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Climate Acceleration and Critical Mass

Wayne LaMontagne
August 1st, 2009

In January, 2007, this author wrote an article “Accelerating Climate Change” on 321 Energy.Com. The article predicted that climate change would accelerate in contrast to the status quo position of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that global warming was following a slower linear progression. Today, most climatologists somberly concur that climate change is precariously accelerating. The salient point of this article is that climate change continues to accelerate and has exceeded critical mass. Critical mass is the scenario by which global temperatures precipitate tipping points that facilitate the cascading of geophysical dominoes. Geopolitical thinking and world economies are predicated on the wishful thinking that climate change is following a languid progression with ample time for remediation; however, geophysical facts are portraying a more dismaying scenario.

The spinning earth varies in its orbit around the sun, which causes differences in the amount of incoming radiation. The eccentricity cycle changes how far the earth is from the sun. The axial tilt cycle changes the slanting degrees that the hemispheres are facing the sun and creates our seasons. The earth circles different solar regions with varying radiation intensities, so the earth’s orbital plane affects insolation. The movement of our solar system and the earth’s spatial alignment with the moon and planets alters climate. The interplay of numerous astronomical influences impacts long term climate. The earth’s nuclear interior produces geothermal energy that is continuously conducted to the surfaces. Oceanic hydrothermal vents and the movement of tectonic plates also release heat. Consequentially, geothermal heat gain is of paramount significance and has not been given adequate credence in climate models. Many climate deniers have zealously jumped on the solar cycle bandwagon as the major reason for climate variations and view anthropogenic warming as fraudulent. Their specious rendition that geothermal energy is also part of non-anthropogenic warming will be another broken bandwagon to jump on. Geothermal heat is actually exacerbating global warming because the heat is becoming increasingly trapped as anthropogenic activities increase atmospheric gases. We are literally being oven like heated from above and below by two different nuclear infernos; anthropogenic activities are continuing to turn the oven dial to higher temperatures.

Contrary to popular thinking, carbon dioxide is not the primary greenhouse gas; water vapor accounts for nearly 98% of all greenhouse gases and has high radiative forcing. Water vapor is the dominant feedback mechanism for climate and is extremely sensitive to changes in carbon dioxide. Atmospheric carbon dioxide amplifies higher temperatures by trapping solar and geothermal heat. The increased heat causes more oceanic evaporation that creates more greenhouse water vapor. The increase in humidity enhances the feedback cycle to beget more water vapor. Although water vapor acts as a greenhouse gas, it also reflects solar radiation when condensing into clouds. The reflective clouds effectively trap geothermal heat as it permeates up from our nuclear interior. Geothermal heat is of paramount significance as humidity increases. The rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide usually occurs after solar and geothermal forcing increases oceanic evaporation and temperatures; however anthropogenically generated carbon dioxide is amplifying temperatures.

As water vapor increases, the concomitant rise in temperatures allows tipping points to become evident. The melting of the permafrost in the northern latitudes is one geophysical domino. The vast permafrost contains humongous quantities of trapped greenhouse gases from eons ago and soil ice. As the frozen soil warms, the sequestered ancient gases are released. The soil ice melts and evaporates into water vapor. The warming permafrost also increases microbial activity that converts enormous quantities of watery organic materials into gases. The ongoing permafrost melting is releasing more gases and enormous amounts of feedback water vapor. The melting of Arctic ice and Greenland glaciers is another domino. The area of Arctic ice loss is widely publicized; however, what is important is not area but volume of ice loss. Volume is a dimension function of area and depth. The yearly trend in Arctic ice volume loss has been patently downward. The loss of snow, glaciers, and oceanic ice reduces the albedo effect and promotes higher heat absorption by the darker ocean and land. Many outlying areas of Antarctica are also undergoing a similar fate. The recent permafrost and Arctic ice melting trend is symptomatic of climate acceleration and a prelude to higher temperatures. Global fires including agricultural burning have increased in intensity and frequency. Higher temperatures can topple the fire domino by creating vast conflagrations. The global bonfires will generate more gases, more heat, and kick the water vapor feedback cycle into high gear. All of the toppling dominoes contribute to promoting the potent humidity feedback cycle that increases oceanic evaporation and temperatures. The higher temperatures melt ice and cause the thermal expansion of ocean water; thus, ocean levels can historically rise and begin to inundate coastal areas. The amount of permafrost and polar ice is minor compared to the amount that has already melted since the last glacial maximum 20,000 years ago. At earlier times during the interglacial period, the climate was cooled by humongous amounts of cold melt water into the oceans. Today, the melting ice volume is much smaller. The probability of major alterations in ocean circulations and colder climates is greatly reduced. However, the recent rapid melting of polar ice has had a temporary cooling effect with a concomitant loss of long term air conditioning. It is similar to leaving a refrigerator open in a room; it temporarily cools the room but eventually the air conditioning is lost and the room gets hotter. The global ice in permafrost, oceans, and land glaciers has intermittently but progressively been converted into liquid water and vapor since the last glacial maximum. Anthropogenic gases are causing the accelerated melting of the remaining interglacial ice. It is ludicrous for Arctic nations to lay claim to fossil fuel reserves underneath the melting ice. The additional burning of mined Arctic fossil fuels will accelerate melting and exacerbate global warming.

The continuous escalation in world population is the impetus for why the geophysical dominoes have begun to fall. The mushrooming use of fossil fuels and biomass burning has generated excessive greenhouse gases that are creating an unsustainable earth. It is ironic that ancient sunshine was the energy for generating fossil fuels during historically warm periods; the same ancient solar energy is again promoting a warming climate by being converted into greenhouse gases. Biomass burning for agricultural cultivation generates significant greenhouse gases and reduces carbon sequestration. In addition, the burning transforms organic carbon into carbon dioxide while consuming oxygen. The oxygen content of the atmosphere has been declining, and there is speculation that less oxygen is allowing more radiation to penetrate the atmosphere. The exploding population will need more food which puts more pressure on biomass burning. It is easy to comprehend that we are on a collision course to disaster. Ironically, world governments are foolishly centered on increasing industrialization and a consuming populace. The resuscitation of our planet requires smaller families and living simpler lifestyles. Many politicians are sticking their fingers into a leaking dam as the climate crisis worsens, and when the dam crumbles, the same politicians will be finger pointing at each other.

An analysis of NASA data of land and ocean surface temperatures reveals an interesting relationship. The present temperature difference between them shows that land surface temperatures are rising faster than ocean surface temperatures. Ocean surface temperatures have averaged about 16.1 degrees Celsius and land surface temperatures about 8.5 degrees during the past century. The difference between them has been 7.6 degrees. The earth is covered by 70.1% water and 29.9% land. The ocean is a massive heat sink and temperature moderator for the earth. Its huge volume greatly exceeds the heat absorption and retention of the land masses. If we allow for a 5 meter depth for land and multiply by its surface area then land volume is minuscule compared to ocean volume. Imagine the earth surface reconfigured as a flat surface inside a rectangular box. The ocean water would cover all physical features of the earth and still be quite deep. We live on a water planet and the crucial reason why water vapor is such an effective feedback mechanism. Global temperatures are predominately influenced by the massive oceans. Thus, the oceans should be moderating the same global equilibrium temperature for both ocean and land masses; yet, the 7.6 degree ocean-land differential still exists between them. This is analogous to adding a handful of cold dirt to a large swimming pool of warm water. The swimming pool’s temperature should barely be changed by the handful of dirt. Comprehending this enigma involves understanding that heat gain equals heat loss within an equilibrium system.

Atmospheric heat is only a small portion of the earth’s heat content. The latent heat of the oceans and ice masses are part of the earth’s total heat; in addition, the sub-surfaces of the land and oceans contain humongous geothermal heat reservoirs. These potential heat sources are of paramount significance as the atmosphere becomes laden with heat trapping anthropogenic gases. The 7.6 degree differential is based on the land and oceans possessing different heat capacities with the rate of land heat loss relatively greater than the rate of oceanic loss. The differential cogently shows net heat losses of all potential heat sources. The century average of 7.6 degrees for the land-ocean differential indicates that it is a relative equilibrium differential. Deviations from 7.6 degree differential would indicate that something is dynamically changing the planet’s temperature and climate.

The land-ocean temperature differential relatively represents the earth’s degree heat loss to space. A declining differential indicates a greater retention of solar and geothermal heat by atmospheric gases; thus, it signifies decreasing heat loss and higher global temperatures. Recently, the differential has steadily declined from the century average of 7.6 to approximately 7.15 degrees. The decreasing differential is pertinently indicating that we are undergoing an acceleration of global temperatures. The earth’s temperature equilibrium is a seesaw balance between all heat sources and atmospheric heat loss. Recently, the global temperature has averaged about 14.55 degrees Celsius. The land-ocean temperature differential is a relative average within an equilibrium system of heat gains equal to heat losses; thus, doubling the 7.15 differential yields a relative equilibrium point or critical mass temperature of 14.30 (2 x 7.15). The recent critical mass temperature for the earth is 14.30 degrees Celsius. The recent global average of 14.55 degrees is 0.25 degrees higher than the critical mass temperature of 14.30; therefore, critical mass has been surpassed and we are undergoing temperature acceleration. The planet has begun an escalation of higher temperatures. Unfortunately, as more atmospheric heat is retained, the land-ocean differential will get smaller and yield even lower critical mass temperatures; therefore, even if the earth were to cool for an extended period of time, we still would have detrimentally high temperatures.

The breaching of critical mass temperatures portrays an ominous future with the cascading of geophysical dominoes. Temperatures above critical mass indicate that most of the vast permafrost and Arctic areas will melt within a delayed time period. These are dominoes that will tip over other dominoes such as greater Antarctica melting and higher humidity levels. Rising humidity levels portend higher temperatures with an enhancement of the water vapor feedback cycle and greater oceanic evaporation. The effects of greenhouse gases take time to pervade throughout the climate system and alter the geophysical balance; consequently, a delayed time period of years can exist. The salient point is that we have surpassed critical mass and are living on borrowed time during this delayed time period. Unfortunately, human activities continue to exacerbate the creation of greenhouse gases. This scenario is synonymous with an oncologist diagnosing a smoker with lung cancer; sadly, the addicted patient decides to smoke even more cigarettes. While the breaching of critical mass temperatures paints a bleak portrait of the future, governments myopically implement polices that are gravely inadequate for our planetary crisis.

After the article “Accelerating Climate Change” in 2007, this author made a prediction that, by the fall of 2011, the cascading of geophysical dominoes would become conspicuous to the Ostriches (climate deniers, the uninformed, and those who are not proactive). The rude awakening of the Ostriches has startling sociological implications. Imagine what will happen to the global banking system when many tensely ponder that they do not have to pay off their mortgages and debts because of an uncertain future. Contemplate the toils of the younger generations and the welfare of pets and animals. Consider the civil unrest of the populace as it goes into survival mode. The top echelons of the U.S. military regard climate change as the greatest global security threat. Mass migrations from Mexico and Latin America into the U.S are predicted as well as migrations from Africa into Europe. Agricultural failures, floods, drought, and water scarcity are only the “tips of real melting icebergs.” The Ostriches are staring and squawking at the dead canary on the coal mine floor while the wise are scampering out to higher ground. The present mentality of status quo life is unwisely tangential to the exigencies of the impeding climate changes.

The crux of exceeding critical mass temperatures is that climate dominoes will cascade because man’s rapacious use of fossil fuels and biomass burning have enhanced higher temperatures. Climate change is not going to follow a linear progression, but it will parabolically accelerate as more dominoes topple over other dominoes. Humanity has done too little too late. World leaders contemplating limiting global temperatures to a few degrees is Ostrich thinking, because we have already exceeded critical mass and the dominoes have already begun to fall. Those who have had a perspicacious view of the future will likely remain proactive as solutions are sought to moderate climate changes; however, we will pay a grim price for creating an unsustainable earth. The most efficacious remediation is a rapid transition from fossil fuels to alternatives such as nuclear, geothermal, solar, and wind energies. Alternative Energy is a misnomer; it should be called Necessary Energy. Mass transportation needs to be the common mode of transportation as well as walking and bicycling when feasible. A copious influx of both private and government investment into the clean tech energy sector would benefit already proven technologies to exigently transition civilization to not sustainability but survivability. Governments should predicate policies on smaller families, lower consumption, and smaller carbon footprints. These actions require enormous political will and voter pressure. Unfortunately, the fossil fuel industry funds lobbyists that work against effective climate legislation as well as sponsoring media propaganda that attempts to discredit climate science. As climate ramifications worsen, global warming will belatedly force humanity to change as it becomes the sword over our heads. The overhanging sword will eventually trump oil and economic concerns as civilization strives to survive the arising planetary crisis.

In summary, the burgeoning global population has created excessive gases that have already put us above critical mass temperatures. The declining land-ocean differential is saliently indicating that higher temperatures are forthcoming. The critical mass prognosis is that falling geophysical dominoes will accelerated the conversion of permafrost and polar ice into water and potently enhance the water vapor feedback cycle. By the end of 2011, the tumultuous sound of toppling dominoes and higher temperatures will startle the sweating Ostriches with social disorder just around the corner. The exploding global population, geopolitics, and fossil fuel use have compelled humanity towards survivability not sustainability. We have simply changed too little too late. Most of those who are yelling that the ship is sinking are proactively seeking solutions to mitigate global warming; however, the number of lifeboats cannot support everyone. The most proactive stance is to live simply, use and invest in clean technologies, and diligently influence the political bodies to have the will to enact efficacious climate legislation. Homo sapiens can be diligent and resilient when facing adversity. The eventual collapse of our maladjusted civilization will provide ample survival challenges. Some wise humans may survive and be evolutionarily altered into a different species that lives in harmony with the earth. A new name for the future species Homo geosapiens (man earth wise) seems apropos.

Wayne LaMontagne: M.S. in Biology and Chemistry; worked at the Dept. of Energy; educator for 26 years.
August 1st, 2009

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