posts: 407 Comments: 19076

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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