This post stands alone, but is really a continuation of the physicist and the climatologist story which I recommend you read first. I’ve also been asked by a couple of readers to recommend no drinking of fluids toward the end of the article to avoid nasty milk shooting out of the nose type incidents.
Just as much of the physics presented as legitimate analysis of climate warming is fatally flawed, so are other sciences. In the case of physics, a lot of the analysis is based on assumptions that physicists have known for centuries are false. Sometimes the analysis appears to be the result of a mistake, in other cases it is deliberate misrepresentation. If a climatologist and a marine biologist were to have a discussion it might go something like this:
Climatologist; Thanks for helping out with this study. Your expertise on Pacific ocean island atolls will be very useful to help us save the people who live on these islands from global warming.
MB (Marine Biologist); Glad I can help. Nice to know all those years studying coral reefs and such is finally actually worth something. What do you need to know?
Climatologist; We want to know how much higher the sea level is based on the high water marks on the islands and the intrusion of sea water into their fresh water supply. They will soon have no more fresh water and the islands will be swamped by the sea if we don’t do something about global warming. We need you to help figure out how fast that’s happening and how long these people have left if we don’t do something.
MB; Uhm… wish I’d known the question before I signed that contract.
MB; You do know that atolls float, right?
Climatologist; Float? They’re islands. They’re made of sand. Sand doesn’t float, are you daft? Where did you get your degree from anyway?
MB; Sorry, float isn’t exactly the right word. You see they are made of sand just like you said. The sand comes from dead coral that breaks down into sand. The sand gets deposited by wave action on the atolls, building them up. But they can only be built up so high before wind erosion blows the top layer of sand off them. So you see, they don’t float per se. But their height above the ocean is based on sand deposition and wind erosion. So as the ocean level changes, the atoll level basically floats up or down with it. It would take a large sudden change to change that. Now human activity messes with the erosion, but it messes with coral reefs and sand deposition more, giving the illusion that they are slowly going under as the ocean rises, but it has nothing to do with the ocean rising. Haven’t you noticed that the uninhabited atolls don’t have the same problem?
Climatologist; Yeah, we noticed that, but we decided to ignore those ones because no one lives on them anyway.
MB; That’s not exactly scientific…
Climatologist; It was a management decision. Look, this doesn’t make any sense. The sand is porous and as the ocean level changes it forces sea water into the island’s fresh water reservoir. You can’t deny that.
MB; Well actually I can. You understand how density works?
Climatologist; <sniff> Of course. Before I was a climatologist, I was a physicist.
MB; Oh, this will be easy for you then. Salt water is more dense than fresh water. So when it rains, the atoll works like a big bowl collecting the fresh water into the middle. As you said, the sand is porous. So the fresh water works its way down until it sits on top of the salt water. Since it isn’t as dense as the salt water it just sits on top. It pushes some of the salt water out the bottom of course, but the amount of fresh water is determined by the amount of rain and the amount of fresh water being taken out by tree roots and evaporation and such. Your problem is all those luxury hotels that were built along with a major increase in local population using well water. You are using up the fresh water faster than it collects from rain. The ocean level doesn’t change the amount left at all. Again, if you check the uninhabited attols –
Climatologist; Management decision. I told you, they are out. So bottom line is these people are just going to run out of fresh water and slowly sink into the ocean and you can’t help me to protect them.
MB; Well, I’m just telling you –
Climatologist; Wait! I know how to fix this!
Climatologist; Its easy. You just told me that human activity is causing them to sink into the ocean and run out of fresh water, right?
MB; uhm… yeah, pretty much.
Climatologist; So I will do a report on global warming, greenhouse gases, glaciers melting and at the end I’ll put in a section about the atolls being encroached by sea levels and running out of fresh water due to human activity and I will quote you as the source.
MB; Well that’s a bit misleading…
Climatologist; But technically accurate.
MB; Yes, but everyone will think I am linking those things to global warming, which I’m not…
Climatologist; But its technically accurate, and you have a contract…
MB; I’m not comfortable…
Climatologist; … and here is the check I had drawn up for payment to you. Count the zeros.
MB; That’s a lot of zeros. Gee whiz. I’m still not comfortable….
Climatologist; Don’t forget the committee we’ll be putting you on.
Climatologist; Of course. Once we get the carbon trading system in place, these atolls will be in line for a lot of compensation. They’ll need input from scientists like you to help spend the money on mitigation strategies. You’ll already be on record as having helped them get the compensation, so they will be glad to have you on the committee. Now if you were to recommend a major desalination plant for example…
MB; There’s no company on this island I could recommend for that.
Climatologist; The carbon trading won’t go big time for a year or so, so you have time to start one. You counting all the zeros here? Technically accurate, opportunity to go into business for yourself, guaranteed lucrative contract….
Desalinationist; Hi, I used to be a marine biologist. But when I started to understand what was happening to our environment, I knew I better start looking at mitigation strategies to help island folk like us….