Melting Arctic Sea Ice and the Basic Complexities of Climate Change

Here’s an article that nicely lays out some of the basic complexities and impacts of climate change. Yeah, basic complexities, beyond the thermometers and such.  It focuses on the record melting of Arctic sea ice this summer.  It’s from Scientific American via Yahoo.

[T]he biggest impact may be the changes in the Arctic’s ability to function as a cooling system for the global ocean. Both the Pacific and Atlantic now have warmer waters from the top to the bottom, based on measurements from computerized floats. The Arctic has been functioning as a global air conditioner, losing roughly 350 watts of heat per square meter of open ocean to the atmosphere during the fall storm season as well as the early part of the winter. A warmer Arctic may not be able to shed those greater amounts of heat.

Important to note is the idea of so-called teleconnections, which are kind of a less esoteric, climatic version of the butterfly effect, that the article mentions. What happens in Vegas might stay in Vegas, but what happens to temperatures in the Eastern Pacific might not stay in the Eastern Pacific. For instance, a study published while I was in college explained how warmer-than-average water temperatures in the Pacific might have led to the drought that caused the the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.

The article also points out how climate change can affect temperature gradients in the atmosphere, altering the jet stream and allowing colder than average air to migrate farther south than normal. A cold day doesn’t negate global warming.  Instead, it might be evidence of it.

I still hold, though, that Hurricane Katrina wasn’t caused by climate change. Climate change didn’t build dams that held back sediment and thus prevented the Louisiana marshes from being regenerated, and climate change sure didn’t not maintain levees.

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