Wednesday, March 23, 2011

No More Ice Ages?

"No More Ice Ages" is the second essay in the first F&SF compilation of essays, Fact and Fancy, published in 1962.

"No More Ice Ages" was published in the January, 1959 issue of F&SF.

Here's the first paragraph:
We all know that the radioactive ash resulting from the activities of nuclear power plants is dangerous and its disposal a problem to be brooded over. How different from those nice, decent, non-radioactive, old-fashioned coal-burning (or oil-burning) power plants. We can easily put ourselves into the position of a gentleman of the 25th century moaning thus for the good old days.

Except that the gentleman of the 25th century may well be sitting there cursing the good old days as he pushes his air conditioner up a notch and wishes that nuclear reactors - radioactive ash and all - had taken over a few centuries sooner than they did.

For coal and oil release an ash also and that ash is also puffed into the atmosphere. The ash of coal and oil isn't radioactive, to be sure, it is only good harmless carbon fdioxide, which is already present in the atmosphere anyway.

It is only a minor constituent of the atmosphere, 0.04 by weight, but this comes out into big numbers if all the air Earth has it lumped into the scale. The weight of our atmosphere is 5.70 X 10(15) tons, so that the weight of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is 2.28 X 10(12) (about two and a quarter trillion) tons.

That carbon dioxide, however, is subjected to some tremendous pushes and pulls. For instance, all plant life depends for existence on the consumption of atmospheric carbon dioxide. ...

Lump all the plant life by land and sea (especially the seawhere the algae uses up eight times as much crbon dioxide as all land plants put toggether) and a considerable amount of gas is used up.

... There is a carbon dioxide cycle, with plants using it up and animals and bacteria forming it begin.

... "This warming effect of carbon dioxide is called the "greenouse effect."

After several paragraphs explaining what would happen if the balance of carbon dioxide is shifted one way or the other - and thus an alternation in the average temperature, he continues: "At the moment (1959) we are adding 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the air each year (two hundred times as much as is being added by volcanic action and at least a fiftieth as much as is being added by life activity proper.) And the rate is still increasing..

Asimov predicted that coastal areas could be drowned in a mere 350 years.

... "Unless there is a counteracting factor. But is there? Answer - maybe!)

Asimov then cites some ways the earth could maintain it's balance.

1) As the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide goes up, plant life might luxuriate correspondingly, use the carbon dioxide faster and bring the level down again. [Asimov apparently doesn't foresee de-forestation at this time.]

2) The oceans of the earth could absorb more of the carbon dioxide. However - there's a limit to how much carbon dioxide the oceans can absorb.)

"A somewhat more startling explanation of the beginning of the Ice Ages has been advanced by Maurice Ewing and William Donn, working at Columbia. They blame it specifically on the Arctic Ocean."

Why did the Ice Ages only start 300,000 years ago? "Ewing and Donn say because that is when the North Pole first found itself in the Arctic Ocean. Before then it had been somewhere in the Pacific where the ocean was large enough and open enough to cause no severe snowstorms on the distant land areas.

From Wikipedia
William Maurice "Doc" Ewing (May 12, 1906 – May 4, 1974) was an American geophysicist and oceanographer.

Ewing has been described as a pioneering geophysicist who worked on the research of seismic reflection and refraction in ocean basins, ocean bottom photography, submarine sound transmission (including the SOFAR channel), deep sea coring of the ocean bottom, theory and observation of earthquake surface waves, fluidity of the Earth's core, generation and propagation of microseisms, submarine explosion seismology, marine gravity surveys, bathymetry and sedimentation, natural radioactivity of ocean waters and sediments, study of abyssal plains and submarine canyons.

He was born in Lockney, Texas, where he was the eldest child of a large farm family. He won a scholarship to attend Rice University, earning a B.A. with honors in 1926. He completing his graduate studies at the same institution, earning an M.A. in 1927 and being awarded his Ph.D. in 1931. In 1928 he was married to Avarilla Hildenbrand, and the couple had a son.

He moved to Columbia University, becoming a professor of geology in 1947. In 1959 he was named the Higgins Professor of Geology at Columbia. Dr. Ewing (often simply called 'Doc' by those who worked with him) was the founder (established in 1949) and first director of Lamont Geological Observatory (now known as Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) in Palisades, New York) where he worked with J. Lamar Worzel (gravity specialist), Dr. Frank Press (seismologist), Jack Nafe, and Jack Oliver. The former LDEO research vessel R/V Maurice Ewing was named in his honor.

He divorced a second time, and married Harriet Greene Bassett in 1965. In 1972 he joined the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, and was named the head of the Division of Earth and Planetary Sciences of the Marine Biomedical Institute.

During his career he published over 340 scientific papers. He served as president of the American Geophysical Union and the Seismological Society of America. He led over 50 oceanic expeditions. He made many contributions to oceanography, including the discovery of the SOFAR Channel, and did much work fundamental on plate tectonics. He was the chief scientist on board the Glomar Challenger. He came up with the idea behind Project Mogul (Project Mogul (sometimes referred to as Operation Mogul) was a top secret project by the US Army Air Forces involving microphones flown on high altitude balloons, whose primary purpose was long-distance detection of sound waves generated by Soviet atomic bomb tests. The project was carried out from 1947 until early 1949. The project was moderately successful, but was very expensive and was superseded by a network of seismic detectors and air sampling for fallout which were cheaper, more reliable, and easier to deploy and operate.)

Interestingly, William Donn does not have an entry at Wikipedia.

Check out: The Colder Side of Global Warming. (http://www.colderside.com/)

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