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Warming the Oceans

It's almost time to put a moratorium on WorldChanging stories pointing to yet more research showing that global warming is happening and is caused by human activity. Opposition to the idea at this point is entirely political, not scientific, and while the added data points are undoubtedly useful to researchers, such stories tend to run together. Our focus now should be on doing something about the problem. That said, the latest "it's happening" story, coming from this week's 2005 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is still worth noting -- because of its certainty, its depth and its provenance.

Scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, working with colleagues at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI), have found "clear" and "compelling evidence" of human-forced global warming in the oceans. The Times of London has the an extensive write-up:

"The debate about whether there is a global warming signal now is over, at least for rational people," said Tim Barnett, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. "The models got it right. If a politician stands up and says the uncertainty is too great to believe these models, that is no longer tenable."

In the study, Dr Barnett’s team examined more than seven million observations of temperature, salinity and other variables in the world’s oceans, collected by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and compared the patterns with those that are predicted by computer models of various potential causes of climate change.

It found that natural variation in the Earth’s climate, or changes in solar activity or volcanic eruptions, which have been suggested as alternative explanations for rising temperatures, could not explain the data collected in the real world. Models based on man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, however, matched the observations almost precisely.

Emphasis mine. It's worth noting that Lawrence Livermore National Lab is best known for its work on nuclear weapon design and testing, along with early ballistic missile defense research; I have visited the labs several times, and spoken at length with some of the physicists there -- it is most definitely not a hotbed of liberal/green activism. Most of the LLNL folks I've met are scientists with a profound interest in understanding the world, and an active disdain for politics.

The BBC, CNN and others provide more details; unlike other global warming stories, this one seems to be getting wide play. Nature's blogger at the AAAS conference adds this:

Barnett certainly pulled out all the stops, as illustrated by his most eye-opening factoid. If global warming really has heated up the oceans as much as he calculates, then the total amount of extra energy dumped into the drink by mankind would power the state of California for 200,000 years.

Hyperbole, maybe, but pretty vivid.


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Comments (7)

A pretty compelling argument for more marine energy research! Perhaps we can get some of it back out....

So, ok... this might be a dumb question, but how much carbon, per person, should we be emitting? And what is that in gallons of gasoline per year?

We had a post on here about outfits that for remarkably small amounts of money would plant bamboo to offset your carbon production... could we put this together into a simple web application, a little calculator?

John Brisbin:

Hey Vinay,

Down here in the land of Oz there's already an outfit doing the planting-offset thing: Called Greenfleet. Very sweet and simple little calculator, and the backend of the calculations takes you straight to the visa/mastercard friendly checkout.."Have some trees and would you like a side of shrubs with that?" http://www.greenfleet.com.au/

Now, I think this is totally fabulous, but possibly too easy. After all, it give me a very convenient redemption mechanism. I can choose to increase my base energy consumption ad infinitum...casue I can always pay to plant a few more trees!



Daniel - I remember articles in the old days (70's) about ocean energy, things that would generate power based on the temperature differential between deep water and surface ones.

Found this newer link.

Vinay - regarding bamboo planting, remember that what you need is true carbon sequestration. I've heard (somehere) that just planting forrests helps you or about 40 years (which might be enough?), but then you reach a steady-state as growth balances with natural decay. I don't know, do these bamboo guys plan on harvesting and burying the forrest in a landfill?

From a GW perspective, landfills are very good. those 40 year old newspapers that don't decay are exactly what we want. We should make sure as much waste carbonacious material as possible gets sealed in non-decomposing landfills.

In fact, if GW is a big deal, we might have to reconsider the old "composting good, landfill bad" thinking. It *may* reverse,

OK, I stopped being lazy and went and found study ;-).

"The length of time wood, as opposed to paper, remains in end uses may have only a minor effect on the net amount of carbon sequestered in products in the long run. If, when taken out of use, products are disposed in a modern landfill, the literature indicates that they will stay there indefinitely with almost no decay (Micales and Skog 1997)."


You know, I frequently abrade global warming "deniers" on the "do nothing" end of the debate. Maybe I need to take a little time to remind the other side to "do the right things."




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