A layman’s musings about ecology, and the possibility that, while man may rule the fate of whooping cranes, far smaller creatures may rule the fate of sea-ice.
Guest essay by Caleb Shaw
Sometimes, as my mind’s eye wanders over the Arctic Ocean, I am drawn ashore to contemplate wonders of the Tundra. I try to avoid politics, as the wonders are more wonderful when simply appreciated in the light of Truth, but Climate Alarmism is a sort of whirlpool that sucks you in, even when it is basically a comical shtick.
For example, along the coast of the Northwest Territories are the “Smoking Hills” of Franklin Bay, which appear over and over in Facebook images sent by sailors attempting the Northwest Passage. The sailors always seem jarred by the sight (and scent). Often they have been cluttering their log with editorial comments about how beautiful the arctic is, and what cads humans are to destroy the pristine beauty of nature with Global Warming caused by burning coal. Then they come across a stretch of coast that is in essence Mother Nature’s Strip Mine, miles and miles of exposed lignite, black stripes in the sedimentary layers of seaside cliffs. In places the lignite has spontaneously ignited and has been burning for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, without the slightest effort on the part of Mother Nature to install smokestacks or put scrubbers in those stacks.
Photo Credit: http://northwestpassage2014.blogspot.com/2014_06_01_archive.html
In the above picture the red areas are stone after the coal has been burned out, and the black is unburned lignite. Besides the current fires there is evidence of fires that burned long ago and went out. (The oldest fires are not a geologically recent occurrence; so don’t try to blame Eskimos who were careless with campfires).
In any case, even if you went to the arctic to get away from ever having to even think about the issue of coal fired power plants, the issue gets shoved in your face, and you find yourself forced to rethink some of the ideas doled out like pabulum in the Alarmist shtick. In this case it is the simplistic idea that man burns fossil fuels and nature doesn’t.
In another case one might think man leaks oil and nature doesn’t, and then see natural slicks in the Gulf of Mexico, or tars oozing up from earthquake faults off the California coast.
Even as I type my daughter has bought home a new “pink” salt, which is supposedly healthier, as it is from high up in the Himalayas. A mere saltshaker fills me with wonder about how that salt got way up there, and also about what happened to all the fossil fuels when the subcontinent of India was sent smashing into Asia by continental drift.
The problem with some people is they don’t think very deeply about the lollipop shticks they get handed and are asked to suck upon. It doesn’t take much thought to realize Nature is the original recycler, plowing the ocean floor down in geological subduction zones, and creating huge mountain ranges with fossil seashells at the tops.
Over at “Watts Up With That” there was a guest essay by Larry Kummer about the Alarmist shtick involving Methane. Initially I wasn’t interested because the Alarmism involved is so soundly refuted that not even the IPCC thinks it is worth freaking out about, (and the IPCC freaks out about stuff grandmothers laugh at). (I myself couldn’t even start to take the Methane Fear seriously, because I have seen plenty of evidence it was much warmer in the arctic in the relatively recent past, and if there weren’t uncontrollable methane releases back then I don’t see why they should occur now.)
Ordinarily I would have skipped the post, as the issue usually bores me, however the Alarmist cartoon at the start intrigued me, for it suggested that some Alarmists are so sold on the idea of a “Methane Monster” that they even see the pro-Global-Warming IPCC as “deniers.”
I fully intended to only skim the article, but in it discovered a portal to another tundra wonder, found in this paper:
In a nutshell the paper states there are two sorts of arctic soil, one which is frozen ooze that is rich in carbon and might be expected to burp up some methane if warmed, but also a second which is a more-common-soil which holds little carbon, as it is the sort of till one associates with glaciers and glacier-scraped landscapes. (Glaciers largely transport topsoil far away to terminal moraines and out-wash streams. After a glacier departs the landscape is usually denuded of topsoil. It is clay, sand and gravel that holds no organic carbon and can brew no methane. It also is devoid of compost, and can’t feed plants. It is basically sterile, however a bacterium inhabits the surface of such soil that can snatch methane from the air, and enrich its own habitat.)
That was what grabbed my mind’s eye. Perhaps it was because as a farmer I’m interested in enriching soils, but my mind highlighted the paper’s suggestion that, where the soil lacks carbon, nature has found a way to enrich the soil, using bacteria that gobbles methane. The paper went on to state that the warmer it gets, the livelier that bacterium gets, and the more methane it gobbles. (IE: warmer temperatures mean less methane is left in the air; the exact opposite of what Methane-hysteria predicts.)
This shows how little we understand the Earth we claim to be the protectors of. If we’d all gone rushing off half-cocked on a crusade against methane, we might be dooming the arctic topsoil to sterility. Just imagine our guilt!
The old time farmers knew of two basic ways to enrich soil. The first involved sweat and toil, and lugging manure from the stables and spreading it in the fields. The second was a heck of a lot easier, because all you needed to do was give the field a rest. It was called a “fallow” field.
A fallow field shows nature’s ability to enrich a landscape without any help from humans. You’d think Alarmists would get this concept, considering they portray man as the raping, robbing bad-guy, and nature as the loving, giving good-gal. However some don’t seem to see nature will not allow a natural thing like methane to go to waste. Neither will nature allow a natural thing like crude oil seeping up from earthquake faults in California to go to waste. Nature gobbles the substances up, and they becomes part of the food chain, which involves all sorts of stuff eating, being eaten, and, in the end, turning to manure which enriches the soil.
Nature can take a most sterile landscape and make it verdant. The second a glacier recedes nature gets busy on the barren landscape, starting with lichen and progressing through tundra to taiga to the rich farmlands of Ohio.
In essence nature is guilty of altering its environment even more than man. Nature does not care a hoot about the current ecosystem. It improves upon it. However many fail to understand this natural progression, (and yet some call themselves “progressives”).
The arctic landscape is extra amazing, for it shows nature tested to its limits, and how nature will not stand for the status quo of a sterile ecosystem, but enriches it. Besides the micro-critter in sterile arctic soil that craves methane, there are some amazing micro-critters that live out on the even more hostile environment of the sea-ice.
The first was brought into the focus of my mind’s eye by the amazing pictures made public by the exploits of O-buoy 9, during its two-year-journey from the Asian side of the Pole to a pile-up on the north coast of Greenland, and then east to a grand exit south into Fram Strait. The time-lapse movie made of the pictures taken during this journey makes better watching than most sea-ice documentaries, (and contains more pure Truth). This is especially true of the final eight minutes, which shows the coast of Greenland come looming up, the ice piling up, and then the ice going through a sort of swirling blender in Fram Strait.
For most of the journey the sea-ice is either a pristine white or a gorgeous turquoise. It is only when the ice gets to Fram Strait that the overlays of fresh snows are melted away, and one is confronted by the phenomenon of filthy ice.
Of course, the very sight of dirty ice can get the usual suspects raving about coal-fired power plants, and the audacity Asian nations have, daring to develop their economies. There tends to be some pushback from others who suggest soot from volcanoes might contribute to the ice’s dingy hue, but this pushback isn’t great. It is generally accepted humans must get the blame, until something odd is noticed. A lot of the ice in Fram Strait has been flipped like a pancake, and it is not the top of the ice that is dirty, but rather the bottom. Like the hull of a ship that has spent long months at sea, the underside of the ice is coated with a slime. Micro-critters have been at it once again, and humans get no credit.
This actually hugely changed a preconception that I was taught, which stated that the Arctic Ocean was like other Seas, and that once you got away from the Continental Shelf the waters tended to become increasingly sterile. Without reefs, shallow waters, and the upwelling of nutrients that occur near shores, there could be no plankton, no arctic cod, no seals, and last but not least, no icons of Global Warming Worry, polar bears. In fact it was stated that, as the sea-ice shrank in the arctic, bears and seals would be forced away from the shores into waters that were basically a desert, and they would starve.
Usually I avoid the topic of polar bears, because the shtick is so maudlin it makes me want to go outside and bang my head against a tree. Fortunately I discovered the site http://polarbearscience.com/ , which contains less emotion and more science. There I discovered that, away from the coasts of the Arctic Ocean, there was no sign of emaciated seals or bears, and in fact the animals looked, if anything, obese. What happened to the desert? Once again humans get no credit, for micro-critters saved the day.
Apparently the slime on the underside of sea-ice utterly changes the equation, and makes the Arctic Ocean unique among oceans, because even far from shore the nutrients may exist that feed plankton that feed cod that feed seals that feed bears. Nothing eats bears, so there actually were some very old bears that could qualify as being skinny. (Of course, using senile bears to judge the physical status of all bears would be like using a ninety-year-old man to judge the strength of all humans…so that is exactly what the media went and did, on occasion, which explains my going outside to bang my head on trees.)
I prefer avoiding the entire topic of bears, and instead like to contemplate the true boss and controller of the arctic ecosystem, which is that amazing micro-critter, which exists as slime on the underside of ice.
Talk about a hostile environment! The underside of ice might seem a quiet and calm place to abide, and you might imagine a 24-hour-daylight of a deep, undersea turquoise and emerald would be appealing to algae, however consider, if you will, the surface the critters are growing upon. They are attempting to root upon a surface that is constantly melting away beneath their feet. In fact the bottom of the sea ice melts upwards an average of three to four feet, each summer. Talk about climbing a slippery slope! How the heck do the critters hang on? Then the sunlight vanishes and the ice grows downwards three to four feet, engulfing them deeply in bitter cold ice. How the heck do they get started the following spring?
However that hostile environment is nothing, compared to another niche another micro-critter has carved out.
When the arctic water freezes in the fall, salt is exuded from the ice and coexists with solid ice as liquid brine. This brine forms in all directions, and the surface of the ice can be wet with brine at first, however with time gravity takes charge and the brine starts melting its way down through the ice. In extreme situations, for example when polynyas of open water form as gales blow ice offshore along the coast of Antarctica, the brine can actually form trickling channels and then, when the brine reaches the seawater beneath the new ice, be so cold that the brine freezes the seawater on contact, and form pipelines of ice downwards called “brinicles”. So cold is the brine flowing down these tubes that when they reach the sea-bottom they can freeze passing starfish in their tracks
Ordinarily temperatures around the North Pole are not so extremely cold, and the amount of brine is more limited, and the brine sinks down through the ice as little teardrops of very salty water, boring downwards even while freezing over from above. They become self contained units, like little down-elevators. You might think absolutely nothing could live in these bitter cold, inky dark, and extremely salty descending elevators. However apparently some bacterium was looking for a place to rent with no competitors, no predators, and no salesmen, and decided these elevators looked like a perfect niche to make their own. So what if the niche was extremely cold, extremely salty, and extremely dark? (Sounds like some places I myself rented, when young.)
Then this little tenacious tenant apparently becomes dissatisfied with the brine. There must be some bacterial equivalent of a wife who wants to hang drapes and pictures, for this micro-critter apparently adjusts the brine to its liking. It does not want to make a Natural Park of the status quo, but rather fundamentally alters the microenvironment, so it is chemically different when it exits the ice at the bottom of the sea-ice. Among other things, the micro-critter concentrates the element bromine.
Most of the time this makes little difference to the greater environment. Some bromine is removed from the seawater as the elevator starts down, and returned to the seawater when the elevator reaches the ground floor, which occurs when the droplet of brine exits the ice at the bottom of the sea-ice. But not all the micro-critters make this journey. Some get left behind. The elevator door slams in their face, back up at the top of the ice.
This brings up the mystery of how these critters got up there in the first place. If they are so superbly adapted to darkness and bitter cold and high salinity, how the heck do they survive in the summer’s sunlit seas? Don’t ask me; they just do it. Maybe they are dormant, but they are laying in wait for the first appearance of the next winter’s brine, and immediately thriving in the brine when it appears, which can be when the ice is a tenth of an inch thick and the brine is a thin layer of wetness atop that thin ice. These conditions also happen to be the same conditions needed for the formation of a beautiful arctic creation called “ice flowers”.
The creation of ice flowers has nothing to do with life, and rather has to do with a cardboard-thin layer of supersaturated air, just above the ice, which stimulates frost formations. This frost, it just so happens, is a perfect wick and sponge for brine, and sucks the brine up. You might wonder why the salt in the brine doesn’t immediately melt the ice crystals, and perhaps it does in some circumstances, but in other circumstances even being slightly higher off the ice, a hair’s breadth, plunges the brine into cold so frigid that it freezes. Salt has lost its capacity to melt ice. The micro-critters in the brine are frozen in place as well, along with their baggage of bromine. And I wish we could end the tale here, for the ice-flowers in the breathless quiet of arctic twilight are a beautiful sight.
Photo Credit: Matthias Wietz. From: http://www.polarmicrobes.org/?p=106 (Ice in this picture is only 1/16th of an inch thick)
However Nature, on this planet at least, is not frozen solid, and soon the winds rise, and it turns out the ice-flowers are fragile things. They are shattered by gusts, and turned into dust in the wind, but even the dust does not remain static, for the part of the frost that is water sublimates away, until the dust is mostly powdered salt, with, of course, trace amounts of micro-critters and their bromine. So fine and light is this dust that it hangs in the darkened air as haze, kept aloft by the lightest wafting, and when winds howl the haze can be lifted to the very top of the troposphere, and at the tropopause the micro-critters and their suitcases of Bromine get introduced this stuff called Ozone.
Now at this point your antennae should be waving wildly and you should be saying, “Danger! Danger! Danger, Will Robertson! Ozone Hole imminent!” But the real danger, if you are a Climate Scientist, is that the hole is not caused by man, but by micro-critters.
Therefore your job as a Climate Scientist, if you chose to accept it (and expect a grant), is to somehow demonstrate that man is responsible for those micro-critters being up there. Man has created a terrible increase of ice-flowers in the arctic, or some such thing. Man is master. Man is in control.
But those arctic micro-critters just laugh at us. They know who the real Boss is. They disobey one of the most fundamental scientific laws, by living their entire lives without ever needing a grant. They utterly ignore the dictates of the EPA. How dare they!
Where ordinary folk look upwards into dark winter skies and see the wonder and beauty of a star strewn infinitude, or the abrupt curtains of shimmering northern lights, and are glad, Climate Scientists skulk in dread. For they know that, for every micro-critter we know about, there are a thousand undiscovered, and all of them are laughing. When a Climate Scientist looks up, (which is seldom if he’s shackled by shame), he hears no music of angels, but rather the derision of countless criminal micro-critters, all imitating James Cagney (albeit in chipmunk voices), “Made it Ma! Top of the World”, before blowing up the fossil-fuel masquerade.
However I very much doubt micro-critters actually behave in Cagney’s unseemly manner. Rather I deem them wonderful, and part of a greater wonder, called Truth, which created all things, including us, (and even including poor, hapless Climate Scientists).