Polar Melt Computation For Idiots

Let me explain why POLAR MELTING IS INELUCTABLE & UNDER WAY, using a reasoning I have seen nowhere else, and which is so simple, even a complete idiot should be able to understand it. As there are many of these, and always keen to serve the Demos, it is my pleasure to present a primary school reasoning for the masses about why it is that permafrost (and the glaciers sitting on top of it) is already condemned. (So they can take their two degree Centigrades of warming, and shove it; actually according to the UK meteorological service we are already one degree up, globally.)

For reasons having probably to do with sun activity (?), the Earth’s surface was pretty warm at the end of the Roman Republic, and then again around the year 1000. Shortly before that, the Viking discovered Greenland “Green-Land”). Having cut all forests of Iceland, they brought trees from North America, but had bad relations with the “skraelings” (“weaklings”).

However, by 1300 CE, climate change struck. It was most probably the Sun responding to cycles of its own making. By 1500 CE the Vikings of Greenland died of cold (the proof was found by studying the adaptation to cold of the insects which had feasted on Viking corpses; and similar studies on crops, etc.).

PPP Glacier d’ Argentiere Already In Full Retreat, But Still Close to Valley Floor, 1850

PPP Glacier d’ Argentiere Already In Full Retreat, But Still Close to Valley Floor, 1850

By 1300 CE, Europe peaked in population, and had surpassed the Ancient Greco-Roman empire in many ways (in particular energy use per person). However, the climate soon took a turn for the worse, and the conflict with the still increasing population brought ecological devastation, famines, wars and the plague, within less than 30 years. European population collapsed by half, or more (no plutocrat got killed in the making of this movies, stand reassured, good people: only losers died, and plutocrats came out richer and more powerful and crazy as ever).

By 1650 CE, during the Little Ice Age, the city of Chamonix was threatened by disappearance, crushed by “horrible glaciers”. No less than three huge glaciers reached the Chamonix valley floor, at 1,000 meters of altitude: the glaciers of Argentiere, Bossons, and the Mer de Glace.

The communes, with moult details, told the authorities that they should be exempt from taxation, because of the “horrible glaciers“. The glaciers stayed on the valley floor until 1840 CE. All over the Alps, glaciers were advancing, villages had to be abandoned.

By 1850, the Little Ice Age was finishing, while the Green House Gas crisis had started (CO2 ppm: 287, from a baseline of 275 ppm during the Little Ice Age).

Melting has to do with how warm it gets in the warmest months. The permafrost line at 45 degree north is roughly at an average of 3000 meters right now, and 3,000 kilometers north of that, it is at sea level (that’s (45 + 27) degrees north = 72 degree north; the Arctic Circle is at 66 degrees). This means that one meter up brings a cooling equivalent to the cooling that going one kilometer north brings. (Call this Patrice’s rule of thumb.)

Looking at Alpine glaciers at 45 degrees, the most detailed historical example known is Chamonix, in the French Alps, at an altitude of 1,000 meters. (French glaciologists went to Greenland, and studied glaciers there which have retreated by 50 kilometers, on flat to rolling terrain, unbeknownst to humanity… But the Chamonix glaciers are known from Roman times.)

Glacier d’Argentiere, July 2015, Terminal Tongue, 1000 Meters Higher

Glacier d’Argentiere, July 2015, Terminal Tongue, 1000 Meters Higher

1000 meters higher means a northern retreat of the glaciation line by 1000 kilometers north, as I have explained.

Now the large glaciers around Chamonix end around 2000 meters. French glaciologists are the world’s most dedicated and most expert, from a long institutional memory: in the present condition, from refined studies, on and inside (!) glaciers, they expect an unstoppable retreat all the way to 3500 meters.

Let’s think about this. It means that, by 45 degree of northern latitude, the terminal tongues of glaciers will have gone from 1000 meters, up to 3500 meters. Now, as we saw, going up one kilometer north is equivalent to going up one meter. Thus, the permafrost line will go 2,500 meters up in the Alps and 2,500 kilometers north at sea level, since 1850 CE. However, the permafrost line is basically 2000 kilometers south of the pole. (There are important local variations, depending upon sea currents, east-west air circulation, etc.)

Conclusion: in its migration north, the permafrost is going to run out of planet. And this has already happened. Simply, there is colossal inertia in the system. Just as small Alpine glaciers disappear readily, and large ones look better longer, giant ice caps and ice shelves do take longer to look as bad. But the latter will disappear just as well, from the temperatures we already have now.

Desperate French and German mountaineers, in their anxiety to save whatever they can, have resorted to covering some glaciers with special white canvass. Actually the method is used on the Argentiere glacier itself, up high, to allow summer skiing (otherwise there would not be summer skiing anymore; by the way, I skied there, in summer, so I have more than a passing acquaintance to the situation). The canvass method works very well. But this kind of geoengineering will not work on a planetary scale (just too expensive, energy-wise)..

All right, ladies and gentlemen, time for serious de-carbonization! Because you have not seen anything yet of the incredible melting which we already cannot stop. As the permafrost melts, it will release colossal amounts of methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2), and the effect will feed on itself, non-linearily, including with methane hydrates in the shallow, and immense, Siberian seas…

Fluctuat Nec Mergitur, Paris’ ancient motto: it’s agitated, but we navigate, has to apply to all of humanity. So navigate away from carbon. And that means nuclear energy, yes, and much more solar, and going industrial with hydrogen (which can store both nuclear, and solar).

Patrice Ayme’  

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3 Responses to “Polar Melt Computation For Idiots”

  1. Kevin Berger Says:

    Heh. I usually have not much to add to your climate entries, as I do believe you’re right, and because I have long been used to live with my learned helplessness, but I’ll just mention it’s rather amusing to have the view from my window used as a graphic (both meanings) illustration of your points. (Yeah, when you come to Chamonix for the ultra-trail or whatever, I’m one of the local losers who flip your burgers, basically).
    Ego titillation aside, you’re quite right in your local assessment, in my lifetime and focusing on “weather” alone, the gradual disappearance of “real” winters has been quite noticeable. And the contrast between my childhood recollections of the mer de glace, and what can be seen now is more than striking, it’s just plain weird.


    • Patrice Ayme Says:

      I can testify that you are over-qualified for burger-flipping. I made an (unpublicized) apparent first ascent on the part of the Dru which collapsed, BTW. Nearly go killed in a humongous avalanche in the gully below the Bonatti pillar, before that. Since I am dead ever since, I have become even more brazen, an interesting flip of the hamburger… Speaking of that, got to run…


  2. Antarctica Disintegrating Soon | Patrice Ayme's Thoughts Says:

    […] stable, impervious, a Reich to last 10,000 years, strong and dominating. But not exactly, according to surveys with ice-penetrating radar. A March study shows that one large swath of the ice sheet sits on beds as deep as 8,000 feet below […]


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