When Captain Cook sailed by the location of Glacier Bay in Alaska in 1778, he couldn’t get into the bay as it was full of ice. In 2003 we took a cruise on Holland America’s Amsterdam and went 60 miles up the channel to see tidewater glaciers calving into the back end of the channel. So, in the ensuing 225 years the glaciers had melted that much. The channel averages 600 feet deep BTW. We did see some calving, it’s an awesome sight and sound from about 1 mile away. So, what happened to melt the glacier back 60 miles in 250 years?
According to records, the maximum extent of the Glacier Bay ice was 1750 A.D., a quarter of a century before Cook explored the Bay. Thus, melting had begun even before Cook arrived.
By any account the nascent beginnings of the Industrial Age, when first wood and then later coal began to be burned to power steam ships, trains, and a few factories, began approximately 50 years after Cook’s voyage, which was about the time of the American Revolutionary War. So carbon dioxide increases and the so-called ‘Greenhouse Effect’ did not contribute to the beginning of glacial melting.
Contributions of John Muir
By the time John Muir explored this area of Alaska in 1880, the ice had retreated 2/3 of the way up the channel, or 40 miles. During previous explorations, Muir also noticed glacial recession as early as the 1870’s in Yosemite (among the nation’s earliest National Parks). Muir’s book, The Mountains of California discusses this hypothesis of how the expansion and retreat of glaciers shaped the mountains of the American West, including especially the mountains of the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite Valley. He said the earth’s warming was causing a long-term glacial retreat.
It was a tough sell as far as geologists of his day were concerned. It didn’t fit their paradigm of Uniformitarianism, the theory that changes in the earth’s crust during geological history have resulted from the action of continuous and uniform processes, including faulting. But Muir’s beliefs eventually prevailed and others with credentials like Louis Agassiz took his anecdotal evidence to heart, and eventually glacial geology became an accepted part of modern geology. In the present context, it’s important to note, the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions were not emitted into the atmosphere until the post-World War II recovery beginning in the late 1940s.
Our Sun is a Variable Star
Okay, so where did the warmth come from to melt these and other alpine glaciers? If it wasn’t because of Anthropogenic Global Warming, then what?
I would argue, the evidence indicates it is tied to cyclical solar activity, specifically, the cycle of sunspots.
The minimum number of sunspots during the previous 150 years up until 1750 was associated with a very cool period across the earth.
Remember the Little Red Riding Hood story? Who’s the bad actor there? Wolves. Yes, wolves came back to Europe and took farm animals, hassled people. They had been in the mountains for centuries, but there they were, back in populated areas. The story is set in that time period, people feared wolves, they were ravenous.
Also, there were crop failures, pandemics — the Thames froze over every year. The Seine froze. They don’t have winter skating parties on the Thames anymore, but they did during this time of global cooling. This lack of sunspots sunspots during this period, a time, referred to as the “Maunder Minimum” correlates with the “Little Ice Age.”
The hypothesis is that fewer sunspots (most years had NONE) correlates with a drop in solar irradiance; that is, the sun cools off slightly and that 1 percent drop from the norm for our normally steady yellow star, results in some profound changes in climate for the entire earth.
Recent Sunspot Counts
Well what’s the sunspot count now? Back in 2007 I was at a men’s retreat for my church up in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. In my lifetime the sun has always had at least some spots, and sometimes a lot of them. I brought my Newtonian telescope and set it up during the day (I usually inflict my astronomy lectures and viewing in the evening so I was going to surprise the men with a daytime view of the sun). I projected the image of the sun on a white wall and WHAT??? No sunspots. Ok, scrub the mission, nothing to see. I called my brother Mark and told him, “I think we are going into another Maunder Minimum!” And in the last 13 years, hardly more than one sunspot is visible at all. The conclusion I have come to is that the solar irradiance will subsequently drop. Hey, don’t take my word for it, get an app for your phone like I have to look at the pictures of the solar surface from satellites in orbit and in deep space. See if you agree, we have mostly no sunspots. Until 2007 the sun was covered with such spots and there was a well-known 11 year cycle of them. Not anymore.
Solar irradiance is the overall brightness of the sun, its thermal output. It seems counter-intuitive to say that dark spots means more warmth from the sun, and few sunspots means that the sun is cooler, but sunspots seem to mean that the sun brings up warmer material from the core of the sun; no sunspots mean a less active, quieter sun. This variation is less than 1 percent, but it’s real. It’s a drop in what is called the ‘solar constant.’ Meaning, the overall heat from the sun is slightly less.
Why Only Models of Climate Change?
But if you check the Climate Change oriented web sites, they will tell you they don’t accept anecdotal evidence (John Muir had the same problem, remember?). What they do accept is computer modeling of the earth’s climate. Climate models ONLY. Why? Because you can’t do experiments with the earth on a climate-sized scale.
Now we know that scientists love computer modeling. Watch the weather on the news tonight and you’ll get a boat load of that. And how accurate are the predictions? 3 to 5 days is typical, after that, notice that 10 day forecasts look surprisingly like they are using average temperatures. And these are the people who want us to trust their forecasts for 100 years in the future. Maybe not.
Another thought about models. I often tell my college chemistry students, “I have a model of the atom in mind, but every so often I have to remind myself that it’s just a model and it in no way represents the real thing.” Don’t worship your model; it’s a reflection of your thoughts, beliefs and experiences. But it isn’t the real thing. I love the P51 Mustang; and built a model of what I consider to be the best fighter aircraft of WWII when I was a young teen. But seeing and hearing the real thing is an entirely different thing, isn’t it?
Well what”s wrong with computer models? I think three major things are caveats: 1) The utter complexity demands simplification and heuristics, 2) Chaos Theory really does apply (black swans do happen—how about this COVID-19?), 3) Humans are fallible and our knowledge is incomplete. Ok, you want a fourth reason. Well, consider that we humans are often victims of our own assumptions and/or arrogance. It’s happened to me in the research lab. But like myself, anyone who is ready and willing, can learn things from their mistakes failures. Unfortunately, based on the vitriol displayed anytime someone questions the theory human greenhouse gas emissions are driving dangerous climate change, scientists who believe in computer models more than actual evidence and data are as yet unwilling to learn from their mistakes.
And just about the time you think you have it all figured out. BAM! The systems take a U-turn and go somewhere you never predicted or expected. The Greeks had a proverb for this: Man is a planner, but God is a plan interrupter. For simple systems, computers are very helpful. But for something as complex as the entire climate of the planet earth? Not so much. And maybe not at all.
Another thought on computer modeling. How reliable has it been for predicting the effects of the recent COVID-19 pandemic? I’ve seen some wild predictions based on models that had to be adjusted quite quickly with new data. So, OK you have a great climate model and think it predicts a climate catastrophe, please go back in history, plug in data and see if it predicts well for 100 years from that point. I’ll wait.
So why isn’t it colder right away? There is always a lag in climate response. And until 2007 we have 240 years of gradual climate warming which was enough to melt some pretty big glaciers, so it will take some time to cool off the earth. I give it anywhere from 25 to 50 years to see a very noticeable effect. And what if we go back to a high sunspot cycle all of a sudden? I don’t know and can’t predict anything about the future of the sun. But I do suspect that such a quick drop in sunspot counts presages a cooler regime on earth. And nobody I know has a thermostat in their home that says “Sun,” I sure don’t.
As I said above, it sounds counter-intuitive to say fewer dark spots on the sun means it’s going to be slightly cooler. But apparently sunspots reveal more mixing and warmer material from the interior of the sun being brought to the surface. No sunspots, what’s called a quiet sun, means cooler conditions — due to less solar irradiance, if 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit (5600 degrees Celsius) can be called cool.
Scientists Linking Solar Activity to Climate Shifts
Over the years, numerous scientist have demonstrated the links between historic climate shifts and changes in sunspot activity, such as: Henrik Svensmark, Nir Shaviv, Fritz Varenholt and Sebastian Luning, Habibullo Abdussamato, and Valenina Zharkova.
In addition, astrophysicist Willie Soon, Ph.D., discussed his work describing the “Sun-Climate Connection,” in a presentation at the 10th International Conference on Climate Change.
Implications of a Cooler Regime
What if it is a cooler regime and becomes obvious in a few decades? What will be the effects? Colder, longer winters, glacial surges, crop failures — all the result of global cooling. I’ll let you mull that over as to the effects on the planet, its ecosystems and economics.
Or you can read David Whitehouse’s recent study, “The Next Solar Cycle, and Why it Matters for Climate, describing what the current solar cycle might mean for the.
Skepticism Key to How Science Works
As the even the casual reader should have figured out by now, I am a climate skeptic. As an engineer and a scientist I have to be a skeptic. And if I’m honest, I’ll even be skeptical about my skepticism. When I hear that the theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming is a “settled science,” the science only works if no branch of science is ever considered settled, if by settled one means that new evidence contrary to a particular theory can never be raised, or a new theory that better explains certain phenomena should be allowed to be considered.
In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn, used the term paradigm, noting more than 50 years ago that progress in science happens only when we break paradigms. He argued against ‘development-by-accumulation’ (normal science) saying that it science has most often advanced dramatically when interrupted by ‘revolutionary science’ – THAT is when real change in the direction of science arrived. Kuhn’s ideas revolutionized “The history, philosophy and sociology of scientific knowledge” (from the Wikipedia article on Kuhn). For instance, what did Einstein’s theory of relativity do to the settled science of the day, Newtonian physics? How about quantum mechanics? That broke the paradigm of the nature of the atom. If Kuhn taught us anything it’s that science works best when it’s unsettled.
Aviation and Temperature
Let’s talk about average global surface temperature. A website states that the average worldwide sea level temperature has risen to 58.51 degrees F. And there were some dire warnings that we had the hottest year on record last year. Fine. Except that pilots have used 59 degrees F as the base line temperature for calculating ‘density altitude’ for 90 years. Why? What is density altitude anyhow? If you don’t account for that you can have a very nasty accident at the end of the runway. You’ll not be able to lift off.
The flight calculator is an analog device I used for such calculations back when I was taking flying lessons in the 1970’s and makes this calculation easy, BTW. Cold air is denser, and gives planes more lift and thrust (especially in prop planes). Warm moist air plus high altitude, plus calm winds can make a plane act as though it has less thrust and lift. That’s why planes take off into the wind, downhill (if there is a choice) and in the morning when the air is colder. Otherwise you can fly into the fence at the end of the runway without taking off. Point being that the 59 degree F value has been the same for that long.
Ever been on a flight from say Mexico City and been told there was a luggage weight limit? You might have to ship those heavy souvenirs separately if you want to get on the plane. Mexico City has high humidity, heat, and high altitude all working against a successful take off due to density altitude. The entire aviation industry relies on the fact that global average temperatures have been relatively stable for 90 years. The point is, by practical application from aviation, the same value of 59-degrees F seems counter to the concept of sky rocketing global temperatures.
Arguably, anecdotal evidence combined with scientific theories based on solar/sunspot counts present a strong case that it might be time for a paradigm shift concerning the factors that influence climate on earth. At the very least, following the scientific method means the scientific community should at least be open to considering alternative theories for the causes of current climate change: the Sun in lieu of or, at the very least, in addition to human greenhouse gas emissions.