[ Republished: 3rd edit – 14Mar2017 – from original article April 2015 ]
This article has been heavily edited. If you read a previous version, you might not recognise it at all – new images have been added, the whole thing has been redirected and reworded, but refers back to the original version of the article at the start to put it in context.
When I originally wrote this article, it was inspired by an article in the Washington Post from April 2015 ( article ), which was about the “ … 35 year record high ice levels in the Antarctic … ” ( their words not mine ), and it made me think of some interesting ideas which I then wrote about.
Rewriting this article today, I am referring back to the original claims made in that article by the WP, and I just want to begin at the outside by saying that it is quite clear the author had an agenda.
The article begins with an image of Antarctic ice-extent ( in terms of “coverage” ), and the words:
Antarctic sea ice has grown to a record large extent for a second straight year, baffling scientists seeking to understand why this ice is expanding rather than shrinking in a warming world.
But clearly they are being quite disingenuous here, as the vastly more significant figure is ice thickness, while the distribution can be explained by the fact that it is melting and therefore moving outward – as it is no longer contained at the ocean end, where the ice-shelves are collapsing.
As you see in the featured image above ( taken from climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/land-ice/ – March 14th 2017 ), the evidence from NASA is that by mass the Antarctic land ice is declining.
Similarly the image below for Greenland from the same page, tells the exact same story … so why would the Washington Post be telling such a clearly biased tale? Clearly, commercial interests are at work here – they probably take advertising dollars, and get sponsorship to publish such crap from those with a vested interest in getting the public to believe there’s nothing wrong.
Now fortunately for us, this ice is thicker than we realised ( according to this article in The Guardian ), but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to worry about … and the graphs above should convince you of that.
So let’s ignore the over-simplification and agenda of the Washington Post, and have a look at a very interesting idea that comes out of their misrepresentation of the situation … the idea of Cold-Sinks.
contemplate this question for a minute:
Where does heat flow from & toward?
This is the key to the situation.
At present we have 2 major “cold-sinks” on the planet, being the Arctic & Antarctic – but here are other cyclical / temporal, and geographically relative, “semi-major” cold sinks, such as:
- altitudes ( where the atmosphere itself is cold )
- the night-side of the planet ( shifting zone of relative cold )
- the deep ocean ( slow heat transfer from air via heavier salt-water )
- the surface ocean ( from direct sunlight – relative cold versus land )
- mountain tops ( including snow capped and glacial peaks / ranges )
- the winter hemisphere ( opposition of seasons, north vs. south )
Plus there are minor / relative cold-sinks, such as:
- deep soil
In all these cases, the Arctic / Antarctic are the most available sources of cooling for the planet, since the cold of the deep ocean is inaccessible due to stratification of ocean temperatures – ie: the warm water wants to rise, the cold wants to sink, so the warm waters on the surface have only a very slow transference of heat energy downward, via convection currents and disturbances of the thermal stratification.
The Arctic / Antarctic are also the furthest away from the equatorial heat, and with their acute angle of incidence of solar radiation, they have the best opportunity for dissipating energy back to space by reflection off their icy surfaces … and hence the problem as that ice melts – ie: there’s nowhere else on the planet naturally capable of achieving the same effect.
So with these massive cold sinks at the planet’s poles, we have a nice regulator to keep us cool, and we really don’t want to mess with that, yet this is precisely what we are doing.
correcting the misrepresentation:
OK … so our original article from the Washington Post was implying there was more ice, because it showed a graph of ice extent, but failed to mention that it was less thick, and vastly less mass in total … and their claim that it had “scientists stumped”, was probably just them finding a scientist drunk or desperate enough to say he / she was stumped ( perhaps for a little cash ).
so why is one melting faster than the other?
Conversely the Arctic is sea ice surrounded by landmasses, and as the snow on the land melts, and the ocean warms, the Arctic has no such protection.
breaking the balance – the interesting idea:
So here’s the interesting idea that comes out of all this … since there’s an increasing pressure on energy flow – with less options in the northern hemisphere as the Arctic melts along with a lot of the tundra of Canada and Eurasia / Russia – where will all that heat travel to?
The likely answer is ( something like ):
- Increased intensity winds and storms, as the energy tries to find the night side of the planet, or some lofty peaks;
- Possible increased mixing of atmospheric stratification, where the higher altitudes are populated by lighter gasses, but with increased temperature ( and therefore buoyancy ) we may see lower atmosphere gasses “bubbling up” into the upper atmosphere ( temporarily ), with cooler but otherwise lighter gasses being forced downward to take their place, until they finally drop down again having transferred their energy to other particles in an upper atmospheric gaseous heat exchange ( which could possibly also trigger unexpected chemical reactions );
- Increased atmosphere mixing between the southern and northern hemisphere, which typically don’t mix, but as the energy levels rise, there may be temporo-spatial anomalies in which the “path of least resistance” for some storm system, is to deliver its energy across the equator, trying to get to the Antarctic cold-sink … and vice versa, there could be such a pull on the cold energy of the Antarctic, that it breaks its own atmospheric barriers to deliver big gusts of cold to areas that are excessively hot.
a change in the status quo – the antarctic consequence:
We’ve already seen a lot of this starting to happen in one way or the other. Last year in 2016 there were record wind speeds recorded across the Pacific, which is possible evidence of that pressure gradient build up.
At the moment we know there is a serious risk of more rapid breakup, with a massive crack in the Larsen C ice shelf ( taken from NASA article ).
so what would happen if the arctic disappeared completely?
This is an interesting question … because now you’ve got a Northern Hemisphere with no major cold sink, it’s gone … so where does all the heat escape to ( ? ) since it’s no longer cooling in the winter, and thus building up even faster in the summer.
Well, it’s entirely possible this could shift the balance at the equator, at the thermal stratification of atmospheric altitudes, and eventually come all the way south to the borders of the Antarctic, and break the blocking effect of both the only unbroken latitude of ocean on the planet, which sets up a unique atmospheric barrier ( the name of which I read somewhere but haven’t been able to find again ), and the Katabatic winds that come down from the higher altitudes of the Antarctic mountains ( and atmosphere too I should imagine ).
If this were to happen, it could possibly mean a genuine increase in Antarctic ice, because all that heat would be evaporating water, and if it can break through the barrier to reach the Antarctic, it would then condense and fall as sleet, snow, and hail.
One extreme scenario that has been proposed, is the possibility of a radical flip of global temperatures from heating to cooling, where – at some critical threshold – the barriers to the Antarctic break, then could run out of control ( positive feedback loop ), and we end up with an ice-age starting in the Southern Hemisphere.
I don’t know how likely this is, but it’s one of many hypotheses that have been presented in the academic community; the other major one of course being the runaway greenhouse effect that just cooks our collective goose.
southern hemisphere consequences:
However such an eventuality ( repeat of snowball Earth ) would require the situation to be so extreme that Southern African, American, and Australian land masses become a base for snow and ice, thus allowing for the southern ocean to overcome the warming ocean temperatures and actually freeze over.
Perhaps if the Larsen C shelf and others start to more rapidly collapse into the ocean, the floating ice being spread over a wider area could form an ocean bridge of sorts, to allow precipitation in the southern ocean to land and actually settle ( ? )
I don’t know what’s going to happen, no one does … but all the various predictions are alarming, and we shouldn’t be running an economic system that generates, fails to take responsibility for, and then fails to solve such unnecessary ecological catastrophes.