Thursday, December 14, 2006

Climatology and my Return

David's posted some interesting material recently about the fallibility of climatological models predicting great disaster in our near (i.e. w/in 100 years) future.

To add to the noise, I'm pretty confident that a huge variable hasn't been at all accounted for - volcanism.

What's the big deal? I mean, why get hot and bothered about a bit of lava? One word: Krakatoa.

I'm not so much worried about that particular volcano - it's watched like Michael Jackson at a cubscout jamboree - it's more what it showed us. Our everyday Joe American may not have heard of it, but believe me, it's worth knowing about.

In 1883 it heaved off some steam, launching the world into a miniature ice age of sorts (by heaving off about 25 cubic kilometers of said world, incidentally). All of this rock-vomit, according to Wikipedia, lowered global temperatures by about 1.2 degrees celcius, and the climate supposedly didn't return to "normal" for 5 or so years.

But that's not all this magma-muffin's dished out - far from it! Let me preface this with the disclaimer that this is a disputed thesis regarding Krakatoa as the direct cause, but the conclusions are solidly testified to in dendochronological records. That said, the real party started around 535 AD. Things are looking up for Rome, Emperor Justinian and his prize-fighter Bellisarius are out ridding their hood from the Germanic vagrants that settled in, and BOOM.

Yeah, that's an all-caps boom. We're talking major. Proto-Krakatoa let loose with the mother of all explosions, and all hell breaks loose. Global temperatures drop, causing crop failures, darkness during the day, and general misery. Teotihuacan in modern Mexico is abandoned. Barbarian slavs are pouring into the Balkans, nomadic pastorlist tribes in central Asia like the begin rampaging. Falling temperatures make it easier for plague to be transmitted, and there's a decade of incessant disease and suffering. The list goes on. You know, it wasn't the dark ages for nothin', folks!

Let me suggest that this is more than just a little blip in the data - this was a phenomenon that easily spread more than a decade. But what does that have to do with climate models in the long-run?

As David says, climates are sensitive, complex systems. Small disturbances in the present can have tremendous affects on outcomes in the long run, and this is a phenomenon that seems to be able to do more than just a little thing.

Who knows when a major volcano could erupt? Even more important, who has integrated this important tidbit into their climatological models of temperature change?

Less importantly to matters of public importance than the possibility of erupting volcanoes ushering in an era of catastrophy, I'll be heading to Moscow on Monday to get my daughter's passport, and my wife's green card. Just a few weeks then, and with luck I'll be back home!


Tim said...

David, how can I enter an edit window? I'd love to change the nonsense editing error in the sentence about nomadic pastoralists...

David said...

If you want to change existing posts, click the blog title when you sign onto blogger. It'll give you a list of all the published and drafted articles which you can then edit.

Tim said...

Ah - I've always just entered by clicking "Blog This" on the top of the page. That clears things up.