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Dan's Wild Wild Science Journal
Welcome at » 2010 » July

Your's truly looking at the ice core from 2,500 meters beneath the Greenland Ice Cap. The science trench where the drill is located is -20C and is about 10 meters below the surface. Dan's pic.

I’ve just returned today from Greenland and†am looking forward to seeing my first “night” in 10 days!

The 14 countries that have supported the NEEM ice core project got their money’s worth this week. The two year project to drill an ice core through 2,500 meters of ice finally reached Greenland rock.

Where Is It

NEEM at Midnight- Dan's Pic.

The NEEM site is at 8,300 feet on top of the ice sheet. I arrived there a week ago Tuesday and was a guest for 8 nights. There were 38 of us in a small camp in the middle of a magnificent desolation of white.

The population of this tiny outpost is an international mix of young and older scientists, researchers and ice core drilling experts. Many like Jim White, the Director of the Stable Isotope Lab at INSTAAR are renowned experts in their fields.

It was a fun and fascinating 9 days with top ice scientists from Denmark, France, USA,Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand.

There was a riot of different accents but everyone had one thing in common.

Scientific curiosity.

Among those in science, that always transcends national borders, languages and cultures.

About NEEM

James White of the University of Colorado and director of INSTAAR.

I was a guest of Paleoclimate expert †Jim White the director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) at the Uni. of Colorado. Dr. White arranged the support of the National Science Foundation. After Denmark, the NSF was the second biggest funder of NEEM.

So what did the folks at NEEM do in plain language?

They pulled up ice that was once falling as snow in Greenland around 150,000 years ago! Then they analysed and read it like a climate history book. This was the first time that a boat load of science was done on an ice core as it was being obtained.

This was during the ice age that preceded the Eemian. The Eemian is the warm period before our last ice age. This means we now have an ice core that goes all the way back through the Holocene (The warm period after the last ice age in which we now live), the ice age before the Holocene, and then the warm period before the last ice age (The Eemian) and finally into the penultimate ice age before the Eemian!

This is from the Antarctic VOSTOK ice core. Notice how stable the climate has been during the short blip of time called the Holocene. Virtually all of civilisation developed in the Holocene. Notice how unstable the climate was before! NEEM has now obtained a core from Greenland that goes back a similar period to that shown here. (NOAA)

Knowing what the climate of Earth was like in the Eemian is vitally important. The main reason is because there is overwhelming evidence the Earth will be as warm as the Eemian by the end of this century.

It should not be. The best evidence we have is that the Earth should be cooling slightly. It is actually doing just the opposite because of rapidly rising greenhouse gases.

There is no doubt among the scientists that we will continue to warm. Even if we quit burning fossil fuels tonight, the planet will continue to warm at least another degree. That’s because a lot of the warming has been stored in the oceans. If we keep burning coal and oil, the warming will be much more severe.

There is little debate about that in the science community. Almost none actually.

NEEM Camp- Dan's pic (click to make real big)

The Scary Bit Is What Is Not Known.

Could there be a rapid warming?

A significant jump in temperature that happens in a decade?

Sound crazy?

Think again., The ice core at NEEM and the other Greenland cores all show that this has happened many times in the past. Very abrupt warmings are part of our climate. The question is what are the tipping points that cause these. The bigger question is are we about to reach one.

This ice core at NEEM may hold very important clues.

Pictures and Video

I took thousands of pics and made 5 hours of video at NEEM. We will air reports on WHNT for those in North Alabama and there will be an in-depth documentary about NEEM coming as well from Dave Jones at Storm Center Communications. I was part of the three man team that Dave sent.

My colleagues, David Stroud and Robert Freeland, and I had an incredible adventure. I learned more of the latest climate science in 8 days than I could have in a year at home. (I had captive climate experts to ask questions of and I took advantage.)

We were there when NEEM reached bedrock.

Stay tuned here for the pictures and the story. I think you will find it fascinating.

One thing for sure, the phrase “snow on the toilet paper” will have a significant meaning to me for the rest of my life!

More soon after I sleep for awhile!

Dan

Crossing the Greenland Coast near the Arctic Circle. Dan's pic Monday 19 July.

On approach to Kangerlussiuq. Dan's pic July19, 2010. Click for larger version. Can you spot the two glaciers??

Well I have made it back to Greenland and the Arctic. Seven months and 8 days ago I was at the South Pole. This morning I wake up 60 miles on the cold side of the Arctic Circle.

If the weather holds, and that is iffy, the NY 109th Air Guard will land us on a ski equipped LC130 at NEEM around 11am. I will then be just around 700 miles from the North pole.

Rumour has it that the NEEM drill team has gone all the way through the Eemian ice and are pulling up ice from the ice age before it! It is amazing that one of the most important scientific endeavours of the past decade is unheard of by the world at large.

However, that is about to change. A group of †European press will be coming up with us. They will stay just a few hours, while I along with David Stroud, our videographer, and Robert Freeland, the sound expert will be there at least 5 nights. They are shooting top quality video for a documentary.

Refuel stop at Goose Bay in Labrador. The NY Air Guard are the only group in the world who can fly the scientists and researchers to the top and bottom of the world. I flew a plane just like this one to the South Pole just 7 months ago. These folks are heroes to the science folks.

There is decent high speed Internet here at the KISS facility in Kanger. There will be none at NEEM. The sleeping ports will be just below freezing, but I have been given very warm clothing! The sleeping bag is good to 30 below! Weather is iffy so you may get another post later tonight if we cannot land today.

Leaving the map of civilisation at 9am…

Dan


From Asia Society- GRIP (1921 by G. Mallory)

The Glacier Research Imaging Project (GRIP) has released some stunning images of Everest taken from the same spot In 1921 by George Mallory and in 2007.

Go to the Asia Society web site and see the changes for yourself.

Click the pic to go to the site.

Compare that with Michael Mann’s famous graph.

More threads: Reconstructions of the Earth's temperature. Most by Dr. Micheal Mann Penn State. Image from Gavin Schmidt NASA/Real Climate.

The reason scientist come to have faith in a theory is NEVER based on one single line of evidence. A strong theory is made up of a rope of intermingled threads of independent evidence. This is why those who search in vain for that one study that will prove climate science is a big hoax are destined to always be grasping at threads that break.

The thick rope of AGW theory just added another thread in the form of two pictures. This thread is not a biggy. It doesn’t prove anything †other †than the fact that there is much less ice at Everest in 2007 than in 1921. Not much in itself, but when you add it to thousands of other interwoven threads, a thick rope forms.

There are lots of these ropes in science. Copernicus and Galileo started one that is as thick as my thigh now. So did Charles Darwin and that rope is just as thick.† Alfred Wegener started one in the early 1900′s. He †did not live to see the strong rope of plate tectonic theory that holds modern Geology together.

I’m about to leave the map for two weeks. †I head to Northern Greenland on Sunday. While on the icecap at† NEEM there will be no internet, TV and not much of a phone! I may be able to get a brief post out of Kangerlussuaq but no promises.

Alfred Wegener died on the Greenland Ice Cap in 1930. I will be thinking about him while looking at the midnight sun.

Dan

From NOAA- NCDC

Click or ful size- From NCDC

NOAA/NCDC released a whole slew of rather grim climate news today. It’s important to remember that besides the sun and increasing greenhouse gases there is a lot of built in variability in the climate system. It’s only been in the last couple of decades that the greenhouse warming has risen out of the noise created by weather.

That said, even with El Nino gone and the sun coming out of one of it’s quietest periods of the century, the temperatures have soared. The last 4 consecutive months have been the hottest on record. The first 6 months of the year are also the hottest on record.

The mid tropospheric temps from UAH and RSS are also running near or above the warmest ever on their much shorter record.

The Arctic sea ice also continues it’s decline. The rate of decline in June was the fastest ever measured.

From NSIDC

The Antarctic is actually gaining ice due to a complex weather pattern induced by ozone depletion and cooling in the stratosphere. This cooling is also caused by increasing greenhouse gases.

Dome at NEEM on the Greenland Icecap- courtesy NEEM

While the lower 48 bakes this summer, a group of 30 researchers are drilling a big hole in the ice at the top of the world. It’s all in the name of science. The North Greenland Eemian ice core project is not the first ice core to be drilled through the Greenland icecap. It may be the most important though.

Rewriting Earth’s Climate History

Earlier cores have rewritten the climate text books. This core will likely do the same. Especially, if the group at NEEM are lucky enough to get a good core of ice from the Eemian.

The Eemian is the name for the warm period BEFORE the last ice age. Knowing how the climate behaved then, and in the transition to the ice last ice age, will tell us a lot about what we are facing in the future.

VOSTOK Ice Core showing the temperature over the last 500,000 years. The temperature data was derived using oxygen isotopes.

Playing With Fire and Ice

We are without doubt fiddling with the Earth’s thermostat. In spite of what you may think, the ice cores and sediment cores we have already tell us that our climate is not nearly as stable as written human history would indicate.

The last ten thousand years have been very unusual. The climate has been very benign and stable. Brian Fagan wrote a book about this period called “The Long Summer”.

Look at the data from previous ice cores. The Vostok ice core from Antarctica shows very well how stable the last 10,000 years have been and how unstable the previous 500,000 years before it were! The red line in the graphic shows a very stable climate for the past 10,000 years. Before that the climate is a roller coaster.

The Lines Go Up and Down Together For A Reason

You can also see how closely related to temperature the amount of carbon dioxide and methane (CH4) are. Both of these gases are called greenhouse gases and they act to magnify greatly any minor warming from changes in Earth’s orbit around the sun.

There is a growing acceptance among evolutionary biologists that the reason our African ancestors evolved much larger brains is climate related. The changing climate that kicked in about 3 million years ago forced it. NOVA did an especially interesting program on this in 2009.

Oxygen isotope record from two Greenland Ice Cores called GRIP and North GRIP. The stable climate called the Long summer is clearly visible from the left of the graph until about 10,000 ybp. The NEEM drill site is hoping to get higher resolution data back in the Eemian (115-130K ybp)

You might be wondering (and you should be) just how it is possible to tell what the temperature and levels of CO2 were in the atmosphere from an ice core? The answers lie in bubbles and isotopes.

The Technical Bit

The ice in these cores contain bubbles of gas that are filled with the air at around the time the snow fell. These bubbles actually disappear in the deeper core as the gas bubbles get merged into the ice. The gases are still detectable and readable though.

Oxygen comes in two main forms O18 has two extra neutrons but it's still Oxygen. Image from NASA. NASA has a detailed explanation of how this fact is used to measure temperatures thousands of years ago.

The temperature can be obtained by looking at the ratio of two types of Oxygen. Oxygen has 8 protons in each atom. That is why it’s called Oxygen. The oxygen we breath is actually O2 which is two atoms of Oxygen bonded together. O2 has 16 protons and 16 Neutrons. However, a very tiny percentage of oxygen that you breath has 2 extra neutrons.

This is not a big deal as your body thinks it is oxygen and it really is. It still has 16 protons and that’s all that counts. Atoms of the same element that have differing numbers of neutrons are called ISOTOPES. Oxygen has O16 and O18 isotopes.

O18 is 12.5% heavier than the usual O16 molecule. The heavier molecule falls out in rain or snow more quickly. How quickly is dependent on temperature and this means you can measure the ratio of O16 to O18 in the ice core and deduce the temperature of the ocean the snow evaporated from! Click the rotating molecules for a more detailed explanation.

Cocktail Party Advice From Dan

So, next time you hear someone say something like “How could they possibly know what the temperature was like 50,000 years ago”, you can tell them. If my experience is any guide, you will just get a mean look. ;)

CFA lab at NEEM- image ctsy. NEEM

Continuous Flow Analyzer

At NEEM this year, they are using a device called a continuous flow analyzer to measure the properties of the ice core. This is very helpful. It lets them know in near real time about what the age of the ice they are pulling up from the drill is. Only a part of the ice core is used for this. Much of the core will be kept intact and used for research for many years.

Dave Jones, the President of Storm Center Communications, has asked me to go up to the ice sheet and help tell the story. Dave is a Meteorologist. Those of you in the Washington DC area may remember him from WRC – TV a few years back.† His company is heavily involved in showing real science to a wider world.

The folks at NEEM will reach bedrock in a week or so. There is rock beneath all that ice. Those rocks have not seen the light of day for well over 100,000 years and probably much longer.

I may get to see some of those rocks come into the sunshine of the 21st century in person. I will leave for NEEM Monday.

It should be quite an adventure, and I will take plenty of pictures.

Current CO2 Level in the Atmosphere