Good Energy

The guys at Good Energy have been really supportive and excited about the expedition, so much so that they have made a contribution which allows me to keep the blog regularly updated during the expedition, so they and everyone else can follow the journey. Good Energy supplies 100% renewable electricity sourced from wind, water, sun and sustainable biomass. CO2 from coal-fired electricity generation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Switch your electricity supply to Good Energy using this link and not only will you be supporting the pioneering community of independent green generators, but for every sign up they get they’ll make another donation to help get the bus around the world. It helps you cut your personal CO2 emissions, helps them grow a great business, and helps me get round the world.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

The Canary

This week I met with one of the world's most respected and influential leading scientific experts on Arctic Sea Ice, and I suggested a study which may reveal that the mechanisms causing the shrinking ice extent are not directly linked to rising global temperatures.

It appears that the thickness of new ice, formed since the last summer (First year Ice), may have grown as thick this winter as it ever grows in it's first year. The analysis on this is still being done, but my preliminary look at comparable data seems to suggest it may even be thicker than usual. This would suggest that the factors causing sea ice retreat may be seasonal, and only acting in the summer. In simple terms, the ice grows as much as it always has done in the winter, but in the summer something is causing it to disappear faster. This in turn implies that the ice retreat is not caused (directly) by global rising temperatures, because that's a mechanism which you would expect to find happening all year round, not just in the summer.

The most likely causes of a more rapid summer melt are hydrographic rather than atmospheric. That means currents, which are either bringing warm water into the Arctic Ocean to melt the ice or, currents which are sweeping the older thicker ice southwards where it melts (or most likely a combination of both).

So where have these currents appeared from? Some think they are cyclical currents which appear every 60-80 years. Others suggest they are currents caused by global warming.

If all this turns out to be true, and the scientists concur with the interpretation of the results (hugely unlikely) this will be a phenomenal discovery, that the depletion of the Arctic ocean sea ice is not directly linked to rising global temperatures. Climate change deniers will seize on it, and this will be regurgitated and misrepresented in every debate for the next 5 years until someone publishes a further finding.

There are other explanations for this observation that First Year Ice grows consistently (if indeed it is observed). It seems that this year the sea ice extent will make a slight recovery on last year. This is great news and implies that the decay is not linear (resulting in zero ice conditions in about 4 years) by subject to cyclical factors which could prolong the inevitable zero ice condition for about 30 years. It's also strong evidence against the "tipping point" argument.

Another explanation is that thinner ice grows faster, so regardless of conditions the ice will always tend to a first year thickness of about 1.5m-2m at which point it insulates itself against the cold and further growth.

Even if it turns out that climate change is not directly responsible for the very visible decay of the Arctic Ocean, it doesn't undermine the fact that most scientists agree that the planet is experiencing man made climate change, and that it's effect is accelerating. New positive feedback mechanisms of releasing greenhouse gases are being discovered at an alarming rate, most notably methane release from the arctic seabed as it warms.

Of course I'm pleased that the Arctic Ocean ice may not be as threatened as previously thought, but I'm more concerned that this will be seized on to demotivate efforts to take action on emission reductions.

The real questions are;
how effective will the world's attempts at emission reductions be, and
how bad will the consequences of climate change be on human life.

Answers to follow...

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