As if the climate change yellow brick road weren't hazardous enough, a group of scientists writing for the UK's Royal Society are calling for stepped up research to explore possible links between a warming climate and major geophysical events: earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, tsunamis. Holy Wicked Witch! The common wisdom to date has been "no connection" between major changes in the atmosphere and dangerous activity in the geosphere, as if a protective firewall or something was keeping Father Sky from talking to the underbelly of Mother Earth. But now -- as if the dire potential consequences already on the list aren't enough (inundated coastal communities, drought, famine, ecological breakdowns) -- we got one more big thing to worry about. In the wake of the Haiti earthquake and the fresh black volcanic ash cloud from Iceland roaming over Europe, even a proud atheist has thoughts of the rapture, has to wonder, are we entering an actual apocalypse? Some folks believe the world's gonna end in 2012. I dunno, do we have that long? Or is this all just a bunch of hooey mumbo jumbo crazy talk? I can just hear Rush Out-On-A-Limb-augh now, guffawing at the Royal Society. But....
.... but... one logical question might be, who's gonna have the last laugh - homo sapiens? or our ancient and only mother planet, Earth? Maybe that's what all the shakin' is about....
In one of the best open scientific journals, Philosophic Transactions of the Royal Society, a newly published set of scientific papers collectively titled "Climate forcing of geological and geomorphological hazards" has the following ominous introduction:
Periods of exceptional climate change in Earth history are associated with a dynamic response from the solid Earth, involving enhanced levels of potentially hazardous geological and geomorphological activity. This response is expressed through the adjustment, modulation or triggering of a wide range of surface and crustal phenomena, including volcanic and seismic activity, submarine and sub-aerial landslides, tsunamis and landslide 'splash' waves glacial outburst and rock-dam failure floods, debris flows and gas-hydrate destabilisation. Looking ahead, modelling studies and projection of current trends point towards increased risk in relation to a spectrum of geological and geomorphological hazards in a world warmed by anthropogenic climate change, while observations suggest that the ongoing rise in global average temperatures may already be eliciting a hazardous response from the geosphere. Papers included in this issue review the potential influences of anthropogenic warming in relation to an array of geological and geomorphological hazards across a range of environmental settings.
Friend and colleague, blogger Joe Romm of Climate Progress covered this series of thought-provoking papers in the UK journal yesterday in his post with the lead-in, "Royal Society Stunner" -- it's well worth the read, link here.
I know, I know, the global warming naysayers are gonna accuse scientists of looking for climate change under one more rock, so to speak, just to pad their already cushy bank accounts and get even more fame and notoriety. Those greedy little attention-seeking scientists!
But wait -- on the side of the brave souls willing to even ask such a hard question -- let's look for a little logic behind the concern. Earth's entire system is just that -- a system. Which means that big changes to one part of the system can and will affect all the other parts of the system. The way Reuters put it, "A thaw of Iceland’s ice caps in coming decades caused by climate change may trigger more volcanic eruptions by removing a vast weight and freeing magma from deep below ground, scientists said." A vulcanologist at the University of Iceland is quoted: "Global warming melts ice and this can influence magmatic systems" though he notes the recent volcano-that-cannot-be-pronounced (Eyjafjallajokull) was probably not induced by melting ice, as it's occurring under a relatively small ice cap. The point is, ice is heavy, and when it melts and runs off, whatever was underneath no longer bears all that weight. Will it matter? Time will tell.
In the meanwhile, it might be a good idea to take the time to read and try and digest each one of the papers in this series -- scientists and non-scientists too! -- and ponder the questions they raise. Here's the link and a table of contents:
• Potential for a hazardous geospheric response to projected future climate changes
• Projected future climate changes in the context of geological and geomorphological hazards
• Gas hydrates: past and future geohazard?
• A Palaeogene perspective on climate sensitivity and methane hydrate instability
• Submarine mass failures as tsunami sources: their climate control
• Recent and future warm extreme events and high-mountain slope stability
• Climate change and geomorphological hazards in the eastern European Alps
• Statistical analysis of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation and sea-floor seismicity in the eastern tropical Pacific
• Response of faults to climate-driven changes in ice and water volumes on Earth’s surface
• Climate effects on volcanism: influence on magmatic systems of loading and unloading from ice mass variations, with examples from Iceland
• How will melting of ice affect volcanic hazards in the twenty-first century?
• Climate forcing of volcano lateral collapse: evidence from Mount Etna, Sicily
While these may not be your idea of good summer beach reading, there may well be some "steamy" topics covered.... I for one am going to read more and try and keep an open mind about this. Many scientists will undoubtedly poo-poo a cause-and-effect connection between a warming planet above ground and a less settled planet below ground, but, history has shown that many new ground-breaking (no pun intended) scientific notions are rejected initially, until proven beyond public doubt.
While we figure it out, music always soothes the soul. So I'll leave my readers with some very slightly modified lyrics from that all-American favorite icon, Elvis Presley:
My hands are shaky and my knees are weak
I can't seem to stand on my own two feet
Who do you thank when you have such luck?
I'm on Earth
I'm all shook up
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!
GreenRoots is a new environmental series created by Meteor Blades and Patriot Daily for Daily Kos. This series provides a forum for educating, brainstorming, discussing and taking action on various environmental topics.
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