Words on Weather & Climate

Putting things in perspective 


Meteorologist Craig James, new Squire columnist

Technology has developed some wonderful tools that truly boggle the mind. One of them is a new satellite system called GRACE, which stands for Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment. It is composed of two satellites flying in formation. Measuring the distance between the two satellites to the nearest micron (a hundredth of the width of a hair) allows scientists to calculate the weight of things on the earth very accurately. To get an idea of how this works, you can find an article about it at www.grist.org/article/2010-05-13-weighing-greenland/.

One of the things being calculated is the ice loss from the Greenland Ice Cap. The article states:  “the island has been losing weight, an average of 183 gigatons (or 200 cubic kilometers)—in ice—annually during the past six years. That’s one-third the volume of water in Lake Erie every year. Greenland’s shrinking ice sheet offers some of the most powerful evidence of global warming.”

Sounds pretty scary doesn’t it? But to get a proper perspective of just how much ice is melting and how significant the ice loss is, a scientist by the name of Willis Eschenbach has written an article, which can be found at wattsupwiththat.com/2010/05/23/on-being-the-wrong-size/.

He first determined the total mass of the ice on Greenland from a fascinating book called “The Physics Handbook” and found there are approximately three million cubic kilometers of ice covering Greenland. So the annual loss of 200 cubic kilometers represents just 0.007% of the total mass each year. That is just seven thousandths of one percent each year. Which means, of course, if that terrifying rate of loss continues unabated it will all be gone in a mere 15,000 years—by the year 17,010!

What is occurring is actually a trivial change in a huge block of ice made to sound like an imminent catastrophe. If this is “some of the most powerful evidence of global warming,” I think we can sit back and relax a bit.

There is another item of perspective I want to mention. You’ve probably seen a graphic like the one here of how much carbon dioxide has been increasing in the atmosphere.

However, let’s change the graphic just a little. Since carbon dioxide represents about 0.0039% of the atmosphere, let’s change the “y,” or vertical, axis on the graphic from parts per million to percentage of the atmosphere and see how big the change looks since 1958.

Now that’s not so scary looking, is it? The carbon dioxide percentage of the atmosphere since 1958 has changed from 0.0030% to 0.0039%. That’s an increase of a whopping 0.0009%. Little wonder you never hear it expressed this way by the alarmists, is there?

For additional perspective, don’t forget, carbon dioxide is plant food. It is necessary for life to exist on Earth. Yet, the EPA has declared it a pollutant. Carbon dioxide is responsible for just 3.6% of the greenhouse effect, while water vapor is responsible for 95% of the greenhouse effect. Logically, then, will the EPA soon declare humidity to be a pollutant, too?

Craig James has been retired since July 1, 2008, after 40 years of broadcasting television weather. He was chief meteorologist at WZZM-TV for 12 years and chief meteorologist at WOOD-TV for 24 years. He is a graduate of Penn State University, where he received a Centennial Fellowship Award. He was also honored as a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society.

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