Friday, January 02, 2009

Global Warming is Going to Cause an ICE AGE???

I left a comment to this post on Tom's blog about how frustrating it is for a non-scientist to weigh the conflicting claims about climate change, aka global warming. Here' s the latest example where I just say "WTF?"

"Greenhouse gases could have caused an ice age, scientists claim" is confusing enough - I mean, is carbon dioxide going to cause catastrophic warming or an ice age ( or split the difference?). But then I read this sentence, which makes my head hurt - "Such glaciation could happen again if global warming is not curbed, the university's school of geography, earth and environmental sciences warned."

Wait. Wait. Global warming is going to cause an ice age?

The atmosphere getting warmer is going to cause more glaciation?

I can only conclude that one or more of those words doesn't mean what I think it means.


Tom said...

Hi John - I completely agree with you on this, that article is very confusing (confused?) and make little sense on its own. The first two paragraphs are completely contradictory - a warm atmosphere with freezing temperatures? Just the phrase "[...] the earth had a warm atmosphere full of carbon dioxide [...]" rings several alarm bells.

I suspect the press release has over-summarised, left out one or two rather important details and confused pollution and CO2. This doesn't surprise me, press releases about science are rarely accurate. Believe me, I know!

I'll try and get hold of the actual research paper if you're interested as I suspect the true story about the research will be a little different.


Anonymous said...

Hi John,

You should have a read of the comments that come after that article. There is all around derision of it, and some are unfairly aimed at the scientists as I think this is the fault of the reporter, not the scientist. I do sympathize with what you say as this kind of lazy reporting does lead to a lot of misinformation getting out there.

One of the comments provides a link to an article which better explains the research. What the researchers are claiming is a coincidence of increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere at a time when the Earth was in an ice age (it was very cold at least - don't know exactly whether it was officially in an ice age). They infer from this that even a large amount of CO2 in the atmosphere could not halt the ice age - the Earth was covered by too much ice and the ice is very good at reflecting radiation and so the Earth cools, its not able to warm up.

As Tom says, and from my reading of the short article linked above, pollution and CO2 have been confused. The researchers are saying that the only way to replicate today what they found is to introduce particles into the atmosphere which are efficient at reflecting the Sun's radiation (as the Earth is not currently covered by ice), i.e. pollution, which introduces reflective particulates such as sulphates, for instance.

Hope that helps.