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July 03, 2006

Climatology Prof from MIT and Ski Magazine's takes on Global Warming

A lot has been made in the ski magazines about Global Warming's impact on the ski industry. I have heard such bold predictions of the ski season all but shutting down over the lack of snowfall due to Global Warming. Quite the contrary, global warming will increase atmospheric temperatures and increase the amount of water vapor in the air, the US Global Change Information Office:

Higher temperatures lead to higher rates of evaporation and precipitation. As the Earth warms, we expect more precipitation and it is likely to fall over shorter intervals of time, thereby increasing the frequency of very heavy and extreme precipitation events. Analyses of observed changes in precipitation intensity have been conducted only for a few countries. Perhaps the best evidence of increases in extreme and very heavy precipitation events comes from data in North America as depicted for the United States in Figure 8.1. In Australia, which is historically prone to heavy precipitation, an increase in rainfall amount from major storms has also been observed. Analyses for South Africa also show increases in extreme precipitation rates.
Blizzards and snow storms may actually increase in intensity and frequency in some colder locations as atmospheric moisture increases. In more temperate latitudes, snowstorms are likely to decrease in frequency, but their intensity may actually increase, as the world warms. Observations show that snowfall has increased in the high latitudes of North America, but snow accumulations have melted faster because of more frequent and earlier thaws.

This appears far from dire for ski resorts. Most have snowmaking and the problem of higher temperatures may delay the beginning of the annual winter freeze when snowmaking begins by a mere few days. Winters will be slightly shorter, but far more intense. And spring may begin slightly earlier. The net of it is more snowfall during the winter because of more water vapor due to higher temperatures of the oceans, but winter starts later and ends earlier.

But the debate about Global Warming, including the causes and the ability of humans to either cause global warming or correct it, is far from over. In the Wall Street Journal yesterday a prominent MIT Professor discusses some of the myths and scare tactics about Global Warming and sums it up by saying:

So what, then, is one to make of this alleged debate? I would suggest at least three points. First, nonscientists generally do not want to bother with understanding the science. Claims of consensus relieve policy types, environmental advocates and politicians of any need to do so. Such claims also serve to intimidate the public and even scientists--especially those outside the area of climate dynamics. Secondly, given that the question of human attribution largely cannot be resolved, its use in promoting visions of disaster constitutes nothing so much as a bait-and-switch scam. That is an inauspicious beginning to what Mr. Gore claims is not a political issue but a "moral" crusade.

Lastly, there is a clear attempt to establish truth not by scientific methods but by perpetual repetition.

So what does this mean to me and you and the rest of the skiing world--that Global Warming is not going to end skiing as we know it. That resorts are not going to suddenly be without snow. That climate change is part of the Earth's history and despite our belief we can both cause and stop climate change, the Earth's termperatures have been changing for billions of years without human intervention. And what if we were at the beginning of an ice age. Would we find scientists to tell us that we were the cause of Global Cooling? Well, lots of folks have been studying the last several ice ages and Wiki offers some explanations for the causes of ice ages:

The complex pattern of changes in Earth's orbit and the change of albedo may influence the occurrence of glacial and interglacial phases — this was first explained by the theory of Milutin Milanković.

A glacier carried away the missing half of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley.The present ice ages are the most studied and best understood, particularly the last 400,000 years, since this is the period covered by ice cores that record atmospheric composition and proxies for temperature and ice volume. Within this period, the match of glacial/interglacial frequencies to the Milanković orbital forcing periods is so good that orbital forcing is the generally accepted explanation. The combined effects of the changing distance to the sun, the precession of the Earth's axis, and the changing tilt of the Earth's axis can change and significantly redistribute the sunlight received by the Earth. Of particular importance are changes in the tilt of the Earth's axis, which impact the intensity of seasons. For example, the amount of solar influx in July at 65 degrees north latitude is calculated to vary by as much as 25% (from 400 W/m2 to 500 W/m2, see graph at [3]). It is widely believed that ice sheets advance when summers become too mild to melt all of the accumulated snowfall from the previous winter. Some workers believe that the strength of the orbital forcing appears to be too small to trigger glaciations, but feedback mechanisms like CO2 may explain this mismatch.

While Milanković forcing predicts that cyclic changes in the Earth's orbital parameters can be expressed in the glaciation record, additional explanations are necessary to explain which cycles are observed to be most important in the timing of glacial/interglacial periods. In particular, during the last 800 thousand years, the dominant inter/glacial oscillation has been 100 thousand years, which corresponds to changes in Earth's eccentricity and orbital inclination, and yet is by far the weakest of the three frequencies predicted by Milanković. During the period 3.0 — 0.8 million years ago, the dominant pattern of glaciation corresponded to the 41 thousand year period of changes in Earth's obliquity (tilt of the axis). The reasons for preferring one frequency to another are poorly understood and an active area of current research, but the answer probably relates to some form of resonance in the Earth's climate system.

Point being that we don't A. Know the causes of Global Warming or Global Cooling B. Know the Effects on Snowfall or the Ski Industry or C. Know the duration of the warming or cooling events. It seems ridiculous to take the last 50 or 100 years data and do predictive models of warming or cooling based on the last 100 years when the cycles over the last 450,000 years indicate that the fluctuations we are now experiencing are probably far more closely related to the 100,000 year pattern of warming than the 100 year pattern.

We like to exagerate the importance of Humans on this planet. We like to think that we somehow are the cause and the solution to all of the problems. We like to think we can change the weather by a collection of actions over the last 150 years. Like somehow the human species in the last 150 years weilds the power to reverse trends such as the ice ages that happened on cycles for the last 450,000 years.

But Ski Magazine offers some tips on how you can improve the chances of a good ski season:

  • Car-pool or use mass transit on the way to work and the slopes.
  • Turn off lights when leaving your hotel room. Reuse bath towels and bed linens.
  • Encourage the use of washable tableware and silverware in cafeterias and lodges instead of paper or plastics.
  • Drive a fuel-efficient vehicle. A car that gets 10 more miles per gallon will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2,500 pounds in a year. (Both Ford and GM have pledged to produce SUVs by the year 2005 that are 25 percent more fuel efficient.)
  • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs, which cost more but last up to 10 times as long and require 75 percent less energy.
  • Buy energy-efficient appliances that can reduce energy use by 30 percent to 40 percent.
  • Be ready and willing to make the move from fossil fuels (oil and coal) to clean energy sources such as solar and windpower.

You have to be kidding me. Use washable tableware and silverwear? Well, if I only knew about that, we would have endless powder days and usher in some cooling for the entire Earth. Why not stop breathing since breathing takes Oxygen and converts it to Carbon Dioxide. How about stop cutting down forests to get paper to print magazines? Surely that will have more of an effect than using washable tablewear.

Posted by Justin at July 3, 2006 11:44 AM