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July 12, 2010 – Stephen Leahy, of Inter Press Service, does a great job of reporting little known, yet highly significant, stories. While just a short time ago his job consisted of warning people that climate change would soon be causing irreversible, self-perpetuating changes to earth’s climate, his job has now become telling us what those irreversible changes are. Yes, feedback loops have been established, and no, none of the news is good.

His most recent foray into climatic whistleblowing takes place as a result of the International Polar Year Oslo Science Conference in Norway. Attended by 2,300 polar science researchers roughly a month ago, the message delivered by this organization’s unanimous members was: the changes in the Arctic are now irreversible. Leahy is not blowing the whistle on these researchers, but rather on their – and our - do-nothing governments.

Remember the very cold, snowy winter we just experienced? We need to make up our minds to like that type of weather, because it will be the rule, for awhile, anyway. Two-and-a-half million square kilometers of sea ice has melted in the Arctic. This massive event, brought about by temperatures as much as 10 degrees centigrade warmer than the average, will produce colder and snowier winters in Europe, Asia, and parts of North America. (The fact that temperatures in the Arctic have increased two to three times faster than the global average has surprised scientists.)

James Overland, of the NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, explains that this new weather pattern is the result of climate change, natural variability, loss of sea ice reflectivity, ocean heat storage, and changing wind patterns. The Arctic climate system has been destabilized, and is becoming more unstable all the time. ‘”This is a very big change for the entire planet,”’ according to David Barber, Arctic climatologist at the University of Manitoba in Canada, ‘”Sea ice is the key system in [the] Arctic.”’

A very big change for the entire planet. I don’t know if I’ve ever read such a definitive statement about climate change before. ‘”A very big change ...”’ Here’s how I understand those words: moisture was, until very recently, locked up in the form of Arctic sea ice. Enough moisture has now been dispersed, because of ice melt, to have reached a tipping point. Instead of constituting reflective ice, some of it is now part of our overheated oceans. Some of it has been absorbed into the atmosphere as water vapor. (Remember, too, that water vapor is a greenhouse gas.) As a result, parts of the world are getting record-setting rains right now. Other regions will get record-setting snowfall come winter. That moisture had to go somewhere, right?

“With ever more open water absorbing the sun’s heat, the Arctic Ocean is warming up, melting more ice in a positive feedback loop.” Those are words that fill me with dread, words I had prayed I would not read for a very long time. A new climate system is being established to replace the old climate system. Nature abhors a vacuum, so there will be no hiatus, no brief period during which climate exists in limbo. Out with the old, in with the new. Because open water is darker than ice, it absorbs heat rather than reflecting it. A decrease in ice cover guarantees an increase in temperature. The hotter it gets, the more ice melts. In other words, the hotter it gets, the hotter it gets. That is the new climate system.

Leahy tells us that the new system has established itself by means of a “positive feedback loop.” A loop, of course, comes back around on itself. In electronics, a loop denotes a closed circuit. For our purposes, a feedback loop denotes a closed system. That new weather system we were talking about is closed, unresponsive to outside influences or impacts. Imperturbable. Much as we might try, we can no longer revert to the old system. Mitigate the length and severity of the new system? Yes, there may still be time for that. Further delay is, however, out of the question.


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