Archive for the ‘Glaciers’ Category

Pee On Ice

November 8, 2010

New research seems to finally be acknowledging the obvious: that water runoff from initial glacier melt is triggering much more dramatic, accelerated melting. Science Daily reports:

melt water in Greenland

“We are finding that once such water flow is initiated through a new section of ice sheet, it can warm rather significantly and quickly, sometimes in just 10 years, ” said lead author Thomas Phillips, a research scientist with Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. CIRES is a joint institute between CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Contrary to the right-wing-noise-machine’s protestations, the climate science has been, again, overly conservative:

Conventional thermal models of ice sheets do not factor in the presence of water within the ice sheet as a warming agent, but instead use models that primarily consider ice-sheet heating by warmer air on the ice sheet surface. In water’s absence, ice warms slowly in response to the increased surface temperatures from climate change, often requiring centuries to millennia to happen.

Ironically even the scientists must put some softening caveat into the news, saying:

“However, this process is not the ‘death knell’ for the ice sheet. Even under such conditions, it would still take thousands of years for the Greenland ice sheet to disappear…”

That may be so, but even if the ice doesn’t disappear, our coastal cities will be under 20 feet of sea water.

A bit more from this important article:

To quantify the influence of melt water, the scientists modeled what would happen to the ice sheet temperature if water flowed through it for eight weeks every summer — about the length of the active melt season. The result was a significantly faster-than-expected increase in ice sheet warming, which could take place on the order of years to decades depending on the spacing of crevasses and other “pipes” that bring warmer water into the ice sheet in summer.
“The key difference between our model and previous models is that we include heat exchange between water flowing through the ice sheet and the ice,” said Rajaram.
Several factors contributed to the warming and resulting acceleration of ice flow, including the fact that flowing water into the ice sheets can stay in liquid form even through the winter, slowing seasonal cooling. In addition, warmer ice sheets are more susceptible to increases of water flow, including the basal lubrication of ice that allows ice to flow more readily on bedrock.
A third factor is melt water cascading downward into the ice, which warms the surrounding ice. In this process the water can refreeze, creating additional cracks in the more vulnerable warm ice, according to the study.

So the next time you have an opportunity to pee on ice, don’t be surprised if it reminds you of our world’s polar ice melt catastrophe.

A Vicious Cycle

May 16, 2008

While climate change news largely directs our attention to the melting poles, the most immediate and devastating effects will be felt from the melting glaciers. From Bhutan to Peru, global warming is exacting a great toll now and will soon be getting much much worse. The article Melting Andean Glaciers Could Leave 30 Million High and Dry describes a sobering narrative with a killer ending:

Loss of glaciers in the Andes mountain range is threatening the water supply of 30 million people, and scientists say the lower altitude glaciers could disappear in 10 years.

What’s happening to those most closely tied to the glaciers?

His community can no longer can seed indigenous potatoes in fields located at lower levels, because sufficient water does not flow there any longer. “We must seed them to greater height. But every year that happens, also we have less earth in mountains, Felipe says. “In few years more, no longer we will have no place to seed these potatoes.”

Maybe they should move to the cities? But wait:

Large cities in the region depend on glacial runoffs for their water supply. Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, draws 50 percent of its water supply from the glacial basin, and Bolivia’s capital, La Paz, draws 30 percent of its water supply.

So you’re away from home and thirsty but at least you have cheap clean power, right? Don’t hold your breath.

Power supplies also will be affected as most countries in the Andes are dependent on hydroelectric power generation. Peru gets 81 percent of its electricity from hydropower, Colombia generates 73 percent from hydropower, Ecuador is 72 percent hydro-dependent, and Bolivia, 50 percent.

No water, no home, no power: there must be a way to adapt you say?

In any case, Peru will have to invest in additional power capacity, most likely based on burning fossil fuels, at a cost of about US$1 billion per gig watt installed, resulting in higher cost to end-users and another cycle of increased carbon emissions.

The World Bank and Global Environment Facility are supporting the development of adaptation plans prepared with the assistance of a multidisciplinary group that includes expertise in glaciology, remote sensing, agriculture, water and power supply, and rural development.

Adaptation as survival in pursuit of complete self destruction.