Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gulf Stream threatened by Arctic flush

As reported in New Scientist this week RAPID warming in the Arctic is creating a new and fast-growing pool of fresh water in the Arctic Ocean. Measuring at least 7500 cubic kilometres, it could flush into the Atlantic Ocean and slow the Gulf Stream, bringing colder winters to Europe.

The water is mostly coming from melting permafrost and rising rainfall, which is increasing flows in Siberian rivers that drain into the Arctic, such as the Ob and Yenisei. More comes from melting sea ice, says Laura de Steur of the Royal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research in 't Horntje, who is tracking the build-up.

Salinity anomalies like this are a regular feature of the Arctic. The last major event occurred in the 1960s. They happen when strong winds circling the Arctic restrict southward water movement. Eventually, the winds falter and the water flushes into the Atlantic through the Fram strait, between Greenland and Europe.

Recent Arctic melting opens up the possibility of increasing the build-up, potentially making the consequences of the eventual breakout more extreme, says de Steur. A dramatic freshening of the North Atlantic could disrupt the engine of a global ocean circulation system called the thermohaline circulation, or ocean conveyor. This system, of which the Gulf Stream forms a part, is driven by dense, salty water in the North Atlantic plunging to the ocean bottom near Greenland.

"In the worst case, these Arctic surges can significantly change the densities of marine surface waters in the far North Atlantic," says de Steur.

Some 13,000 years ago, a major freshening of the North Atlantic shut down the circulation and plunged the Earth into a cold snap, known as the Younger Dryas era, which lasted for 1300 years. That was the result of an influx of fresh water much larger than is building up now, but some climate models do predict the circulation could weaken in coming decades, says Detlef Quadfasel of the climate centre at Hamburg University in Germany. The discovery of pooling fresh water in the Arctic suggests how this could happen.

The monitoring is being carried out as part of Project Clamer, a 10-nation European project into the impact of climate change on the waters around Europe.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Avoiding the mindset of reactionary defeatism

We live is a society that should operate on the basis of co-operation as we all have a stake in what kind of future we want for ourselves and the next generation. For too long we as a society have allowed powerful minorities to dictate the direction our entire economy and society has been pushed into. We are now witnessing the consequences.

What happened in this county in the past ten years is beyond absurd, it’s a tragedy. We have allowed profits to dictate the direction our entire society has been pushed into, with the active participation of a corrupt political system that rewarded the minority, rather than protecting the public good. Until we change the models and system of governance we use to determine what directions our society goes from solely profit motivated to notions of the common good, we will be doomed to repeat the past.

Since the foundation of this State we now face our greatest challenge. How will we as a people react to the current social and economic crisis we face?

In the face of the enormity of the economic crisis the most critical danger to us all is the mindset that equates with being a helpless victim, a sort of reactionary defeatism. Jan. 20, 2011 was the 50th anniversary of a quote by the late President John F. Kennedy on the occasion of his inaugural address given on Jan. 20, 1961. Kennedy quoted the Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran when he intoned the famous quote, " Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country”. Has not the time come for each of us as a citizen, a civil member of this country to question what talents, professional expertise or other skills or services can each of us donate to our communities to build a better society. In reality this means what can we do to help our newly elected government (regardless of our status and affiliations) in its responsibilities.

The most critical task our government faces is re-negotiating the terms of the banking bailout, followed by fiscal management, local government and public sector reform. On this note I would end with another quote from President John F Kennedy’s inaugural address when he said “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

Let us hope that our Government are up to the task?