Global cooling is on the way

Posted by Dale on Feb 24, 2002 at 10:27

One of the odd possibilities that could emerge from global warming is that much of Europe, robbed of the ocean current patterns that help keep it warm, could rather abruptly enter a deep freeze and have a climate that more closely resembles Alaska than the modest temperatures it now enjoys.

There was an interesting program on Discovery last night on the history of temperature changes in Europe. The evidence is pretty convincing that the average temperature in Europe changes drastically (20 degrees) in as little as a few years. According to the program this has occurred quite often. The theory is that when northern ice melts it reduces the salinity of the North Atlantic. The fresh water is less dense and won’t sink as easy when it cools. The Gulf Stream is driven by water sinking in the north and being replaced by water from the south. Stop the sinking and you stop the Gulf Stream and Europe gets very cold.

I mentioned this in an aside a week or so ago. It is one of the few global “disaster” scenarios that I believe could actually occur – and that we could do something about. It fits my view of the earth as having a very efficient temperature control system. The temperature of rises a little, the ice melts, the Gulf Stream stops, the temperature falls. Over a few hundred years it all averages out very well. But it could be a problem for a short time.

So is this the end of mankind or is there something we could do about it? I believe it is a rather trivial problem to solve. Given the incentive we could spend some money and turn the Gulf Stream on and off at will. The theory is that the salinity of the North Atlantic is the problem. Cover the North Atlantic with fresh water and the cold water no longer falls to the bottom. Sounds to me like all you have to do is mix the water to get rid of the layering and the circulation starts again. So how much water do I have to move to homogenize the salinity? Well the Gulf Stream delivers about 10,000,000 m^3/sec. (~2^10 pounds/sec) That is more than enough to keep the salinity mixed at this time. And it is WAY less than the speed/mass of a planet killer comet. So I insert a jet pump down into the salty water and start pumping up into the fresh water. Since All we are trying to do is mix the water, I don’t have to actually lift the surface far. Let’s assume the outlet is 1 foot above the surface. That means I need to lift 2^10 pounds 1 foot per second. That requires about 36 million horsepower. That’s 2x10^12 BTU/day or 16 million gallons of oil a day or 380,000 barrels of oil/day. To put that in perspective, the current world production of oil is about 25,000,000 barrels /day. In other words, a 1.5% diversion of oil consumption to moving water could restart the Gulf Stream.

And, if you want to stop the Gulf Stream, just move the pumping equipment from the North Atlantic to the Caribbean and pump cold water into the Gulf of Mexico. Without the differential temperature from Gulf to North Atlantic, the circulation will stop.

So, what temperature do you want? When the snow starts getting deep in London, just let me know.

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