Skip to comments.The Coming and Going of Glaciers: A New Alpine Melt Theory
Posted on 06/18/2005 5:06:43 AM PDT by aculeus
The Alpine glaciers are shrinking, that much we know. But new research suggests that in the time of the Roman Empire, they were smaller than today. And 7,000 years ago they probably weren't around at all. A group of climatologists have come up with a controversial new theory on how the Alps must have looked over the ages.
The Morteratsch glacier in Switzerland has retreated by 1.5 km since 1900. Some scientists believe that glacial fluctuation could be a more normal development than previously thought.
He may not look like a revolutionary, but Ulrich Joerin, a wiry Swiss scientist in his late twenties, is part of a small group of climatologists who are in the process of radically changing the image of the Swiss mountain world. He and a colleague are standing in front of the Tschierva Glacier in Engadin, Switzerland at 2,200 meters (7,217 feet). "A few thousand years ago, there were no glaciers here at all," he says. "Back then we would have been standing in the middle of a forest." He digs into the ground with his mountain boot until something dark appears: an old tree trunk, covered in ice, polished by water and almost black with humidity. "And here is the proof," says Joerin.
Radical new theory
The tree trunk in the ice is part of a huge climatic puzzle that Joerin is analyzing for his doctoral thesis for the Institute for Geological Science at the University of Bern. And he is coming to an astonishing conclusion. The fact that the Alpine glaciers are melting right now appears to be part of regular cycle in which snow and ice have been coming and going for thousands of years.
The glaciers, according to the new hypothesis, have shrunk down to almost nothing at least ten times since the last ice age 10,000 years ago. "At the time of the Roman Empire, for example, the glacier tongue was about 300 meters higher than today," says Joerin. Indeed, Hannibal probably never saw a single big chunk of ice when he was crossing the Alps with his army.
The most dramatic change in the landscape occurred some 7,000 years ago. At the time, the entire mountain range was practically glacier-free -- and probably not due to a lack of snow, but because the sun melted the ice. The timber line was higher then as well.
The scientists' conclusion puts the vanishing glaciers of the past 150 years into an entirely new context: "Over of the past 10,000 years, fifty percent of the time, the glaciers were smaller than today," Joerin states in an essay written together with his doctoral advisor Christian Schluechter. They call it the "Green Alps" theory.
Joerin admits his theory goes against conventional wisdom. "It is hard to imagine that the glaciers, as we know them, were not the norm in past millennia, but rather an exception," he says while he and his companions dig out the tree trunk with shovels, axes and bare hands.
Indeed, critics accuse him and his colleagues of relying on a thin and ambivalent layer of facts. The Green Alpinists respond to the argument their own way: with a large orange chain saw. Kurt Nicolussi, a slender man in his late 40s, slices a slab of wood as large as a wiener schnitzel out of the trunk and analyzes it. "At least 400 annual rings, well preserved, perhaps the best sample we have ever had," he declares proudly.
Dead wood tells a lively story
Nicolussi, professor for Alpine Research at the University of Innsbruck, Nicolussi is a dendrochronologist, something of a tree historian. He records the exact location of the find, carefully packs up the slab and labels it with a new name: "TSC-160" -- find number 160 of the Tschierva Glacier. Under the microscope, the thickness and the shape of the annual rings reveal a considerable amount of detail about the location and the climate conditions under which the tree grew. To date, he has collected and analyzed more than 400 chunks of wood.
Nicolussi's assessment of TSC-160: It comes from a stone pine (Pinus cembra) that lived at least 538 years. "This is not unusual, pines grow extremely slowly, but become quite old," the scientist explains. TSC-160 died approximately 6880 years ago, during the Neolithic Age, somewhere at the foot of Piz Bernina which is today covered with an impenetrable ice shield.
Somewhere along the line, the tree was buried by masses of ice and dragged into the valley where it remained until the glacier set it free again last summer -- a secret message from the Stone Age at a place thought to be covered in "eternal ice."
Although glacier experts like Hanspeter Holzhauser have been collecting remains of plants in the vicinity of glaciers for years, they only began systematically analyzing the finds about 13 years ago.
At first, he and his students collected over a thousand little chunks of wood and shreds of turf on their excursions along the glaciers, from the Engadin in the east to the Unterwallis in the west, from the Forno and Stei Glacier to the du Mont Mine Glacier. Finds include the remains of birch trees, willows, Norway spruce, pines, larch and a lot of the resilient Swiss stone pine.
There is a simple deduction that lends support to the Green Alp theory: The bits of trees that have been washed out of the glaciers must come from further up the mountain. And if trees grew up there, then the mountains could not have been covered by glaciers.
Schluechter sent over a hundred of the old bits of wood to a special laboratory for carbon dating. They discovered that the trees didn't grow up there continually, but rather within ten periods of time since the end of the last ice age.
The dynamic history of glaciers
"The history of the glacial cover apparently is more dynamic than had been assumed until now," says Schleuchter. According to this model, the glaciers were smallest about 7,000 years ago, largest during the "mini ice age" of 1650 to 1850. Since this last cold spell, the tongues of ice have been receding quickly -- for a paleo-climatologist 150 years are just a wink in time.
Schluechter knew that his theory would be a hard sell in professional circles, and he needed more samples to back it up. He came up with a trick to get help: He and doctoral candidate Joerin published an article in the the Swiss Alpine Association's members magazine. At the end they included a plea to "mountain guides, mountaineering schools and hut keepers, to register wood and turf finds. They promised that "Finders would get the next summit drink for free." The feedback was amazing: some 50 envelopes with tips and samples landed in the Institute's mailbox.
Some experts have greeted the Green Alp theory with great interest. They include Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, who studied Schluechter's results. He too considers it possible that the Alpine glaciers used to be smaller than they are today.
But there are critics. Like Oetzi, the 5,300 year old Stone Age man whose body was found in the Oetz Valley Alps. After all, how could his corpse have remained intact if the ice receded again and again? The Green Alpinists argue that the fluctuation in the glacier level was subject to local influences and did not hold true for the entire Alps region.
Wilfried Haeberli of the Department of Geography at the University of Zurich is a more vocal critic. The extreme warm phases suggested by Schluechter's theory are not compatible with findings derived from ocean sediments, pollen analysis and ice cores. In fact, most climate data proves that since the Ice Age, it has never been warmer than it is today. How, one might ask, could the Alps have been free of glaciers in the Stone Age?
Negating the effect of climate change?
Joerin is quick to explain that he is not trying to explain away the effects of man-made warming of the past few years: "Our findings so far could also be seen as giving the exact opposite of a climatic all-clear," he says. "If we can prove that there were ancient forests where the glaciers are today, it means one thing in particular: that the climate can change more suddenly than we thought."
Up on the Tschierva Glacier the two scientists are especially keen on finding the answers to the most pressing questions of the day: How quickly did the climate change? How quickly did the balance of ice slip from a plus into a minus and back again? The carbon dating method they've been using is far too imprecise for this, which is why the scientists plan to compare their results to the analysis of the carbon rings. For that they need more samples like TSC-160.
Joerin spots the ideal specimen. "Up there, that is a prime example," he says, pointing to a tree trunk in the ice, deep and unreachable. The scientists will have to return at another time, but they have already set a date. By October the glacier will have receded another 50 meters, freeing the tree trunk for the chainsaw and the microscope.
© DER SPIEGEL 21/2005 All Rights Reserved Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH
What evidence do you have to support that assertion? Take a gander at this: CHANGING CLIMATE Going to depths for evidence of global warming Heating trend in North Pacific baffles researchers
Or this: The Fiery Face of the Arctic Deep
CO2 doesn't increase precipitation. And if it were to increase precipitation (through so-called greenhouse warming) the temperatures would be too high for the snow to stick around all summer.
What do base that assertion on. Check this out: Heavy Rainfall Has Increased as Temperatures Have Risen Bringing Threat of More Damage in Future
If you accumulate enough snow during the winter, it will stay all summer and reduce the surface and air temperatures, i.e., you have an ice age.
The assertions of the "man causes global warming" crowd include the notion of greenhouse gases. They are false. The change of 100 parts per million of CO2 doesn't make the atmosphere suddenly able to defy thermodynamics. Pseudoscientists say that it does. Pointing to greenhouse gas assertions of the global warming shills in order to prop up a volcanic / natural change model means the model is false. Have a nice day.
You make solipsistic arguments without any factual basis. You make statements that, "The oceans aren't warming at depth" without providing any factual basis. I give you specific references showing that you are factually wrong. You are not being intellectually honest. Have a good day.
Your 1st link:
A change of 5 thousandths of one degree centigrade..
Compared to measurements made in 1985..
I find the temperature difference inconsequential, it can be accounted for simply by more accurate measuring equipment in the last 20 years..
While the Mid Arctic Ridge is more active than in the past, it is still the most inactive of all the ridges.. It states that right in the article.. ( extremely slow expansion of 1 centimeter per year.. )
The only increase in activity has been the vulcanism, which as I understand it, is the basis of your "globally warming oceans" theory..
This is evidence of nothing, it is a local phenomenon that may be affecting the arctic, but affects little on global terms..
Not sure who Gary Novak is, other than what it states.. ( He is a biologist, not a geologist or oceanographer.. )
His scientific opinion is just that... His opinion..
Quotes from the article:
these analyses represent a small fraction of the land surface and a very small part of the planet, so a global picture cannot be formed at this stage.
At this stage, it is not clear what proportion of the observed warming and any associated increase in rainfall intensity is due to natural variability or to anthropogenic influences such as land-use change, biomass burning, ozone depletion and increased levels of greenhouse gases. Attribution of cause and effect is unlikely to be a simple task.
GCMs can simulate the continental scale behavior of the climate system but small-scale features like thunderstorms are not well resolved due to limited computer power.
Due to limited computer power, models with such fine detail can only be run over small regions.
A number of RCMs have been used in enhanced greenhouse simulations, but few have been analysed for changes in heavy rainfall.
All of this points to one conclusion..
Computer modelling sucks..
Your last link is from the BBC:
I'm sorry, when it comes to Global Warming the BBC is totally crackpot and dishonest.. One of the biggest scaremonger News sites on the Web..
Minus 10 points for loss of credibility..
A lot of "conjecture" mixed with caveats to CYA by the authors of these articles.. and some "misinterpretation" on your part..
Of course, to be honest, I was purposely looking for contradictions, loopholes, outright exaggerations and lies at every one of the links you posted..
I probably should consider my analysis "biased"..
At any rate, thanks for some interesting reading..
Hannibals invasion was in 218 B.C., that was during the Roman Republic, not the Empire. Polybius and Livys accounts both state that Hannibal encountered ice. Must have fluctuated again by the time of the Roman Empire.
But even so he was no luckier; progress was impossible, for though there was good foothold in the quite shallow layer of soft fresh snow which had covered the old snow underneath, nevertheless as soon as it had been trampled and dispersed by the feet of all those men and animals, there was left to tread upon only the bare ice and liquid slush of melting snow underneath. The result was a horrible struggle, the ice affording no foothold in any case, and least of all on a steep slope; when a man tried by hands or knees to get on his feet again, even those useless supports slipped from under him and let him down; there were no stumps or roots anywhere to afford a purchase to either foot or hand; in short, there was nothing for it but to roll and slither on the smooth ice and melting snow.
The definition of a glacier is snow left over from the previous year. This account describes what it is like to try to climb a glacier without crampons.
The idea that you can dismiss anything reported by the BBC re global warming is specious reasoning at best. The article in question is just a transcript of a discussion by various scientists who have different opinions about global warming including the possibillity that we may be on the verge of a new ice age. This runs counter to the current conventional wisdom on the subject. Unless you have some legitimate criticism of the substance of what the members of the panel said and their scientific credentials, your views are just that, an uninformed opinion. I do indeed find your opinion as biased as the the global warming nuts. We need to deal with facts, not emotion.
Minus 50 points for lack of credibility.
Minus 100 points for copying my "slam" line.. LOL..
Actually, none of your references are worth anything, because you're making an obviously ridiculous claim that a volcanic hotspot, which obviously will heat water, means that the entire ocean is heating at depth.
That doesn't follow.
It isn't logical.
It isn't intellectually honest.
The oceans get colder and more contaminated the deeper one goes. The global warming demagogues got exposed as pseudoscientists when they claimed that the atmosphere would retain lots more heat; when cornered, they claimed the oceans were stuffing heat into the depths (since the surfaces hadn't warmed); that was shown to be another baseless fabrication -- and that was done under grants that it was hoped would detect heat.
In addition to your nice points, I'd add that the global warming demagogues used to claim that because of all the smokestacks, exhaust pipes, AquaNet, and anything else they could point at with fingers of blame, the world would heat up, the icecaps would melt, and all the coastlines would disappear under dozens of feet of water.
Now, the claim is, seven inches in the next 100 years.
That's .07 a year, which is essentially unmeasurable. In the past five years, the rise should have been .35 inches, which is possibly measurable. And by 2010, it should be .7 inches. Nothing has shown up. Nada. Zero. Zilch.
Of course, their dodge was that most of the rise would happen near the end of the period.
It's back to the Mayan priests claiming that the Moon was going to be eaten, but that they'd do everything they could to prevent it. Then, if the prediction turned out in error, they could claim that their rituals averted it. Otherwise, they'd get credit for the correct prediction.
Global warming is the new Lysenkoism.
The Little Ice Age:
How Climate Made History 1300-1850
by Brian M. Fagan
Floods, Famines, and Emperors:
El Nino and the Fate of Civilizations
by Brian M. Fagan
The Long Summer:
How Climate Changed Civilization
by Brian M. Fagan
The Deep, Hot Biosphere
by Thomas Gold
foreword by Freeman Dyson
Actually, none of your responses are worth noting. You have no facts, just opinion.