The Electric Commentary

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Europe to slowly become Minnesota

In general I'm an environmental optimist, but even I must admit that this is not good:

The North Atlantic is dominated by the Gulf Stream – currents that bring warm water north from the tropics. At around 40° north – the latitude of Portugal and New York – the current divides. Some water heads southwards in a surface current known as the subtropical gyre, while the rest continues north, leading to warming winds that raise European temperatures by 5°C to 10°C.

But when Bryden’s team measured north-south heat flow last year, using a set of instruments strung across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to the Bahamas, they found that the division of the waters appeared to have changed since previous surveys in 1957, 1981 and 1992. From the amount of water in the subtropical gyre and the flow southwards at depth, they calculate that the quantity of warm water flowing north had fallen by around 30%.

When Bryden added previously unanalysed data – collected in the same region by the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – he found a similar pattern. This suggests that his 2004 measurements are not a one-off, and that most of the slow-down happened between 1992 and 1998.

The changes are too big to be explained by chance, co-author Stuart Cunningham told New Scientist from a research ship off the Canary Islands, where he is collecting more data. "We think the findings are robust."

Where I take issue with most environmentalists is with their proposed remedies. They tend to be Luddites to some extent. They also propose unworkable messes like the Kyoto protocol.

It's unclear what the effects of global warming will be, and conservatives sometimes use this fact as a rallying point to defeat environmental initiatives. Since most environmental initiatives are stupid, I'm generally OK with this, but this rationale is incorrect. What we do know is that the earth is currently very hospitable to us and to life in general, and that at certain times in the past (the Ice Age, for instance) this was not the case. Accelerating the rate of change in global climate is simply a bad idea, and we should do what we can to slow it, and eventually stop it. I still believe that encouraging economic growth and technological advancement is the most effective way to combat environmental problems.

In other science news, we have a new fossil (a bird with dinosaur feet), some good news about coffee, a face transplant, and Martian ice.


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