CRUCIAL GLOBAL WARMING FACT #2:
THE BRIGHT & REFLECTIVE SNOW COVER THAT USED TO PROTECT
THE (NORTHERN) ARCTIC IS BEING TOTALLY DESTROYED
The SECOND absolutely crucial, critical, earth-changing fact about global warming and climate change, which every voter (and, even more, every candidate for Congress) should know about, is this:
In the arctic north, the amount of “snow and ice cover” – which formerly provided a bright white (sunlight-reflecting) layer, on top of much darker ocean and land surfaces – have decreased to a huge and deeply frightening extent. The reason why that loss is so dangerous and disturbing, is described in Crucial Fact #3, below; by contrast, this Crucial Fact #2 merely discusses the size of the arctic area which has lost that protective cover.
The decreases in arctic snow and ice cover are the single best, most powerful, and most undeniable indicators of how serious (and even dire) the situation has become. Why? Largely because the facts are what they are, and those facts cannot be denied, or pretended away, either by climate change deniers, or by politicians in Congress. By 1979, satellites – which do not have political agendas, and which do not need to seek campaign contributions, or run for re-election – began taking sufficiently detailed and accurate pictures, of the northern arctic, to enable impartial, objective, non-biased comparisons of today’s arctic conditions, against the 1979 conditions. When the satellite pictures of today are compared against the pictures from 43 years ago, they just plain show what they show, and no one can claim or pretend otherwise. Therefore, most climate change deniers (especially those in Congress) try to find ways and excuses to ignore them, and pretend that either: (i) it's not their job, or responsibility, to understand what those particular pictures show; or, (ii) surely, there must be some kind of explanation, or evasion, which can explain away those pictures.
But, there isn't a better explanation than the one summarized below. So, anyone who wants to engage in any serious and informed political debate over global warming – and any voter, interviewer, or debate moderator who wants to ask questions of candidates for Congress – should know what is undeniably happening in the northern arctic region.
The pictures that are used to compare year-to-year changes are taken in September, when the arctic ice and snow cover is at its lowest point. That does not indicate bias; instead, it is a straight-forward and logical way to gather, and provide to decision-makers, the best and most useful comparative information, to show what is actually happening, year after year.
And, in addition to using cameras that take pictures in the visible spectrum, some satellites also use X-rays or other parts of the non-visible spectrum, to detect, not just the areas covered by snow or ice, but also, the thickness and depth of that snow and ice cover, on top of the surfaces (land, or water) that the snow and ice rest upon, at any location.
There also is an impartial scientific agency called the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), which brings together experts from several federal agencies. It is tasked with evaluating ice and snow measurements and data from around the world, especially in the artic, Antarctic, and Greenland. Its website is at http.nsidc.org.
Because most people cannot convert huge numbers (such as hundreds of thousands of square miles, or kilometers) into a quick and practical grasp of what is being said, the NSIDC has chosen to express the most important numbers – describing the size of the area which has flat-out LOST (i.e., entirely, so that dark water or land surfaces have become visible) its snow and ice cover – as multiples of the size of the state of New Jersey. Most people can at least begin to grasp and understand how large the entire state of New Jersey is, at a level which is at least somewhat meaningful; so, using a multiple of THAT much area, makes more sense than some huge number of square miles or kilometers.
The official numbers (and photographs), from the September month of each successive year since 1979 (when sufficiently detailed satellite images became available to enable these kinds of analyses), show that the amount of snow and ice cover, in the arctic – which formerly helped protect and stabilize the arctic region – which has totally disappeared, since 1979, by about ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE times as much area, as is covered by the entire state of New Jersey.
And, to make matters even worse, the thickness of the remaining snow and ice cover also has dropped – severely, dramatically, and dangerously. During that same time span (since 1979), it has decreased by more than half – from an average of 2 meters (which is about 6 feet, 7 inches) in 1979, to less than 1 meter (about 39 inches), today.
In complete seriousness, to get a mental handle on what that means, close your eyes, and pretend you are looking at a dwarf, only 3 feet tall, standing next to a professional basketball player who is 6’7”. That is the true and practical difference, between those two heights. They are NOT the same TYPES of people, and they do NOT have the same physical strength or capabilities.
Without trying to be cute, or flippant, it is reasonable to point out that most people – if obliged by circumstances to choose a bodyguard to help protect them, in a place that is known to be hostile, dangerous, swarming with thieves and desperately hungry poor people, where “kidnaping for profit” is one of the few profitable industries – most likely would choose an extra-tall, extra strong, ex-professional basketball player, rather than a dwarf, to protect him, his wife, and his children. What we have done, to the arctic, is comparable to telling it, “Sorry, but we killed off all the basketball players who used to live up here. All we have left, now, is some dwarves."
And, as the final crucial point, the snow and ice cover that remains, has become substantially – even severely – more porous, more hollow, less dense, and less strong, than it was, back in the 1980’s.
So, the person who is telling you, "All we have left, now, is some dwarves," would also have to add, in order to be honest and candid, "And we also need to warn you that these dwarves also suffer from severe osteo-porosis, which means that their bones have become fragile, and can be easily broken. And, they’re also getting pretty old, themselves, and they keep dying off, in pretty large numbers, each year. So, all we can do, now, is tell you the facts, and wish you luck.”
Those numbers – the HUGE area where snow cover has been totally lost, as well as the reduced, hollowed-out, porous and weak thicknesses, in areas where any snow cover remains – are not frightening, merely because they are large. They become doubly (or triply) frightening, to anyone who also understands the NEXT crucial fact . . .
CRUCIAL GLOBAL WARMING FACT #3:
WHEN THE SNOW COVER DISAPPEARS, THE MUCH DARKER LAND OR OCEAN SURFACE WILL BEGIN ABSORBING EVEN MORE HEAT ENERGY, MUCH FASTER THAN WHEN PROTECTED BY SNOW
The THIRD crucial, critical, earth-changing fact about global warming and climate change – which any voter, and any candidate for Congress, should know about – is this:
As has been known for thousands of years, when different things having different colors are left outside, sitting in direct sunlight, nearly anything (including plain old rocks) that are white colored (or even just light colored) do not heat up, as much as things which are black (or even just somewhat dark).
When scientists began creating ways to measure the differences in energy absorption by different-colored things, they chose the word "albedo" (which, like "albino", derives from the Latin word for "white"), to refer to how much of any incoming light energy is reflected off of an object, and how much is absorbed by that object.
The albedo scale stretches only from zero, to one. A perfect mirror – which reflects back absolutely all of the light which hits it – is at the very top end of the scale, with an albedo value of 1 (or, very close to 1).
At the opposite (zero) end of that scale, a lump of charcoal (i.e., partially burned wood which is totally black, and which has a pitted and irregular surface, rather than a shiny or glossy surface that might reflect light) is close to zero, and has an albedo value of about 0.04. The fact that charcoal is not a perfect zero, is what allows one to see and study the pitted and irregular surface of a charcoal briquette. If charcoal had an albedo of absolute 0.0, it would simply look like a perfectly and totally black object, with no distinguishing features at all.
The "albedo" level of freshly fallen snow usually is in the range of about 0.8 to 0.9 (the exact number will depend on various factors, including packing and density, water content, etc.). Those are among the highest numbers that exist for anything that occurs naturally (since polished mirrors, which can have even higher numbers, do not occur in nature). As snow grows old, and becomes covered with dust, and pitted in irregular ways, it can drop to levels of about 0.5.
And now, here comes a very, very different albedo number, which is deeply frightening, to anyone who knows about it, and understands what it means to global warming.
Anyone who has ridden in a boat, on a hot sunny day, and who has been nearly blinded by the glare of sunlight reflecting off the water, might assume that a water surface, in an ocean, sea, or lake, must have a fairly high albedo number. However, the exact opposite is true; and, anyone who has been nearly blinded, by the glare of sunlight reflecting off the surface of a body of water, should regard that fact as, actually, more of a display of (and a warning about) the remarkably high levels of energy carried by sunlight.
Instead of reflecting some significant portion of the energy carried by sunlight, any large body of water (an ocean, sea, bay, gulf, lake, etc.) will instead absorb very nearly all of that energy. In the past, that fact was a wonderful thing, for this planet, and for all life on earth, since sunlight energy which penetrates a water surface, and then travels up to several hundred feet below that water surface, is the energy that plankton, diatoms, algae and other microbes, corals, kelp and other types of seaweed, and other forms of marine life, use, and need, to grow; and, those types of marine life (i.e., the producers, rather than the predators) provide pretty much the entire foundation, basis, and support for all the other forms of marine life (including fish, crustaceans, and any other organisms that do not use sunlight and photosynthesis as their energy supply). If most of the energy in sunlight reflected off the surfaces of water, there would be very, very little marine life of any sort (and almost none, with any real variety), on this planet.
Accordingly, the albedo numbers of ocean surfaces can be seriously compared only to the albedo numbers of lumps of charcoal, which is "dark black". As mentioned above, the albedo level of charcoal is about 0.04, which is pretty darn low. Because any body of water absorbs (rather than reflects) nearly all of the energy offered and delivered to it by sunlight, the albedo level of the surface of an ocean, or sea, or gulf, or bay, or lake, is only about 0.06 (i.e., only slightly higher than charcoal).
The almost-perfect, almost-complete absorption of sunlight energy, by water, truly has been a wonderful and magnificent gift of nature (or of God, for those who think in such terms), when it comes to creating and supporting marine life. But, in modern times, and in the arctic ocean in particular, we need to think about global warming, instead.
For the last 10,000 years or so (since the end of the last major Ice Age), since most droughts and floods have been localized (rather than global in scale), the planet that is our home has been settled into a wonderfully nice, comfortable, and stable balance, for the needs, comforts, happiness, and growth of humanity. But . . . all that is about to change. The blanket of snow and ice which pretty much covered the entire arctic region, even during the summer months, and which helped sustain the marvelous and mostly comfortable climate on this planet for the past 10,000 years, has been suddenly and severely shifted – some would say disrupted, or even destroyed – irreversibly. The nice bright snow and ice covering which, until recent years, was able to reflect off (i.e., able to send back out, into deep space) 80 to 90 percent of all the heat energy that was shining on that bright white snow and ice, has now been pretty much destroyed, and dismantled – especially during the summer months, which is exactly when the sun is actually shining, on that part of the globe. Now, huge and unprotected arctic ocean surface areas (which begin growing larger when spring begins, and which keep growing larger until they are more than 125 times the size of the entire state of New Jersey, by the time September arrives), have already started to absorb almost 95% of the energy that is carried by sunlight, which is now directly hitting, and penetrating into, those dark blue ocean surfaces, rather than reflecting off a bright white snow and ice cover.
For reasons that should be obvious to nearly anyone who can actually think, the shift from a stable first condition (where more than 85% of the energy was being reflected out into space, by a bright white covering layer), to a totally different second condition (where nearly 95% of that energy is now being absorbed, by now-naked dark blue surfaces) has already reached, and passed, a point where it has become (and will continue to become, even more) something that can be called a "self-reinforcing" condition (or, a "self-accelerating" condition, or a "runaway" problem). All three of those phrases mean, in effect, "The worse things become, the more they will become even worse, even faster; and then, they will become even WORSE than THAT, even FASTER than that! And we cannot see any end, whatever, to that problem. We simply do not know, and cannot guess or predict, just how bad it will become, before it finally levels off, somehow."
That type of effect is sometimes called "a vicious circle", and, that phrase can be useful. However, it runs the risk of trivializing, in the minds of many voters, how urgent and potentially catastrophic the situation is, which the arctic ocean is now facing. Almost everyone has experienced, at one time or another, some sort of "vicious circle" argument, or feud, or other problem; and, in almost every case, that argument, feud, or other problem got solved, with the help of some sort of intervention, by someone who figured out how to put a stop to it. So, the natural (and appealing) response is to hope (and try to persuade oneself) that, somehow or another, someone will show up who will be smart enough, wise enough, mature enough, and strong enough to intervene, somehow, and disrupt that "vicious circle", in some way that can put a stop to it.
But this time – since the self-accelerating, self-reinforcing, runaway problem already has become 125 times the size of the entire state of New Jersey – there isn't anyone who will be able to do anything which is even remotely comparable to "intervening" in a helpful way, in some limited and small "vicious circle" argument between two people, or two families. Because now, the entire planet is in deep, serious, "self-accelerating" trouble. The disappearance of the bright white and highly reflective snow and ice cover, from the arctic north, has already passed a critical threshold, and that loss has already begun to accelerate the melting, destruction, and loss of even more of whatever is left of that protective white cover, at even faster rates. We have reached, and passed, a point where the new losses that will occur, pretty much every year, from now on, will become even larger, and faster, than the losses that occurred just one year earlier.
The experts can tell you how fast the snow and ice cover has already been disappearing, in the arctic north. However, even their best and most current and sophisticated computer models can only guess at how much faster the remaining snow and ice cover areas will melt and disappear, in the future. The only thing we can guess and predict, with a reasonable level of confidence and reliability, is this: "It is going to continue melting and disappearing, and it almost certainly will begin melting and disappearing even faster, at ever-increasing rates, until the entire white and protective cover of snow and ice, over the entire arctic ocean and the far north regions, is gone."
As a brief aside, it might be a good and useful idea, for climate scientists to switch out of the “albedo” scale, which effectively measures whiteness, and change to an “energy absorbing” scale. It would be a simple matter, merely involving the step of subtracting an albedo number, from 1.0 (and, if desired, the resulting number could be multiplied by 100, to convert it into a percentage number). Since snow and ice are bright white and highly reflective, their albedo numbers, of about 0.85 on average, reflect “energy absorbing” levels of only about 0.15 (which can also be written as 15%). By contrast, since charcoal has an albedo number of 0.04, it would have an “energy absorbing” index of 0.96 (or, 96%). Ocean water, with an albedo number of 0.06, would have an “energy absorbing” index of 0.94 (or, 94%).
That is suggested, party to reduce confusion, and partly as a statement that we now must become deeply, deeply concerned, with just how much energy (mainly from sunlight) is, indeed, being absorbed, in the arctic, by surfaces that are much darker, and much more energy absorbing, than the protective layers of bright white snow and ice which used to cover the arctic.