Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Out of this world

As the government publishes its draft Climate Change Bill – which includes goals for reducing emissions which must be achieved by 2020 and 2050 - Mary Ann Sieghart in The Times today writes: "There's no choice: wrap up and grit your teeth".

Contrasting with the diffidence expressed by Janet Daley, la Sieghart has decided that it "no longer seems tenable either to dismiss the existence of global warming or to deny the contribution that humans have made to it." There comes a point, she declares, "at which you have to admit that 95 percent of the world's scientists can't be wrong. Or at least, it is becoming vanishingly unlikely that they are."

Can it be, one wonders, that this dismally stupid woman has never heard of Galileo, or is totally unaware of the battles of Louis Pasteur against the medical establishment, which fought to the last against any notion that disease was caused by microbes?

Howsoever, as one struggles to come to grips with the growing politician-induced hysteria on climate change, one can only revel in the news that global warming has extended its grip to the planet Mars.

This is based on 2005 data from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor and Odyssey missions, which have revealed that the carbon dioxide "ice caps" near Mars's south pole had been diminishing for three summers in a row.

But what is more entertaining is that none other than Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of space research at St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, is saying the Mars data is evidence that the current global warming on Earth is being caused by changes in the sun.

"Man-made greenhouse warming has made a small contribution to the warming seen on Earth in recent years, but it cannot compete with the increase in solar irradiance," Abdussamatov says, a view he has come to after studying fluctuations in the warmth of the sun. He believes he can see a pattern that fits with the ups and downs in climate we see on Earth and Mars.

Needless to say, the orthodoxy has been swift to counter such heresy, with an attempted rebuttal by Colin Wilson, a planetary physicist at Oxford University. In la Seighart mode, he declares that Abdussamatov’s views "are completely at odds with the mainstream scientific opinion." And, as we now know, "95 percent of the world’s scientists can't be wrong."

According to Wilson, the conventional theory is that climate changes on Mars can be explained primarily by small alterations in the planet's orbit and tilt, not by changes in the sun. "Wobbles in the orbit of Mars are the main cause of its climate change in the current era," he explains. All planets experience a few wobbles as they make their journey around the sun. Earth's wobbles are known as Milankovitch cycles and occur on time scales of between 20,000 and 100,000 years.

If the global warming on Mars is due to a "wobble" though, one wonders what is made of the views of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology explaining why there is also global warming on Neptune's largest moon, Triton, causing part of its surface of frozen nitrogen to turn into gas.

MIT astronomer James L. Elliot and his colleagues from MIT, Lowell Observatory and Williams College believe that Triton's warming trend could be driven by seasonal changes in the absorption of solar energy by its polar ice caps.

Whatever the cause, the warming is certainly significant. There has been a five percent increase on the absolute temperature scale from about minus-392 degrees Fahrenheit to about minus-389 degrees Fahrenheit. This is like Earth experiencing a jump of about 22 degrees Fahrenheit.

And, says Elliot, Triton is a simpler subject than Earth for studying the causes and effects of global warming. "It's generally true around the solar system that when we try to understand a problem as complex as global warming - one in which we can't control the variables - the more extreme cases we have to study, the more we can become sure of certain factors," Elliot said. "With Triton, we can clearly see the changes because of its simple, thin atmosphere."

Then there is the minor matter of Jupiter, where it is reported that a huge storm brewing on the surface of the planet, revealed by a new red spot, suggests that the planet is in the midst of a global change that can modify temperatures by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit on different parts of the globe.

So, we have the Earth, Mars, one of Neptune's moons and Jupiter, all undergoing some form of global warming.

Oh, and then there is Pluto. In 2002, another team of astronomers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Williams College, the University of Hawaii, Lowell Observatory and Cornell University, also led by James Elliot, reported a three-fold increase in the planet's atmospheric pressure during the previous 14 years, indicative of prolonged global warming.

However, Jay Pasachoff, an astronomy professor at Williams College, said that Pluto's global warming was "likely not connected with that of the Earth. The major way they could be connected is if the warming was caused by a large increase in sunlight. But the solar constant - the amount of sunlight received each second - is carefully monitored by spacecraft, and we know the sun's output is much too steady to be changing the temperature of Pluto."

So, we have Earth, Mars, one of Neptune's moons, Jupiter and Pluto all undergoing some form of global warming. All of this has got nothing to do with the sun, and uniquely, the global warming on Earth is due to the activities of man.



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