Bruce Barkstrom brbarkstrom at gmail.com
Wed Mar 28 15:28:53 EDT 2012

Whew - you want a lot of information for such simple sounding
questions.  I have a few questions in response:

On 1: What do you mean by "impact"?  It sounds like you're
thinking of "climate" as a single area.  Assuming you mean
the physical environment, there are likely to be different impacts

 the oceans (melting ice will produce fresh water that dilutes
the concentration of salt in the layers where the melt water
first appears),

the atmosphere (liquid water is easier to evaporate
than ice, so there might be more water transferred to the air - but
there are lots of complications, like changes to the structure of
the winds that are influenced by lots of other things),

the biological systems (where you have different kinds
of animals in the ocean and in the air above it or on
the ice)

the human systems (where there are again more complex
kinds of things to think about, such as the advantages
to commerce if the ocean becomes ice free - even in the
summer, as well as geopolitical issues, such as whether
the United States, Canada, or Russia claims the potentially
open water).

You might want to dig up Volume I of the IPCC report on
the Physical Basis for Climate Change.  It's available on-line
through the UN Web site.  You may find this useful for
background reading - particularly since the authors were
trying to write at least some parts of the summary for
government officials who weren't scientists.

2.  If you're going to tackle the issues associated with
change, you may have positive changes as well as adverse
ones.  Thus, you shouldn't let your fears cast the question
you're asking assuming only negative effects.  The usual
approach should be to first catalog the changes, then ask
who is affected - and how.  Then, you can make a more
objective determination of which effects are adverse and
which might be positive.  In addition, when you're dealing
with climate, you have to begin to think about when various
changes may become visible.  For example, in the next ten
years, there's only a modest probability that the Arctic Ocean
will be ice-free over the entire year.  If our understanding
is correct, that becomes more likely for a longer time-scale
(like out to 2100).  However, while the changes seem to be
happening quickly relative to a very long time period, they
are not disasters that will happen "the day after tomorrow".

3.  That depends!  On a lot of things.  One possibility is that
the changes will be irreversible.  In that case, the Arctic Ocean
might be ice-free forever.  Another possibility is that the climate
will lapse back to something like its current conditions after a
long time.  In dealing with the question of time scales, atmospheric
or oceanic physicists usually use order of magnitude time scales,
like "how long does what gets into the atmosphere stay there?"
For water vapor, water that evaporates from the surface into
the atmosphere rains (or snows) out in a week or two (time scale
of about 10 days).  For carbon dioxide, the time scale is much
longer, perhaps as much as 1000 years.  This time scale depends
on how rapidly CO2 dissolves in the ocean - and that depends on
the ocean water's temperature and the exchange of surface water
and deep water.  The IPCC report should be a good source of
information on our current understanding.

4.  Which ice?  There's sea ice in the polar waters.  There's ice
in glaciers on mountains, like the Himalayas.  There's also ice
in the ice caps that cover Greenland and Antarctica.  The Arctic
Ocean and the sea ice near Antarctica may be reduced in my lifetime.
There's been a lot of controversy over the glaciers in the Himalayas.
I don't have a good personal estimate of the expected time scale
- or the range of time scales - for the glacial ice.  Certainly in Glacier
National Park, there appears to be a disappearance of glaciers.
The Ice Caps have enough ice that they'll probably still be here
after I'm gone.

Hope this helps.  You'll learn more if you aren't afraid.  So take
an interest in learning as much as you can - it's actually pretty
fun to do that.

Bruce R. Barkstrom
Retired PhD in Astronomy, with about 25 years working for NASA
measuring the Earth's radiation budget and 2 years working on
preserving data at NOAA.

On Wed, Mar 28, 2012 at 2:22 PM, Annette Schloss
<annette.schloss at unh.edu> wrote:
> Hi ESIP Folks,
>  any of you educators, climate or polar scientists, please take a quick look at these questions from a high schooler and give me your thoughts.  I received this email and am not a climate scientist (and can't reach my colleague in Alaska).  The questions are interesting for us at ESIP to consider but very broad.  Any help with crafting answers is greatly appreciated!
> many thanks,
> -Annette
> Begin forwarded message:
>> From: clark4 at myfairpoint.net
>> Date: March 27, 2012 9:09:10 AM EDT
>> To: annette.schloss at unh.edu
>> Hello,
>> My name Hannah Clark. I am a sophomore at Conant High School in Jaffrey, NH.
>> I am working on a project about melting polar ice caps and one aspect is to have a conversation via email with an expert.
>> I have tried to contact others, but, am finding it difficult to get a reply and the deadling is approaching quickly! (March 29th)
>> Would you be willing to a few questions via email?
>> Any help you can give would be greatly appreciate!!!, he answers can be brief, no need to go into great detail.
>> 1. Which environmental systems (climate, biological, human) will be most impacted by the melting of the ice caps?
>> 2. How are each adversely affected?
>> 3. How long will the earth be affected by the melting?
>> 4. Do you see the ice completely melting with my/our lifetime?
>> I look forward to hearing from you.
>> Sincerely,
>> Hannah Clark
> _____________________________
> Dr. Annette L. Schloss
> Earth Systems Research Center
> 8 College Rd.
> University of New Hampshire
> Durham, NH 03824
> ph: 603-862-0348
> fax: 603-862-0188
> email: annette.schloss at unh.edu
> __________________________________________________________
> __________________________________________________________
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