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Iceland and climate change: it’s not all bad

I have a new post up on the THINK platform, about what climate change means to Iceland’s future:

So far in these posts I have mostly been focusing on specific aspects of climate change in Iceland, like the economic, social and political implications – and potential – of our green energy.

But what about the broader picture? How will climate change affect Iceland in the future on a wider scale?

Assuming the global warming trend continues, initially it will mean pretty good news for this country. First, Iceland’s weather will [continue to] improve – something that is already happening and which most Icelanders revel in. Summers have never been so good as they have over the past decade or so – at least not for as long as anyone can remember – and we’re all pretty content with that, just as long as we don’t think about the glaciers.

Because of course the downside is that our beautiful glaciers are melting. If the trend continues as it has been, all our glaciers will be gone in about 200 years’ time – and keep in mind that Iceland has the largest ice cap in Europe, outside of Greenland. Indeed, Icelandic glaciers have already receded a substantial amount – measured in metres, not centimetres – since the turn of the century ten years ago.

Read the rest of the post here.

WEATHER: BETTER THAN THE LAST FEW DAYS
The harsh frost has let up, and so has the wind. Today was absolutely beautiful, with the sun at one end of the sky, and the moon at the other. Clear and still. A perfect winter’s day, really. Right now it’s -1°C [30F]. The sun came up at 10.49 and set at 3.43.

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  • BRADSTREET December 4, 2009, 12:46 am

    Alda, when you consider the possible future for Iceland (self sufficient for energy, harvesting new crops and with new fishing and shipping opportunities), how do you feel? As a patriotic Icelander, you must feel excited that your descendants could be citizens of one of the powerhouses of Europe. New opportunities, but also new dangers. If someone put you in charge of the country, which way would you go?

  • kevin o'connor waterford Ireland December 4, 2009, 1:23 am

    Interesting debate this global warming thing,been following it for a few years now even had my computer doing a climate model for the BBC climate experiment a few years back, As I am 49 yrs old it is a fairly academic debate for me about how terrible the world will be in 2100,but I have noticed that the debate has been hotting recently with mud slinging ie just look at comments deleted in the Guardian.co.uk website.
    You Have the doomsayers like James Loveleock in his book the Revenge of Gai with the hardcore frighten them with the permian extinction of 250 million years ago -hypercanes,Methane hydrate release from the sea, acidified oceans – no fish Icelanders take note, A eventual sea level rise of 70m as all the Ice goes -Goodbye Reyjavik and also ha ha goodbye Ireland. All this will accomplish a goodly cull of said 9 billion humanoids from the blue planet by 2100. Dont even know if its true but for us in 2009 they are fixing to tax us to the hilt aka Carbon Tax mooted for our bloodbath budget on the 9th dec 2009 here in the Irish Kreppa. For air passenger duty goto taxman gordon broon in the UK – £600 tax for a family of 4 going UK to USA. Yet at the same time govermentoes all around the world have this on one hand but on the other suck up to corporate interests for business as usual ie globalisation,low taxes for the corps,flexible labour markets,privatisation privatisation etc etc. If this theory is as true as its worse case +7 degrees C then it is game over folks, I just hope I dont get wacked with too much tax as I am poor despite owning a iphone,laptop and PC, I cannot afford a slap up holiday in Iceland right now which is the true definition of poverty !!!!

  • James December 4, 2009, 2:23 am

    I read elsewhere that glaciers in central and southern Iceland are losing mass, but the Drangajokull glacier in northern Iceland is gaining mass because it’s not in the direct path of the gulf stream. So, the changing weight of the glaciers may well cause Iceland to tilt with the north staying fairly static and the south rising 2 metres. Maybe the resulting stresses and strains will cause extra earthquakes and volcanoes!

  • kevin o'connor waterford Ireland December 4, 2009, 3:20 am

    Insomnia central here —as per above post here is an interesting interactive from the BBC

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/sci_tech/2009/copenhagen/8386319.stm

  • John Hopkins December 4, 2009, 3:32 am

    If the Gulf Stream is disturbed by the massive outflow of fresh water from Greenlandic glaciers, Iceland will be in DIRE straits to be sure… This is a very real possibility based on numerous oceanographic models. (The disturbance comes from the differences in density of fresh (glacial) and salt (ocean) waters — and the fact that Iceland, the UK and all of Northern Europe is habitable at all is because of the particular circulation pattern of the Gulf Stream coming up the coast of the US from the tropics, and continuing to Iceland, and down around the UK/Ireland, and on south past France and Spain. It has not always been that way and some models predict a full-on ice age in Northern Europe if it is disrupted! Yikes! But science can be wrong, don’t give up on palm trees only at Perlan, could be that folks’ll be moving to Akureyri because the south is too hot, hehe…)

  • James December 4, 2009, 11:03 am

    “the debate has been hotting recently”

    Indeed and Climategate certainly provokes debate, eg:
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/christopherbooker/6679082/Climate-change-this-is-the-worst-scientific-scandal-of-our-generation.html

    Here’s a Climategate article I liked (it says a lot about climate science by focusing on its psychology rather than its science):
    http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/03/climategate-as-rorschach-test/

    My opinion is that, for several reasons, statistical climate data should be treated similarly to statistical economic data. Now, academics are trained to be sceptics and are appropriately wary of empirical evidence that may stand on shaky statistical ground. That is certainly true of academic economists and that scepticism provides the basis for original research and career advancement. But the whole structure is very different in the field of academic climate science – and that’s the underlying problem.

  • Joerg December 4, 2009, 3:53 pm

    Whatever the exact reasons and the outcome of the climate change may be and up to which extent this is man made – it is sure that climate change is there and the glaciers are currently melting in South Iceland. I can tell by comparing my photos, taken 20 years ago with those from this year – it’s a dramatic change. You might also compare satellite photos of recent years.

    And the effects of the climate change are certainly not really predictable, there are too many parameters.

    This might render hydropower as “renewable” energy quite obsolete. If the glaciers don’t exist any more, there won’t be much hydropower left. And as this development is currently speeding up, those monstrous constructions like the Kárahnjukar dam might be useless sooner than expected.

  • Kris December 4, 2009, 4:05 pm

    I have also been following closely the climategate stuff. It seems pretty obvious that the data has been tampered with (or, oops, lost!) and that it is not credible. In other words, the “science” has been in service of the political agenda, i.e., corrupted. The most damning evidence is in the code comments where the programmer simply comments on where the results are being altered! Plain as day.
    The bigger danger is a political danger. Global tax means global gov. Also, de-industrialization at least here in the US will mean a social calamity as starving freezing people from the north descend on the south. Imagine is Europe shut down %75 of its factories!
    Climate change, the real thing has been going on for 4+ billion years. People will adapt as well as other creatures, and plants etc. No need to be alarmed. No need to give up your political freedom.
    On a side note, what comes after the carbon tax? An oxygen tax?

    If you have any doubts, read the code.

  • JB in San Diego December 4, 2009, 4:19 pm

    As a brewer I had to note the comment about barley and Icelandic beer in the THINK article… this after I just saw the “Three Sheets Iceland” episode. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll provide the link below – it is good for some idle weekend entertainment. I was surprised to learn that beer was only recently legalized in Iceland! Now, back to talking about energy and stuff…

    http://www.hulu.com/watch/93991/three-sheets-iceland#s-p1-so-i0

  • James December 4, 2009, 6:28 pm

    “it is sure that climate change is there and the glaciers are currently melting in South Iceland”

    Joerg – The climate doesn’t need to be changing now for glaciers to continue melting. For example, if you put an ice cube in your lounge, it will continue to melt even though your room isn’t getting any warmer.

    “The most damning evidence is in the code comments where the programmer simply comments on where the results are being altered! Plain as day.”

    Kris – Who needs a smoking gun when there’s smoking code 😉
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2009/12/04/climategate-the-smoking-code/
    http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2009/11/23/the-code.html

  • Kris December 4, 2009, 8:18 pm

    James – That’s what I was reading. Amazing stuff.

  • Joerg December 4, 2009, 11:28 pm

    “The climate doesn’t need to be changing now for glaciers to continue melting.”

    James – What does “changing now” mean? The climate doesn’t have to be “changing now” to have caused global warming in the past. Apparently, the global average temperature has been increasing for the last decades, that’s a matter of the past, not some model calculation of the future. So, the climate does probably not have to change for the glaciers to melt, but it obviously did so in terms of average temperature. The current dissent is about the cause for the global warming and its effects and not about measurable facts of the past.

    Kris – “Climate change, the real thing has been going on for 4+ billion years. People will adapt as well as other creatures, and plants etc. No need to be alarmed.”

    It is true, that climate change is going on forever but – without any political agenda on my side – I consider it pretty irresponsible to employ some conspiracy theory just in order to legitimate doing nothing and carrying on as if nothing is happening.

    And no, the residents of the soon to be flooded Pacific islands don’t have to be alarmed. They just have to adapt and learn to swim, before the sea level rises too high.

  • idunn December 5, 2009, 12:05 am

    Good article, particularly as pertains the environmental aspects of climate change. I’m reminded of your impulsive shopping list at IKEA, with the supply of such items perhaps seriously disrupted or gone if much of the world goes to hell in consequence of what we have done.

    Then also, the chance that if this becomes severe enough the North Atlantic ocean current may be disrupted. There are already minor indications of such a possibility. If that were to occur, no one in Europe would like it, and Iceland would more than warrant its name.

    In the meantime, the warmer weather surely welcome.

  • James December 5, 2009, 2:10 am

    “What does “changing now” mean? The climate doesn’t have to be “changing now” to have caused global warming in the past.”

    Indeed. And that is my point. There was global warming in the past, but there isn’t now.

    “Apparently, the global average temperature has been increasing for the last decades, that’s a matter of the past, not some model calculation of the future.”

    Actually, the global average temperate has declined since 2000. Even the East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit and the IPCC openly accept that and their own data also confirms it – but they don’t shout it from the rooftops because it is an extremely inconvenient truth for the global warming theory. That’s why I’m very sceptical about the idea of current global warming (because it hasn’t happened for a decade…), let alone that it’s caused by man.

    “So, the climate does probably not have to change for the glaciers to melt, but it obviously did so in terms of average temperature. The current dissent is about the cause for the global warming and its effects and not about measurable facts of the past.”

    Ok, so you’re looking for the cause of a global warming period that ended the ice age and started the glaciers melting a few thousand years ago.

  • SimonBrooke December 5, 2009, 10:25 am

    Alda, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’re possibly wrong. For those of us in the North Atlantic basin, there’s a serious chance that global warming will make our weather very much worse.

    Why?

    A lot of thermal energy is brought into the North Atlantic by the Gulf Stream/North Atlantic Drift current system. This current system is largely driven by the salinity gradient in the waters around Greenland and Iceland, which draws water down into the depths, thus sucking more, warmer, water in from the south. The result is that land around the North Atlantic is about 4 degrees Celsius warmer on average than land at equivalent latitudes around the north Pacific.

    However, fresh water from ice melt could upset the salinity gradient and thus stall the system. For the last decade this seemed to be happening, although in the past year there’s evidence that the system is starting up again. However, if the North Atlantic Drift should shut down – which is still a possible consequence of global warming – then despite the whole of the world warming on average, Iceland (and Scotland) would end up about two degrees colder, on average, all year round.

    In the mean time, of course, the atmosphere is a heat engine. If you put more heat energy into it, you’ll get more mechanical energy out of it – stronger winds, bigger storms. And frankly, the storms we get in the North Atlantic now are quite big enough for me!

  • Joerg December 6, 2009, 9:59 am

    James – “For example, if you put an ice cube in your lounge, it will continue to melt even though your room isn’t getting any warmer.”

    It is quite short of reality to compare a glacier to an ice cube in my lounge, particularly as it does not snow in my lounge. A glacier is a complex dynamic system with gain and loss – particularly complex in Iceland with under-ice volcanoes. And similarly complex is the climate – the global temperature is just one parameter among many others. I can’t think of a reputable scientist having predicted a continual increase in global average temperature. This does not have to happen due to internal climate variability and does not contradict the overall trend. The global average temperature now is higher compared to 3-4 decades ago. There is no reasonable dispute about the existence of global warming, the arguments having shifted to the cause of it and the effects for the future.

    But ok, it’s always possible to find some local or short term anomaly contradicting the long term trend, if it suits the purpose. I am generally sceptic about climate sceptics, seeing in whose interest they are acting. Maybe, we soon have to learn, that a rise in sea level does not exist at all or that it is caused by God’s tears in his grief about the state of the world.

  • Joerg December 6, 2009, 12:06 pm

    Completely off-topic – but I just saw a 2010 IWR calendar appear in the sidebar for sale. Apparently, I have to hurry to have it delivered to Germany as economy shipment by Christmas.

    Iceland is still looking great on it, despite climate change and kreppa. 🙂

  • alda December 6, 2009, 12:08 pm

    Joerg – nice catch! I have a post coming up about it RIGHT NOW. 🙂

  • BRADSTREET December 6, 2009, 12:16 pm

    Well, the world may end, or the world may not. We’re all either going to burn up or freeze. We’ll end up living in a desert or an icebox. But whatever happens, it probably won’t happen before Christmas. I’m just going to enjoy the festivities and worry about it next year. Sorry for being so shallow, but I’m going to wrap my presents, write my cards, watch some bad TV, and let the rest of creation look after itself for a bit.

  • alda December 6, 2009, 12:31 pm

    Yay for Bradstreet!

  • Joerg December 6, 2009, 5:43 pm

    James – “Ok, so you’re looking for the cause of a global warming period that ended the ice age and started the glaciers melting a few thousand years ago.”

    Actually, the Icelandic glaciers did not just start melting a few thousand years ago, doing so steadily until now – like an icecube in a lounge would probably have done. At time of settlement the ice-covered area was apparently far smaller than today, there was the “Little Ice Age” in between with advancing glaciers and some peaks and dips in the last century. So, the glaciers did not always retreat, they even advanced at certain times.

    And no, I would rather be interested in the effects caused by the current retreat of the glaciers and the global warming and how to handle them.

  • Kris December 6, 2009, 10:57 pm

    Joerg,
    Aaron Brown (CNN) said the same thing to Scott Ritter (UN Weapons Inspection team), when he said that there were no WMDs in Iraq!
    Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chompsky and Propaganda by Edward Bernays should be at the top of everyone’s reading list when it comes to the media and politics. Public Opinion by Walter Lippman is next on my reading list but I can recommend it on reputation.
    Reading about Bernays was really enlightening. Me and my buddies used to enjoy an ‘American Breakfast’ once a month at a popular little diner. Little did I know it was cooked up by Bernays for some pork farmers! Prior to that oatmeal was the standard fare. As it turned out, it was pure marketing hype.
    The example above is a classic example of the use of a pretext for some unpopular political program: a war in the Iraqi case. And if you have an eye for such things you can see that there are preparations for war in Iran in progress. Did you read the strange story about the scientist who had her Nobel prise taken by the gov? A classic propaganda piece. A real beauty.
    Just read Bernays. You’ll never think about things the same way.
    Cheers…

  • James December 6, 2009, 11:30 pm

    Joerg – Ok, so you’re looking for the cause of a global warming period that ended the little ice age and started the glaciers melting a few hundred years ago. 😉

  • Joerg December 7, 2009, 8:23 am

    James – Any question in this context is of certain interest and, I guess, research on climate development of a very remote past might be less prone to be politicised than predicting the future. 😉

    But in the context of this post, I had questions in mind, like, if under the assumption of the glaciers melting within 40+ years, highly indebting investments in ventures like hydropower plants such as Kárahnjukar can be economically viable at all (apart from them being ecologically detrimental) and if an unbiased calculation about this issue has ever been undertaken. I really doubt it.