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Climate Change: Fact or Fiction?


Muir Glacier, photographed in 1941 and again in 2004. USGS photos.

Back in 1925 Glacier Bay National Monument was established, in part, to protect "a number of tidewater glaciers ... in a magnificent setting of lofty peaks ..."

Well, as these photos of Muir Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve show, some of those glaciers are slip-sliding away.

Such photographic evidence makes it hard to argue against climate change. About the only thing that can be argued is the role, if any, that humans are playing in altering the world's climate.

That said, glaciers have been coming and going in this Alaskan landscape for a long, long, long time:

Ice has been a major force in the Glacier Bay region for at least the last seven million years. The glaciers seen here today are remnants of a general ice advance – the Little Ice Age – that began about 4,000 years ago. True to its name, this advance in no way approached the extent of continental glaciation during Pleistocene times known as the Wisconsin Ice Age. The Little Ice Age reached its maximum extent here about 1750, when general melting began. The advance or retreat of a glacier snout reflects many factors: snowfall rate, topography, and climate trends. Today, glacial retreat continues on the bay's east and southwest sides, but on the west side several glaciers are advancing.


Awhile back I read an article on the role of humans in climate change. In it the author used the analogy of a standard desktop globe of the earth to give perspective. The thickness of the earth's atmosphere would be represented by a single coat of varnish on the globe. It is that thin. We have been pumping billions of tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses into this painfully thin life supporting envelop for some 150 years. How can anyone intelligently argue that humans cannot affect the climate? Of course we can - and are. Mother nature always bats last - and she is about to use that bat on us.

I don't know how you can post this fallacious tripe with a clear conscience.

The change in the number one warmest year in the US, not the globe - that's 2005, was that '34 moved from a statistical tie with '98, to a statistical tie with '98. A fact Hansen stated from the get-go. 2009 is also in a statistical tie for second place behind 2005 with '34 and '98.

Your denialist talking points get worse from there.
Yes, orbital forcing triggers (there is more than one thing that can perturb climate in one direction or another) a move out of the glacial periods, which releases CO2 locked in ice, so CO2 "follows" temp. But then CO2 typically contributes to another ~6400 years of warming. Of course this talking point ignores the fact global temperature has nothing to do with man releasing CO2 which has been locked in sinks for millenia and are inaccessible to natural forces.

Reams of data? how many years? 100? 1,000? 1,000,000? Can they or we compare it to other reams of data to assert any theory that is 57% predictable? hmmm.

I thought I knew better from my days living in Utah, but when I read the comment regarding how there's never been more forested land in the continental US that currently stands (no pun intended) I thought it would be worth the update to all parties concerned about just how much "greening" has been taking place of late. First off, with the rate of urban sprawl during the second half of the 20th C I found it difficult to believe anyone could make a statement purporting increased vegitation in our forests, but be that as it may, the following link would like to propose a slightly different view of our "great National forests".......

Now for what it's worth, there are a multitude of possibilities not discussed within the context of this article that both explain the loss of hardwood and have no tie, directly or indirectly to the climate and are mostly centered around a those exotic species of both parasitic organisms and diseases for which there are no current treatments. But to say the climate isn't at least partially involved would border on the naive. This from someone who isn't convinced that the sky is falling to begin with, but who understands that saving myself some money through a few lifestyle changes that also allow for the betterment of the planet can't be a bad thing for anyone, except the utility companies who I sincerely hope go the way of the dinosaur by the end of this year.

It's sad that our lives are being manipulated by a chosen few on the issue of our planet's "weather" cycle. It's even more curious how after decades and decades of abuse from mankind, his "intellect" now drives him to right past wrongs which he doesn't even completely understand. A guilty conscience might be a terrible thing to bear (like Bogie in Treasure of the Sierra Madre) but acting rashly based mostly on ignorance is even worse. Yes, Kurt, reams and reams of data have been complied, but to what end? Nobody and I mean NOBODY really understands the full scope of the evidence. Reams of data have also been compiled on topics such as cancer, HIV, the relationship between socio-economic status and a propensity for violence, the evils of cannabis, the odds for success when raised in a single parent home, etc. Most, if not all of these issues are less complex than is the history of our atmospheric development, but we, being the ego-centric organisms that we are, have some notion that we can accurately decipher life's intricacies when we've yet to demonstrate an ability to grasp the finer, more subtle concepts of our daily existence. So if one of my brethren throws down some rather hefty report on any given topic, we're all supposed to bow down and do homage to the Great Lord of Knowledge? These data, while available for our perusal, have the nasty habit of neglecting to mention the specific hypothesis and methods used to drive the study. Unfortunately, those are key elements in ANY proper study. Gathering data sets is all well and good, but if not effectively directed, the processes and corresponding evidence that have been compiled are generally useless. I know other posters to this site have rallied behind the good ol' boys at NASA and their supposedly irrefutable reputation. That's fine. Everyone needs a standard to rally beneath. All I'm saying is that while there can be no dispute that the climate of our planet is anything but a static process, our files pertaining to the rates and specific cycles is pathetically inadequate to correctly assess where we currently stand within any given cyclical event. Warming? Cooling? Yes, on both counts. Normal? Extreme? Not enough historical data to base a long-term prognosis upon. Reversible? Possibly, but by what degree is literally anyone's guess, with the operative term being GUESS. Should we be doing all we can to limit future impact on the system as a whole? Damn straight buddy. Why didn't we start earlier? We weren't, and still haven't been given the tools to do the job effectively. We've been strangeld by Big Business again, who sold our collective souls to feather their personal (and corporate) nests. And to this day, the bottleneck in any attempt to correct the flaws in this whole program is still at their doorstep. Long live Big Oil indeed..........

Dan raises some valid points. Issues such as climate change and guns in the parks will not be settled at the Traveler.

But I'd disagree that this is the wrong forum to discuss them. They are both, in their own ways, highly relative to the national parks, and a key mission of this site is to report on and explore issues pertinent to the parks.

National park visitors need to know about both issues. Obviously, there are many folks interested in being able to arm themselves in the parks, and just as many if not more who object to such an action. Why shouldn't the merits be discussed on the Traveler?

As for climate change, it is happening, regardless if there's unanimity in the driver. How that climate change is being expressed on the ground I'd argue is of interest to park visitors, whether it's in the form of retreating glaciers, warming waters, disappearance of long-native flora or fauna.

Anglers rightfully want to know why in late summer fishing often is banned in some Yellowstone streams because the waters are too warm and so the trout too stressed by being hooked. Why are moose seemingly disappearing from Isle Royale? Why is Glacier expected to be glacier-less within three decades? To ignore these topics on the Traveler would be a mistake.

If the Park Service can in its approach to reducing its carbon footprint educate visitors on how they can do the same in their own lives, what's wrong with that? If climate change is not being motored primarily by humankind, the only damage done will be a cleaner planet.

This debate reminds me of the ongoing flame war about concealed carry in the parks. Not only is the argument getting nowhere, but I think this is an especially bad forum for the debate. There are big, ongoing debates about whether the climate is changing, whether this change is caused or exacerbated by humans, and to what extent that change is harmful or beneficial.

Two photographs of a glacier do not constitute evidence in this debate, any more than would two sample temperatures, taken roughly at midday, in the same area, 60 years apart. Retreating or advancing glaciers are not naked-eye evidence of climate change, per se, because glaciers are the products of systems that are far more complex than mere temperature. If glaciation trends constitute a single data point, or perhaps a small series of data points, their relevance to the debate is still dependent on many other factors.

Regardless of this point, the ongoing, multi-faceted global warming debate will not be settled on National Parks Traveler. Neither will the ongoing, multi-faceted debate over the place of firearms in society. If these debates are ever settled, it will not be here. This is Kurt's house, and if he wants to raise these topics, that's his prerogative. Clearly, topics of high controversy drive traffic, and that's perfectly reasonable.

But I worry about the role of the National Park Service in the greater climate change debate. I worry that what should be a non-political organization is taking on a partisan role (whether single-issue, or broad-based). The NPS's Visitor's Bill of Rights promises visitors the right "to be treated with courtesy and consideration," and "to receive accurate and balanced information."

That promise of accurate and balanced information is a tricky one, particularly in this case. Shall we tell visitors accurately that the sky is blue, or should we balance that with the possibility that the sky is green? To some people, climate change is as real and settled as the color of the sky, and anyone who says otherwise is some combination of ignorant, corrupt, and evil. To others, climate change is real, but not anthropogenic. To a third group, climate change is a complete fraud. Shall we bow to the first group, which is undoubtedly the most vocal, and treat anthropogenic climate change as fact?

I think the NPS should move slowly on this point. There is no need to lead public opinion or public policy. No matter what anyone says, the science of climate prediction is not settled. (That statement invariably draws sputtering hysteria. If any reader is tempted, please, spare me.) If the NPS should take up the climate change drum too loudly, it risks alienating some of its supporters, both in political life and among the greater population.

Hanson's data had to be revised and the warmest year was substantially changed. His latest data used the wrong month and than declared that he had no confidence on temperature data that came from Russia. There is substantial number of scientists who dispute the hypothesis that global warming or climate change is man made.

There is not enough time to go into the entire dispute, but Gore’s carbon actually followed the climate by 800 years. Check out Viscount Monkton data and challenge to debate Al Gore on this subject.

The planets climate has changed a lot over millions of years. This year cold spell may have more to do with the very low sunspot activity this year. Low sunspot activity has correlated in the past with cold years like the little Ice Age of the 1500-1600 I believe.

As Lone Hiker states that El Nina and El Nino cycles have a lot to do with weather. Also the cold wells in the oceans that are thermal sinks and affect the warm currents have a lot of effect.

Carbon probably less than water vapor, which has greater concentrations. However conservation by more efficient systems and CF bulbs that last longer but have more mercury have beneficial effects. Certain areas of the globe seem to be changing, warm areas melting glaciers in the Alps and increase sea ice in others.

I doubt that there is any real dispute that the glacier depicted had substantially retreated. My point about more useable land is that when the glaciers retreated in northern Europe more arable land was available to grow crops and that enable civilization to rise and flourish. The average temperature in Roman times seem to be higher than currently and then the long cold years of the Dark ages seemed to be a cold period. So humans seem to thrive in warmer climates periods than cold periods.

Wind power on the coast in oceans like the Delaware project that has constant wind seems to be a good idea. I am not sure if it is economically competitive without subsidies compared to fossil fuel. I am not happy about large swaths of the middle of the country with huge windmills. I believe that is costly and despoils the landscape. I would prefer smaller nuclear power plants for electricity, which is clean and takes up a smaller footprint.

Personally I prefer the beautiful valley and water in the second photo to the bleak snowfield in the first. I would be able to enjoy the valley more than if it was still a glacier filled.

There are still many glaciers and Ice Mountains for those who enjoy climbing and hiking glaciers.

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