Norman D. Howard
Norman D. Howard's entire professional career has been involved in offshore engineering, designing and building fixed and floating structures for offshore use.
Reading global warming advocacy literature, and even global warning skeptic material, I am surprised at the scant attention given to the global marine environment. As an engineering professional working within the offshore environment, I find that the perception of most people is not oriented towards the oceans, but is clearly land based. This is not surprising as people live on land. However, our planet's surface is nearly three-fourths seawater.
Over the past three or four years, the following set of questions has been developed to open discussions with GW enthusiasts and skeptics alike. Curiously, virtually no one answers these questions correctly.
See how you do. Write your answer before reading on:
If you melted all of the North Pole ice cap, how many feet would the oceans rise?
Where does most of the world's photosynthesis take place?
What is the second most photosynthesis source?
Where is most of the earth's carbon dioxide located?
Where is the second largest carbon dioxide reservoir?
Hearing the answers that many give to these questions gives rise to the opinion that common sense is completely lacking in the general population. The simple answers to these questions become quite clear when they are put into perspective.
The North Pole ice cap consists of floating ice. It already is displacing its own weight. Archimedes' rule still applies. Melting the North Polar ice cap will not cause the oceans to rise at all! Incidentally, if the ice melts in your ice tea, does the level of fluid increase? Of course not!
Most of the photosynthesis on the planet does not take place in the rain forests, nor anywhere on land, but in the ocean. Remember, the oceans cover three-fourths of the planet, and major biological activity takes place down to more than 100 meters deep. Terrestrial biological activity is mostly within 30 meters (often much less) of the surface, with few exceptions.
Most of the planet's CO2 is in the rocks! The white cliffs of Dover, for instance, are essentially pure calcium carbonate. Throughout the planet, quantities of carbonate minerals and materials exist in large volumes.
Because free CO2 in the atmosphere is soluble in seawater, and the air-sea interface (remember, three-fourths of the planet) is an equilibrium boundary, the oceans themselves contain the second largest volume of CO2. Third, the atmosphere does contain a volume of CO2.
The transport of CO2 from seawater to diatoms, shellfish, and many creatures' exoskeletons fixes the CO2 into mineral form. Likewise, photosynthesis in sea-borne plants fixes CO2 as well. When the creatures die, they settle to the seafloor, forming great basins of mineral carbonates.
Plate tectonics moves the seafloor into collision with other plates. When this occurs, one plate may subduct under the adjacent plate, plunging the seafloor rocks deep into the planet's crust, greatly heating the rocks until they melt and disassociate the CO2 from the calcium. Volcanoes then subsequently can release vast amounts of CO2 when they erupt. CO2 in the air is removed by photosynthesis, and is also removed by dissolving in seawater, which completes the CO2 cycle.
Recognition of the CO2 cycle in the planet's mineralogy, and the important role that the ocean plays in this cycle is curiously missing from all discussions of GW that I have read.
Role of Temperature Balance
The net mass of the atmosphere is equivalent to about 33 feet of seawater. This is often expressed as atmospheric pressure (14.7 psi). The oceans, covering three-fourths of the planet, average about 12,000 feet over that area. If we were to imagine covering the entire planet uniformly with seawater, the average depth would be about 9,000 feet. Dividing 9,000 feet by 33 feet we see that the mass ratio of the oceans to the air is about 270 to one. As water has slightly less than six times the heat capacity of air, the heat capacity of the ocean is about 1,600 times the heat capacity to the air.
Because the effect of weather and the ocean currents is to mix the fluids of the biosphere, heating the atmosphere must necessarily heat the oceans. This temperature feedback process is virtually never discussed in the GW advocacy literature. Enormous increases in atmospheric temperatures would be required to make even a tenth of a degree change in the global temperature.
Extent of Data Record
Nevertheless, it is clear that the earth has been warming! Ice sheets covered the poles of the planet as far South as 42 degrees North in the Northern hemisphere approximately 12,000 years ago. So, the earth has been warming for at least 12,000 years, an extremely beneficial condition for the development of civilization! Thus a full heating and cooling cycle would appear to be about 25,000 years (Perhaps an astrophysical phenomenon).
Information technology informs the scientist that in order to make scientifically valid statements concerning any cyclic phenomenon, at least two cycles of the oscillation must be observed. Thus to really describe planetary catastrophic warming or cooling, at least 50,000 years of detailed records must be analyzed. Clearly, this is not the case with controlled sample data available.
As an example of this concept, I asked my stockbroker if (given the stock market record of the past sixty some years since the Second World War) he would put all of his money on any given stock with the expectation it would go up by 50 percent by a week from next Tuesday. He, of course, said no, that the record did not support such a gamble. So it is with making short-term (20 to 30 years) predictions of long-term (tens of thousands of years) phenomena: definitive statements are speculative at best.
As a marine engineering specialist, I remain skeptical of claims that human-caused catastrophic global warming is taking place in the immediate future. The common sense and scientific questions that remain unanswered concerning the marine environment are extremely troubling.
It occurs to me that "politically correct" rent seeking behavior of those seeking to obtain government sponsored grants and contracts is a major contributing factor bearing on manmade global warming. Aahhhhh! "Grantsmanship!" *
"I was always taught to respect my elders and I've now reached the age when I don't have anybody to respect." --George Burns