Friday, June 04, 2010

Cold Hard Facts

The Wall Street Journal reports on a scientific expedition in Antarctica drilling up ice cores that will provide the solid data—to counter the often speculative data being used to determine the reality and/or cause of global warming—to help us reach the monumental decisions that could govern our economy for the foreseeable future.

An excerpt.

“WEST ANTARCTICA—At a camp here on Earth's remotest continent, American researchers have constructed a towering drill that, like a biopsy needle, periodically plunges thousands of feet into the ice to extract an exotic marrow of frozen gases and isotopes.

“Their work could settle a central question in the dispute over climate change, by documenting how greenhouse gases influenced temperatures in the past. Only then can researchers accurately analyze climate changes that may be under way today.

“Until now, that information was hidden in Antarctica's ancient ice.

“Scientists agree that global temperatures are rising, and so are levels of carbon dioxide. But the immediate impact of human activity on natural climate cycles—from ice-sheet dynamics to wind and ocean currents—remains unclear. The Antarctica research could, for the first time, teach scientists how global warming developed when humankind had no hand in it.

"One of the questions that everybody is interested in with greenhouse gases is, did the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations occur before or after the increase in temperatures in the past climate changes?" says glaciologist Kendrick Taylor, chief scientist of the $30 million U.S. National Science Foundation project. "Ice cores are the only way we can answer that question."

“Ten times a day, scientists here recently winched up a 10-foot cylinder of compacted ice crystals containing the unsullied air and chemicals trapped by snowfall for the past 100,000 years.

“Each cylinder preserves bubbles of ancient air and layers of elements swept here by global winds. The ice records the annual rise and fall of greenhouse gases and temperatures every year since before the last Ice Age, laminated by the cold in a parfait of time two miles thick.

“In March, a shipment of this rare ice completed an 8,000-mile journey to the National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver, where it will be parceled out for analysis. Only Antarctica offers such a detailed calendar of climate change, the scientists say.

“Since November, revelations of errors in reports by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have sapped public confidence in climate predictions. The scientists in Antarctica are excavating the ice as a reality check on computer climate models at the heart of today's regulatory debates.

“Much of the current controversy over climate change centers on efforts to reconstruct past temperatures using what is known as "proxy" data from tree rings, harvest records, sea beds and lake sediments. Unlike ice cores, which contain telltale gases and particles from ages ago, the proxy data offer only indirect or fragmentary evidence of climate trends.

"Unfortunately many of our proxies have significant errors and are prone to be a slave to assumptions," says climatologist John Christy of the University of Alabama in Huntsville, who has often criticized the IPCC. His research, using temperature readings from NOAA and NASA satellites, has undermined arguments that the atmosphere is warming at an unusual rate.

“The ice-core data from Antarctica is "terribly important," Dr. Christy says. "We really need to know what the climate did before we can answer why it did what it did. If it happened before, it will happen again, and probably worse."