Guest post by Don Beck reposted from Sydney Indymedia
Global warming seems mysterious to most of us. A 1 degree rise in annual global temperature sounds minuscule, doesn't it....... until you remember that the oceans are involved ........... very heavily involved.
The oceans are simply unfathomably immense! Their mass is actually incomprehensible, being 70% of the earth's surface (310 million cubic miles). If you could stack water 100 cubic miles long and 100 cubic miles wide, that column would reach 31,000 miles into outer space. That is truly an astronomical amount of water!
Just try to imagine the amount of heat it would take to raise the ocean's temperature just 1 degree. And essentially, that heat or energy remains in the water, and is the power that fuels the weather events for a very long time.
Scientists are finding that a slight rise in their temperature can have a previously underestimated huge impact on the climate and the weather.(1)
When you hear the term 'global warming' you should think 'oceans warming' rather than 'atmospheric temperature warming'. And don't think about the effects being revealed from climate change at this point in time because they really are nothing compared to what they will be in the future.
A very important thing to understand is that if the entire planet stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, the effects of what we have already placed in the atmosphere will increase for over a century due to the greenhouse gas phenomenon ......meaning the potential for much more warming is already in the works and will continue to increase the temperature of the oceans no matter what we do. And, since mankind is not even close to slowing the increase of CO2 (let alone lowering the numbers), the climate is at a point of crisis.
The oceans absorb the sun's radiation, hold it, and distribute the heat to the air that is constantly flowing over the seas and creating weather events.
The 'warmth' of global warming is not even felt by us until the hottest days of summer. This year was dramatic with over 3,000 high temp. records broken in the US alone.(2) That was probably the only time most people gave global warming a thought.
But the Oceans Do More
The oceans have been our savior for thousands of years by absorbing CO2 and sequestering it out of harms way.
But recently, researchers are finding that the oceans have had their fill. The research, not computer modeling, shows that they are now no longer absorbing as much and are even beginning to release the carbon that they have stored, because they are warming and becoming more acidic.(3)
And, immense amounts of methane are being stored in the form of frozen clathrates that have the potential to raise the global temperature to disastrous levels. If they warm to the point that they begin to release the clathrates that they hold at the sea floor, that will be a catastrophic tipping point for all life on Earth.
Although scientists do not know how much ocean temperatures must rise to bring that horrific situation about, having the oceans turn from a carbon sink into greenhouse gas emitters is a very worrying sign. The predictions were that this would not happen until the next century or beyond, until very recently.
Also, in the early '90s, an oceanographer named Dr. Wallace Broecker theorized that the oceans were the only force on Earth that could bring about the 'abrupt climate changes' that other scientists had been finding evidence of for decades in lake sediments and miles long ice cores. He was given the National Medal of Science in 1996 after years of skepticism about his theory.(4)
The ocean currents - the thermohaline circulation - takes heat from the equatorial regions to the north and south, distributing heat around the globe. When this system is slowed, it brings about an abrupt change into ice age conditions which disrupt the growing season very quickly and has caused horrendous famines that could kill billions today.
The waters out there that we rarely see and actually know less about than the surface of Mars, are the most powerful force on Earth regarding the climate and the weather. The term global warming was morphed into 'climate change', but that does not bring to mind the vastness of the problem we face. 'Oceans warming' seems to put it into a somewhat clearer picture.
Again, don't think of the air warming, or your back yard warming. The oceans are in control of the climate and the weather in several ways, and with enormous magnitude. And if you also remember the 'century-long lag time' from the ghg emissions to long term effects on the ocean, you may be able to see why the scientists are very worried about what they are seeing in just the past decade.
I realize that I sound like an 'alarmist' on this issue, but I don't mind, because that is exactly what is being found by the scientific community in the past several years. It is very alarming how fast it is accelerating. A fuse has been lit that reaches into the next century and it cannot be extinguished. All that can be done is to limit the size of what it ignites.
[This was written for my brother who has never studied Earth Sciences and who has not been paying attention to reports of climate scientists. Perhaps you know someone else that should read this.]
1) 'Remarkable' Drop in Arctic Sea Ice Raises Questions, 9/25/07
2) 1,000 High Temperature Records Broken in September, 10/18/07
3) Ocean 'less effective at absorbing climate change gases', 5/18/07
4) Dr. Wallace S. Broecker