Thursday, June 14, 2007

Global warming may save the snows of Kilimanjaro

It’s no secret that I am an AGW skeptic. That is I’m not convinced that there is anthropogenic global warming. That doesn’t mean one who says there is no warming merely one who thinks it is not human induced. So get out the stakes and pile up the fire wood. A heretic needs to be burned.

One reason, but not the only one, that I’m a skeptic is I don’t trust the other side. They consistently exaggerate, distort or even lie. I’ve documented many of those lies in this blog. And here is another one.

Consider this story from Reuters:
A photo of Mount Kilimanjaro stripped of its snowcap for the first time in 11,000 years will be used as dramatic testimony for action against global warming as ministers from the world's biggest polluters meet on Tuesday.
They quoted Steve Howard of the Climate Group lobby saying: “This is a wake up call and an unequivocal message that a low-carbon global economy is necessary, achievable and affordable.” Reuters directly stated that the picture showed “Kilimanjaro almost bare of its icecap because of global warming.”

Maybe Climate Group is just a small fringe group. But World Wildlife Fund released their own “report”. As the BBC reported: “As an example of the impact of climate change, WWF says that the ice-cap on Mount Kilimanjaro has shrunk by more than 80% since 1900.”

The New York Times reported that:
Campaigners from Greenpeace, the environmental group, scaled the mountain in November 2002 and held a news conference via satellite with reporters at climate-treaty talks in Morocco. Last October, Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who is co-author of a bill to curb greenhouse gases, displayed before-and-after photographs of Kilimanjaro during a Senate debate. A British scientist proposed hanging white fabric over the glacier's ragged 10-story-tall edges to block sunlight and stem the erosion.
At a symposium on climate change Professor John Harte of the University of California presented numerous scary scenarios of global warming. And one he mentioned was: “By 2020, the snows of Kilimanjaro could be no more.” But as we’ve already seen Harte wasn’t alone with this assertion. Al Gore used pictures of Kilimanjaro in his doomsday docudrama An Inconvenient Truth. He said the receding snows were caused by global warming. R&D magazine told readers “Scientists now expect the snows to be gone completely by 2015. Most scientists attribute the reduction to the effects of global warming, to which humanity’s industrial energy consumption is at least a partial, if not a major contributor.”

Salon magazine, in co-operation with National Public Radio’s “Living on Earth” and U.C. Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism did a series “Reports From a Warming Planet” which stated that the shrinking ice on Kilimanjaro is “another unbearable loss of an overheating planet.

WorldChanging warned us that photos of Kilimanjaro “are useful for making visceral the often-academic discussion of carbon and timelines, and for driving home the point that global warming isn’t a problem off in the future, but it is happening -- and having serious consequences -- right now.”

One university student who saw Gore’s docudrama wrote that he was “particularly moved by the scene depicting the melting snows of Mount Kilimanjaro.” He says the “documentary” caused him “to connect some thematic dots in my mind”. And he got the message Gore intended. The snows were melting and he knows why. “What caused this decline? What concurrence happened in the last 100 years? The answer: the Industrial Revolution and global warming. Warming and resultant drying soils have decreased snowfall atop the mountain.” And on this he says there “is no doubt in the scientific community.”

Apparently he and Gore and many others are wrong. The consensus has fallen apart. Of course those insane warming skeptics have been saying that the decline of the snows on Kilimanjaro were not related to warming. But the media cranked up their scare stories, Al Gore released his film, and numerous environmental groups all said the skeptics were merely in the pay of Big Oil. How many times have we heard that line?

Now it should have been obvious that global warming had nothing to do with the change in snow levels. The summit of the mountain is so high the temperature rarely gets above freezing. But over and over the environmental doom sayers were arguing that warming was the culprit. Now CNN reports that “the disappearance of Kilimanjaro’s ice is driven by solar radiation.” And this is not the first time that claims of warming induced melting have proven less than accurate (also see here).

They report:
The researchers attributed the ice decline to complex interacting factors, including the vertical shape of the ice's edge, which allows it to shrink but not expand.
Decreased snowfall, which reduces ice buildup and determines how much energy the ice absorbs, also plays a role.
Much of Kilimanjaro's ice is vanishing by sublimation -- where ice at very low temperatures converts straight to water vapor without going through a watery phase -- rather than by melting, the scientists said.
Fluctuating weather patterns related to the Indian Ocean also could affect the shifting balance between the ice's increase, which might have occurred for decades before the first explorers reached Kilimanjaro's summit in 1889, and the shrinking that has been going on since.
Mote and Kaser say that Kilimanjaro’s images in Gore’s film startled the audience, as the college student mentioned above illustrates. But they also say:
Indeed, warming fails spectacularly to explain the behavior of the glaciers and plateau ice on Africa's Kilimanjaro massif, just 3 degrees south of the equator, and to a lesser extent other tropical glaciers. The disappearing ice cap of the "shining mountain," which gets a starring role in the movie, is not an appropriate poster child for global climate change. Rather, extensive field work on tropical glaciers over the past 20 years by one of us (Kaser) reveals a more nuanced and interesting story.
Indeed Kilimanjaro “has gained and lost ice through processes that bear only indirect connections, if any, to recent trends in global climate.” They also find that “lines of evidence do not suggest that any warming at Kilimanjaro’s summit has been large enough to explain the disappearance of most of its ice, during the whole 20th century or during the best-measured period, the last 25 years.” But increased solar radiation “in conditions of very light wind... allows a warm layer of air to develop just next to the ice.”

Now the following quote is important.
The role of solar radiation in shaping the ice edges is evident in other features as well. As the ice retreats horizontally, it can leave behind knife-thin vertical remnants that eventually become so thin that they fall over and disintegrate. Like other explorers who came before them, Kaser and Hardy also noted the sculpted features called penitentes in the Kibo ice cap on several occasions. Penitentes are seen also in many places in the Andes and the Himalaya, where they are sometimes much larger. These finger-like features arise when initial irregularities in a flat surface result in the collection of dust in pockets, which accelerates melting in those places by enhancing absorption of solar radiation. The cups between the penitentes are protected from ventilation even as wind brushing the peaks of the developing spires enhances sublimation, which cools the surface. If infrared radiation and sensible heat transfer were the dominant factors, these sculpted features would not long survive. Solar radiation and sublimation are sculptors; infrared radiation and sensible heat transfer are diffuse, coming equally from all directions, and so they are smoothers. The prevalence of sculpted features on Kilimanjaro's peak provides strong evidence against the role of smoothers, which are energetically closely related to air temperature.
So the presence of these penitentes is evidence of solar induced melting not temperature-related melting. And they are also found in the Andes and Himilaya ranges as well. That would appear to mean that some melting seen in those massive mountain ranges, which have also been used to “prove” AGW theory, is not due to warming either.

Here is the bizarre aspect of all of this. Global warming might be a necessary ingredient to save the snows of Kilimanjaro. Part of the problem for Kilimanjaro is that the ice has formed into steep walls. This makes accumulation of new snow difficult or impossible. New snow disappears in a few days. If the glacier shape were different snow could accumulate and the mass would grow. And a warmer mountain would change the shape of the snow pack. The authors note that this warmer climate “would gradually erode the sharp corners of the ice cap; gentler slopes would quickly develop.” And the change in the slope would “permit the ice cap to grow.” They conclude:
Ironically, substantial global warming accompanied by an increase in precipitation might be one way to save Kilimanjaro's ice. Or substantially increased snowfall, like the 2006-07 snows, could blanket the dark ash surface so thickly that the snow would not sublimate entirely before the next wet season. Once initiated, such a change could allow the ice sheet to grow. If the Kibo ice cap is vanishing or growing, reshaping itself into something different as you read this, glaciology tells us that it's unlikely to be the first or the last time.
The disappearance of the snows of Kilimanjaro is not related to global warming at all. But global warming might be their salvation. Ironic indeed.

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