Sunday, January 16, 2011

22 Different Drivers in the Driver's Seat [Originally Posted 2/4/2010]

Climate Drivers are those inputs (influences) that affect the Earth's weather and climate, all are of different magnitudes and some (especially the first four) are on different cycles (or are subject to random events). Some of these cycles and drivers may exaggerate each other (Synergy) or they may partially (or wholly) cancel each other out (Antagonism).

Geologist H. Leighton Steward has produced a chart with 18 different climate drivers (or climate forcers). He acknowledges that there might be more and I have included several more myself.

After each listed Driver will be the Principle Influence, Impact, and Comments.
  1. Solar Heat & Solar Magnetic Field - Solar heat and Magnetic shielding - Strongest - Heat retained by Earth influenced by other drivers. There are numerous solar cycles of different time intervals, that can affect quantity of heat, light, and magnetism being emitted by the Sun.
  2. Orbital Eccentricity - Determines distance from Sun - Strong - Distance affects amount of solar heat received, influenced by gravitation pull of Saturn, Jupiter, and other planets.
  3. Earth's Axial Tilt - Determines seasons and amount of heat received by higher latitudes - Strong - Additional tilt can affect polar ice melting (or growth).
  4. Earth's Axial Wobble (precession) - Determines Earth's seasons closest to or farthest from the Sun, caused by the unequal distribution of land masses - Strong - Can be positive or negative feedback.
  5. Water Vapor - Greatest quantity of all of the Greenhouse Gases - 90 - 95%, affects clouds, precipitation volumes, albedo, and vegetation, "thickens" the air - Strongest of Greenouse Gases - Highly variable, may not be included in computer models for this reason.
  6. Water Droplets & Ice Crystals - As components of clouds, affects amount of visible light reaching the Earth's surface and traps rising heat from Earth's surface - Strong - Highly variable, may not be included in computer models for this reason.
  7. Carbon Dioxide - Captures infrared heat rising from Earth's surface, reradiates some heat - Strong at low saturation - Generated by ocean releases, volcanic activity (including hot springs), animal/bacterial respiration, and combustion (natural and human), Greenhouse Effect non-linear, usually follows temperature changes, currently 0.0385%.
  8. Methane - Captures infrared heat rising from Earth's surface, reradiates some heat - Moderate (low quantity in atmosphere) - Generated by wetlands, by animals, and industries, currently 0.00018%.
  9. Ocean Currents - Distributes heat from Tropics to higher latitudes, can change quickly or slowly - Strong - Largest reservoir of surface heat.
  10. Plate Tectonics (seafloor spreading) - Causes volcanism, releases carbon dioxide, sulfates, chlorine, and other gases, results in mountain uplifts, earthquakes - Strong, long-term - Affects position of continents, sea level, volcanic ash and sulfates affect atmospheric chemistry & atmospheric CO2.
  11. Location of Continents - Affects major ocean currents and distribution of heat - Strong to weak - Land over poles increases glaciation, position of continents affects rising infrared heat from surface.
  12. Elevation of Land Masses - Higher elevations promote glaciation and affect local wind currents; moderate elevations promote rainfall (through Orographic Uplift) & chemical weathering of rocks (see below) - Moderate - Affects regional climates, monsoons, and locations of deserts, especially North American deserts.
  13. Chemical Weathering - Releases elements and compounds from minerals, affects chemistry of water bodies - Weak, long-term - Little short-term effect on climate.
  14. Vulcanism - Constants sources of CO2, sulfates, ash particulates - Moderate to strong, short-term - May affect ocean chemistry, builds new islands, affects atmospheric chemistry.
  15. Extraterrestrial Impacts - Immediate fires, then colder temperatures for a few years/decades - which affect plant communities and the food webs built thereon - Strong, very short-term - May affect atmospheric and oceanic chemistry.
  16. Albedo - Determines amount of Solar Energy reflected or retained (absorbed) - Moderate to strong - Constantly changing, affected by other drivers.
  17. Flora & Fauna (plants, animals, bacteria) - Affects albedo, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and methane content of atmosphere - Moderate - Terrestrial ecosystem diversity and richness affected by atmospheric moisture, temperature, and chemistry; Aquatic ecosystem diversity and richness affected by temperature, water energy, water chemistry.
  18. Atmospheric Circulation - Vertical and Horizontal winds distribute heat and moisture and affect land surface and upper ocean circulation patterns - Moderate - Affects weather systems and distributes nutrients to oceans, affecting oceanic flora, fauna, and chemistry.
  19. Cosmic Rays - Evidence suggests that cosmic rays produce particulates that seed low-level clouds - Impact to be determined - More research needed to determine impact.
  20. Earth's Magnetic Field - May affect quantity of cosmic rays reaching the atmosphere - Impact to be determined - More research needed to determine impact.
  21. Changes in Land-Use Patterns - Includes deforestation for logging and farming, growth of Urban Heat Islands, variable local and regional effects - Impact to be determined - More research needed to determine impact.
  22. Carbon "Soot" and other Particulates - In some cases, particulates may reflect sunlight, in other cases they may absorb sunlight, may also serve as condensation nuclei for clouds and rainfall, some particulates are generated by combustion and human disturbances to the soil, i.e., farming, construction, and other human activities, in addition to natural sources - Impact to be determined - More research needed to determine impact.

My point here was to illustrate the complexity of the atmospheric interactions of these drivers (and any others yet-to-be-identified). In other words, it is a bit premature to say "the science is settled", as some political charlatans have said. Mother Nature is wild and we mere humans will never totally understand her.

The human influences on some of these could be ameliorated, but not if our economy (and the economies of other developed countries) are hobbled by unnecessary taxes and regulations, administered by un-elected bureaucrats driven by resentment of our freedom and prosperity.

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