Arctic Goo Update

"It was marine algae."

This is the test result of the arctic goo spotted last week off the Alaska coast. According to an updated article in the Anchorage Daily News, the miles-long swath of goo has been identified as marine algae, although experts still don't understand why there is so much of it.

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It must be a direct result of overfishing! Just like giant squid and jellyfish this is obviously the result of the removal of large predatory fish from overfishing. Its so clear!

Why it is when something happens that people don't understand the first thing they do is blame us. Sometimes things just happen in nature, like say varying global temperatures. In this particular case, the scientist do not know what caused the arctic goo. For the life of me i do not know how they can possibly say that, after all Jim has advised us the cause is clear. In fact, he goes on the give the very reason for it "It must be a direct result of overfishing" This is very dangerous when statements like this are left unanswered. I guess what i am concerned about is, based of what? What proof is there? Are people really just using natural events to further some agenda or cause they may have? For example, i do not think the debate on climate change is "over" like Al Gore says, just because he wishes it to be over. And i don;t think the arctic goo is caused by overfishing either. This belief is based on the same proof as Jim, none.

By George Faugl (not verified) on 11 Aug 2009 #permalink

I was being sarcastic...

My son and i discussed the fact that is what you were doing,he picked up on it right away, me slower. Nevertheless, i decided to take the opportunity to post my thoughts. Kind of venting a bit.

Care to provide one source of "debate" about global warming that is relevant, credible, and not already debunked? I'm willing to bet that anything you produce I can easily debunk with a little searching on the internet. The debate, it turns out, has been more or less over for close to a decade now, and conclusively so for two years (see: the IPCC's 2007 assessment report, and the numerous world meteorological and climatology groups who have endorsed it).

And a word of caution: and are both funded by conservative think tanks who themselves are primarily funded by the energy, automobile, pesticide and agriculture industries. It more or less says so right at the bottom and top of each page, respectfully (they are openly confessed to be projects of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Committee For a Constructive Tomorrow; look those organizations up). In a "debate" between those with a financial and political stake in the matter, and scientists who by definition are value-free, who would you side with? I think we already know, but lets hear you say it. Who's the one advancing the agenda or cause here? But I'm sympathetic to your plight; after all, reality has a known liberal bias, and bias must always be fought and argued against (I'm being facetious, don't get offended; we'll keep it civil).

Would you take seriously the medical advice given to you by a real estate salesman over your doctor? Or legal advice from a car salesman over your attorney?

Awaiting your response.

As soon as i resolve the near unanimous belief in global cooling from the 70's, as in the attached article from Newsweek, I'll have more faith in any prediction more than a week in advance. They were certain the world was in danger, getting colder, and even considered melting the polar ice caps. Thank god we did not listen to them then, and i have the same level of faith in the "science" involved today. How could almost everyone studying the climate been so far off? The bottom line is it is all a guess. Then and now. Here is Newsweek from 1975:

There are ominous signs that the Earthâs weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production â with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth. The drop in food output could begin quite soon, perhaps only 10 years from now. The regions destined to feel its impact are the great wheat-producing lands of Canada and the U.S.S.R. in the North, along with a number of marginally self-sufficient tropical areas â parts of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indochina and Indonesia â where the growing season is dependent upon the rains brought by the monsoon.

The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it. In England, farmers have seen their growing season decline by about two weeks since 1950, with a resultant overall loss in grain production estimated at up to 100,000 tons annually. During the same time, the average temperature around the equator has risen by a fraction of a degree â a fraction that in some areas can mean drought and desolation. Last April, in the most devastating outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded, 148 twisters killed more than 300 people and caused half a billion dollarsâ worth of damage in 13 U.S. states.

To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the worldâs weather. The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earthâs climate seems to be cooling down. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century. If the climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic. âA major climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale,â warns a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, âbecause the global patterns of food production and population that have evolved are implicitly dependent on the climate of the present century.â

A survey completed last year by Dr. Murray Mitchell of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reveals a drop of half a degree in average ground temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere between 1945 and 1968. According to George Kukla of Columbia University, satellite photos indicated a sudden, large increase in Northern Hemisphere snow cover in the winter of 1971-72. And a study released last month by two NOAA scientists notes that the amount of sunshine reaching the ground in the continental U.S. diminished by 1.3% between 1964 and 1972.

To the layman, the relatively small changes in temperature and sunshine can be highly misleading. Reid Bryson of the University of Wisconsin points out that the Earthâs average temperature during the great Ice Ages was only about seven degrees lower than during its warmest eras â and that the present decline has taken the planet about a sixth of the way toward the Ice Age average. Others regard the cooling as a reversion to the âlittle ice ageâ conditions that brought bitter winters to much of Europe and northern America between 1600 and 1900 â years when the Thames used to freeze so solidly that Londoners roasted oxen on the ice and when iceboats sailed the Hudson River almost as far south as New York City.

Just what causes the onset of major and minor ice ages remains a mystery. âOur knowledge of the mechanisms of climatic change is at least as fragmentary as our data,â concedes the National Academy of Sciences report. âNot only are the basic scientific questions largely unanswered, but in many cases we do not yet know enough to pose the key questions.â

Meteorologists think that they can forecast the short-term results of the return to the norm of the last century. They begin by noting the slight drop in overall temperature that produces large numbers of pressure centers in the upper atmosphere. These break up the smooth flow of westerly winds over temperate areas. The stagnant air produced in this way causes an increase in extremes of local weather such as droughts, floods, extended dry spells, long freezes, delayed monsoons and even local temperature increases â all of which have a direct impact on food supplies.

âThe worldâs food-producing system,â warns Dr. James D. McQuigg of NOAAâs Center for Climatic and Environmental Assessment, âis much more sensitive to the weather variable than it was even five years ago.â Furthermore, the growth of world population and creation of new national boundaries make it impossible for starving peoples to migrate from their devastated fields, as they did during past famines.

Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change, or even to allay its effects. They concede that some of the more spectacular solutions proposed, such as melting the Arctic ice cap by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers, might create problems far greater than those they solve. But the scientists see few signs that government leaders anywhere are even prepared to take the simple measures of stockpiling food or of introducing the variables of climatic uncertainty into economic projections of future food supplies. The longer the planners delay, the more difficult will they find it to cope with climatic change once the results become grim reality.

âPETER GWYNNE with bureau reports

Before I present my own source to debunk this 70's cooling scare myth, let me first point out a quote from the Newsweek article you presented that lays the groundwork for my next point:

"Just what causes the onset of major and minor ice ages remains a mystery. âOur knowledge of the mechanisms of climatic change is at least as fragmentary as our data,â concedes the National Academy of Sciences report. âNot only are the basic scientific questions largely unanswered, but in many cases we do not yet know enough to pose the key questions.â"

In sum, what the NAS is saying is that while their best guess is that the climate is cooling and may result in a mini-Ice Age, the truth is that their understanding of Earth's climate was by their own admission so primitive at the time that not only did they not have answers to even the most fundamental of questions, they didn't even know where to start asking them. The press loves a scare story, however, and as it often happens they took these "best predictions we have" and presented them as a doom-and-gloom prediction of an immanent ice age. Re-read the article, and look at what the scientists are actually saying: something is happening to the Earth's climate. We see that there seems to be a trend of cooling, but we're not even close to being able to predict with confidence long-term trends. All we can do right now is report what we're seeing, and attach an important qualifying remark stating that what we really need is more research so we can advance our understanding of climate change beyond infancy. The important thing, though, is that the climate is definitely changing. I'm not twisting what the article says; again, re-read it and you'll see that most of the actual quoting of scientists and studies merely documents that climate is changing, and at the time the trend seemed to be moving towards a global cooldown. And once again, it's important to pay attention to the quote I pulled above and remember that, by their own admission, they were only beginning to understand the mechanisms of climate change.

Now, in the same year this article was published in Newsweek, the National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council released a joint report on the subject; I suspect this to be the report your article cites. It was designed to be a comprehensive assessment of the available science of the time, and to make recommendations as to the next course of action. Here are a few key quotes from that report:

In the foreword: "...we do not have a good quantitative understanding of our climate machine and what determines its course. Without the fundamental understanding, it does not seem possible to predict climate..."

In the preface: "Our response to the concerns is the proposal of a major new program of research designed to increase our understanding of climatic change and to lay the foundation for its prediction"

In the introduction: "The climates of the earth have always been changing, and they will doubtless continue to do so in the future. How large these future changes will be, and where and how rapidly they will occur, we do not know"

In Appendix A: "There seems little doubt that the present period of unusual warmth will eventually give way to a time of colder climate, but there is no consensus as to the magnitude or rapidity of the transition. The onset of this climatic decline could be several thousand years in the future, although there is a finite probability [my note: "finite probability" here was never defined by them, which merely means a >0% chance; it could be 1%, 50%, 100%. They weren't sure exactly] that a serious worldwide cooling could befall the earth within the next 100 years"

Also from Appendix A: "These climatic projections, however, could be replaced by quite different future climatic scenarios due to man's inadvertent interference with the otherwise natural variation..." [notice here they say that humans may alter the climate in ways that would otherwise not take place]

Ultimately, the report came up with six recommendations:

1) Establish National climatic research program
2) Establish Climatic data analysis program, and new facilities, and studies of impact of climate on man
3) Develop Climatic index monitoring program
4) Establish Climatic modeling and applications program, and exploration of possible future climates using coupled Global Climate Models
5) Adoption and development of International climatic research program
6) Development of International Palaeoclimatic data network.

In sum: they were saying we need a drastic amount of new research before we can make any more recommendations. They weren't calling for new environmental legislation, or making any definitive declarations as to the direction of the change that contemporary research was revealing to be taking place, but just simply saying we can't be sure of anything yet. This is a far cry from the panic you described; here we have a serious, sober assessment of the consensus of the time, and it is not anything like the myth you have built up in your imagination (and the media's at the time).

So, then, how is today any different? Most obviously, the last 34 years of research called for by reports like this is a big difference. But as a contrast to the scientific consensus of the mid-70's, let me take a few conclusions from the IPCC's 2007 Fourth Assessment Report on climate change:

1) Warming of the climate system is unequivocal
2) Most [defined in the report as >50%] of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely [defined in the report as >90%] due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (human) greenhouse gas concentrations
3) The probability that this is caused by natural climatic processes alone is less than 5%
4) World temperatures could rise by between 2.0 and 11.5 °F during the 21st century, sea levels will probably rise by 7.08 to 23.22 in, there is a confidence level >90% that there will be more frequent warm spells, heat waves and heavy rainfall, and there is a confidence level >66% that there will be an increase in droughts, tropical cyclones and extreme high tides
5) Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values over the past 650,000 years

Whereas in 1975, all the NAS/NRC report could do was recommend more research and say there was a greater than 0% chance the Earth was on a long-term cooling trend, by 2007 the results of that recommended research was much more specific in its predictions and confident in their accuracy. Nowhere in 1975's NAS/NRC report, or this Newsweek article for that matter, will you find such specific predictions about exact amount of temperature increase in Earth's atmosphere, the exact amount in inches of sea level rise expected to be seen, and confidence levels reaching upwards of 90%.

You may ask about the validity of the IPCC's findings, and that's a fair question. Their Fourth Assessment that I mentioned above involved contributors from 130 countries, including 2,500 scientific experts and 1,250 authors. The section of the report dealing with assessing scientific aspects of the climate system and climate change alone had 600 authors from 40 countries, 620 expert reviewers, and representatives from 113 worldwide governments. Here's a list of just some of the groups who have endorsed the report's findings and certified them as consistent with modern scientific consensus: the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, the European Geosciences Union, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Research Council, the Network of African Science Academies, the Royal Meteorological Society, and the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London. These are just some of the organizations that have formally endorsed the report's findings, and is not even including the numerous other organization who have reached the same conclusions, including the Environmental Protection Agency. Nowhere in the Newsweek article you presented does any major organization say that there is an ice age looming. You just have scientists presenting the facts of the time, and qualifying them with admissions of a lack of deep understanding.

You may even ask about the credibility of the IPCC, which is also a fair question. Here's a list of some variously affiliated organizations: the World Meteorological Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations, the American Meteorological Society, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the National Science Foundation.

This has been a long rebuttal, and I have showed a lot of restraint in keeping it even this short. So now lets sum up our debate to this point. You provided a Newsweek article from 34 years ago that did indeed sound very ominous, but which itself admitted nobody was really sure about what to make of their findings due to lack of deep understanding of global climate. I, in turn, provided a NAS/NRC report from the same year, whose only conclusions were that more research was needed because they had only begun to scratch the surface on the issue. Then I presented you with what amounts to the entire modern world-wide scientific community who has declared definitively that the debate is over. In sum one last time: a media publication versus two scientific reports, the latter of which has been endorsed or otherwise agreed with by the entire scientific communty that has credibility on this subject. Your argument seems to be that since scientists were wrong 34 years ago, they can never again be right. When does this logic ever make sense, in anything? Once upon a time, what we would today call scientists believed the world was flat, the Sun revolved around the Earth, and that life could be spontaneously created from inanimate objects; do you believe modern scientists lack credibility in definitively stating the fallacy in each of these cases, and declaring such debates over? Besides which, they weren't wrong in the 70's, for all of the reasons I've already enumerated on. Again, who are the ones trying to advance a political agenda here, in spite of all the facts?

And to conclude this round of debate, I find it ironic that you would use a Newsweek article to base your beliefs. It has long been said, and I suspect you may be inclined to believe, that the media is liberally biased. If this were indeed true, you would expect the media to skew everything they could to advance their political aims, as your original response to Jim touched on briefly. So would it be any surprise at all that a Newsweek article on the heels of the flower power hippy movement of the 60's would drum up fears about changing global climate, and how humans could well be the cause? If anything, you should be skeptical of the media, and not the scientists. Just a thought.

So would it be any surprise at all that a Newsweek article on the heels of the flower power hippy movement of the 60's would drum up fears about changing global climate, and how humans could well be the cause? If anything, you should be skeptical of the media, and not the scientists.