Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Butterfly tracks

I'm hooked on stories about how we change our climate and on photos from space. Today there was a new one from NASA's Earth Observatory: clouds along shipping lines, or ship tracks.

Oh, joy! An excuse to mount a Search on their website. I've read about jet contrails for years, and how there's a near-permanent band of clouds along popular routes. It seems ships have the same effect. Some of our smarter monkeys are trying to plug all these influences into the climate models on their supercomputers to see the net effect.

I actually doubt if they'll ever get there, even secretly hope they won't. The Butterfly Effect: roughly, that a bug flying or landing on a leaf has an effect which causes something else, affecting something else... Eventually, half a world away a coconut is blown onto your car. Something like that. There's just too much data, no matter how big the computer.

Still, they're getting closer. From another NASA article: "The brighter clouds that result from man-made aerosols reflect more of the Sun’s light back into space, decreasing the amount of light that reaches the Earth’s surface. This interaction of man-made aerosols with clouds has cooled the Earth, offsetting global warming, though scientists are still not sure by how much."

It all gives me a headache, but scientists say the net effect is still a warming climate. I'm not George Bush, so I'll take their word for it. For now.

That burning sensation

What about the fires we set? The second photo is of field sterilization in northwestern India. It kills some pests and fertilizes the fields, but at what price? Another butterfly to track.

There are only a few contrails in this photo of fires in the Southern U.S., but I snatched the link because of a matter-of-fact statement I found droll and scary at the same time: "At the southeastern tip, a strip of cement-colored terrain marks the location of West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami."

Which is reflective and causes what? We're too smart, and not smart enough. I've wondered for years what effect a hydrogen economy would have on climate. Imagine a city with millions of people pumping water vapor into the air. Then plug that guess into your climate model.

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