Two Really Big Arguments that Climate Change is Happening!
Ever noticed how signs of climate change sometimes ambush you when you least expect it? These can be small things like the time when frog’s spawn appears in the garden pond, daffodils blossom or Humming-Bird Moths buzz outside the kitchen window. Or they can be great big things like the activities of ice-breakers and submarines. The stories below may not be news to you but they were to me and I think they are worth repeating.
A few years ago I was in Helsinki looking at environmental projects and, during a few spare hours, went on the standard tourist trip around the harbour. At one point we went past a fleet of ice-breakers sitting (do ships sit?) idle. A crew member on the boat explained that these ships keep the Baltic sea passages open during the winter but every year they seem to be needed less and less. Less ice and thinner ice has reduced the season when these powerful ice breakers are needed. Powerful arguments that the climate is indeed changing.
Today I visited a friend who also runs a B&B. The main reason was to look at the sun tubes that bring natural light into previously gloomy passageways but inevitably we started taking about the interesting guests we have. I suppose we were being a little competitive and on this occasion she won. A recent guest was Alun Anderson, a former Editor of New Scientist, who previously had editorial positions at Nature and Science.
Anderson’s book, ‘After the Ice. Life , Death and Politics in the New Arctic’, was published in 2009 and he had kindly given her a copy. “Take it and have a look” said Toni. So I did and here is one of the things I discovered.
Although it is the shrinking area of the Arctic ice that has grabbed all the attention, the volume of ice in the arctic is disappearing even faster. A 1600 mile, 11 day cruise in 2007 by the submarine HMS Tireless showed the average thickness of sea ice had fallen by 40% since the 1970’s!
The US Navy had also been using their nuclear missile carrying submarines to measure sea ice thickness since the 1970’s but this information was kept secret until the 1990’s when a team of scientists from Washington University were allowed to analyse the data. This data confirmed that sea ice thickness had fallen by more than 4 feet from an average of 10 feet. This seemed to be happening everywhere so was not an artefact where ice thickened in one area while thinning elsewhere. Clearly the cold war was not cold enough!
Ice thickness correlates well with ice age – the thicker the ice is the longer it has been around – and the news is bad here as well. “In spring 1985, areas of older ice – where at least half the ice was five or more years old – covered 2.2 million square miles, or more than 36 percent of the Arctic ice. In spring 2007, that area of older ice had fallen by more than half to just 1 million square miles, 17 percent of the 2007 total area. The percentage of multi-year ice five or more years old fell from 31 percent to 10 percent, while that seven or more years old fell from 21 percent to 5 percent. The Arctic ice was clearly growing ever younger, thinner, and more vulnerable.”
Anderson points out that scientists tend to be a bit blinkered when assessing the reasons for this ice loss. Atmospheric scientists point to a warmer atmosphere as the cause of ice loss while oceanographers see the cause in warmer Oceans, In reality there is almost certainly a complex interaction between the two.
Submarines carrying nuclear weapons hid under Arctic sea ice and sometimes travelled hundreds of miles with just a few fathoms clearance between the sea floor and surface ice. The sea-bed was often scoured by giant ice-bergs and the submarines would pass below huge ice-keels protruding like stalactites from the ice layer above. And this environment, unimagined by most of us, and explored only by a few vessels, provides yet more powerful evidence of alarming climate change.
You can take a look at a lot of this data for yourself without visiting Toni's B&B as it is all available at the National Sea & Ice Data Centre who, free from the constraints of the cold war, make their information freely available on the web.