Tuesday, December 14, 2021

One Reason why Climate Science is to Freaking Tough

Climate Science is a still evolving science, unfortunately. That doesn't mean it is wrong, but it does mean we don't fully understand the effects that both cause climate change and are braking climate change. This HAD the terrible effect of bad estimates meant people believed in the science less. It now HAS the effect that new interactions surprise and worry us, every few months.

I remember at UCLA people were trying to computer plot every input to make forecasts. Back when computing power was (comparably) tiny. Scientist then were confronted by too many variables and computers that would choke on the numbers - remember that computers were so much smaller back then. The cutting edge technology was a 5 1/4 floppy disk containing 360 KB of data. Now we give away flash drives of 500MB which hold about 1,400,000 times more data.

So we ran out of computing power. 

Here's the thing, there are still too many unknowns, too many knows and we still cannot map all the data. There is just too much and we don't understand all the effects and interdependencies. For example, the slowing Antarctic Ocean Current, the strongest ocean current in the world is slowing down. Today the NY Times has a great graphic and story about how all this works.

We have recently (like last 10 years or so) have found that current is slowing. It seemed - maybe okay - maybe even good. That is because the current pulled very very cold water from the depths, and in the process warmed it up before releasing it. If it is now slower, then less cold water (which contains more CO2) would be pulled up, and at least one input to CO2 output would slow. 

Wrong. It turns out that slowing the current doesn't change the push. So the currents that push water to the Antarctic don't stop, and this "ancient" water that has been stuck holding extra CO2 as other water drives over it, now is forced to the surface outside the Antarctic current. So the current is warming up and slowing and, in that process, is releasing MORE CO2.

The more we learn, the more fucked we seem. Part of that is true, and part of that is that any good news we didn't expect is vastly outweighed by the bad side effects or other bad news

We didn't know back then (1981) that melting permafrost would release tons of methane into the air - a great cause right now of a greenhouse gas that is 80 times more powerful that CO2 in the short run (up to 20 years).

Too many inputs and too many unknown reactions is why climate change forecasting is a loser's bet. And, so far, nearly all of the unexpected changes are not good. 

For example, energy was thought to raise temperatures (hence the original "Global Warming" name) and temperatures primarily. Now we find that same energy not only heats air, but causes greater storms (energy in a different way), spiraling ocean temperatures ( ~ dead coral reefs) and massive arctic cold spells as the energy in the Arctic spins storms moving the jet stream far south.

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