Some Ice is Nice
It’s payback time for Radarsat, the radar imager satellite operated by the Canadian Space Agency. In exchange for the satellite’s launch by an American Delta II rocket on November 4, 1995, Canada agreed to provide NASA with access to a certain amount of data and to execute a realignment twice during the mission in order to allow for the mapping of the Antarctic continental ice sheet. Consequently in September 1997, Radarsat rotated its viewing apparatus 180 degrees and on September 14 the first radar images of the South Pole were taken. The resulting images proved to be quite stunning, better than the experts had dared to hope. And the information collected will be most welcome. Resolution of controversies over global warming and the fate of the Antarctic ice sheet, could have important impacts on government policy in the years to come.
Radarsat is a valuable satellite, not only because of its cost to develop and deploy (about $620 million) but more particularly because of what it can do. The digital images collected by Radarsat are unhindered by fog or clouds. In addition objects as small as 8 metres (26 ft) can be distinguished. Previously with most other remote sensing satellites, the smallest objects recorded were four to ten kilometres! Other satellites in the past (especially those from the American military) had trained their sensors on the Antarctic but none had been able, because of their orbits, to collect information on territory above the 78th parallel. This meant that about four million square kilometres were not accurately mapped. After Radarsat had collected data from the southern continent for about two weeks, NASA issued a news release (97-223). At this point thirty percent of the mission’s objective had been achieved. By the time the mapping is completed around November 20, 5000 images of Antarctica will have been recorded by Radarsat. These “high resolution digital image mosaics of the ice sheet and exposed portions of the continent” will serve as a benchmark for comparison with similar images to be taken in two years time.
There has been much concern about the Antarctic ice sheet since it contains nearly 70% of Earth’s fresh water. If this icy reservoir were fully melted, sea level around the world would rise about 70 metres (230 ft). The continents would be vastly smaller and many low lying territories would have entirely disappeared under the waves. Thus the present dynamics of the southern ice is very much a subject of interest. But perhaps ice is accumulating rather than receding. One of the first features which Radarsat recorded was the old international South Pole research station which had been established in the late 1950s. It is now buried under about 9 m (30 feet) of ice and snow. Other images which the imager has recorded include flow lines in streams of ice. These sometimes change direction with buildups of ice in some locations.
To many people it has seemed obvious that if global warming were in fact a reality, then melting of the polar ice caps must occur. For example in 1990 a group of American scientists organized a research programme on this topic and they named their programme SeaRISE (for Sea-level Response to Ice Sheet Evolution). These studies identified five active “ice streams” moving from the interior of West Antarctica into the Ross Sea. Much later, after other studies did not support initial alarmist views, the project was renamed WAIS for West Antarctic ice sheet.
At the same time as certain hardy souls were studying the ice of Antarctica, other experts were investigating the topic by means of computer models of global climate. Imagine the surprise of these computer experts when they found their models predicting more ice and snow at the poles as average global temperatures climbed. With warmer oceans near the equator there would be more evaporation. Once this moisture laden air reached the poles it would descend to the ground in the form of snow.
Despite the fact that the polar ice caps may not be a source of new water for the seas, “most researchers agree that sea level is currently rising.” according to an article in Scientific American (March 1997 p. 115). That is the current popular understanding. However the data gathered on the topic seem far from reliable. Many areas of sea coast appear to be moving up or downward on their own with no reference to what the seas are doing. It is believed that many coastal areas are still moving upward as a rebound effect after having been weighed down by massive loads of ice during a past ice age. Also in some places like Bangkok, residents have been using the groundwater at such a rate that land surface is sinking. Thus merely measuring water level on markers set at the sea shore is not going to tell one much. Complex calculations made by adding or subtracting land rebound or sinking effects from gauge measurements, have suggested that sea level has risen at the rate of about 2 mm per year for a period of several decades.
Further confusion was added to the issue when four years of TOPEX/Poseideon satellite measurements of sea level were released. They appeared to indicate that the seas had risen by a whopping 4 mm per year. Soon however it was discovered that the computer programme was in error and we are now told that the measurements indicate a 2 mm/year sea-level rise. Skeptical observers might ask how reliable these calculations are when the first reported numbers were in error, apparently, by 100%. It is evident how dependent these estimates are on appropriate computer programming. So nobody knows if the seas are rising, and if they are, where the additional water is coming from.
An additional intriguing aspect of the topic of polar ice, is its connection with flood geology and post flood climate. A team of six scientists has for the past decade been developing a global flood model based on catastrophic plate tectonics. These men are Drs. Steven Austin of the Institute for Creation Research, John Baumgardner of Los Alamos National Laboratory, Russell Humphreys of Scandia National Laboratory, Andrew Snelling of Creation Science Foundation in Australia, Larry Vardiman of ICR and Kurt Wise of Bryan College in Tennessee. The post flood component of their model is based on work by Dr. Vardiman whose field of expertise is modeling of atmospheric physics.
In order to carry out his study, Dr. Vardiman used a computer programme called “Computer Climate Model One” (CCM1) developed by National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). This programme is the standard model for computer simulations worldwide. Dr. Vardiman started his computer run with conditions which might be expected to have occurred just after the flood. He assumed that the entire ocean worldwide was uniformly warm from top to bottom at 30 degrees C. He then conducted simulations for a year of real time to see what might occur under these conditions. The model indicated that the heaviest precipitation would occur at the poles and along the continental margins. In the polar regions and mountains the precipitation was generally in the form of snow. According to his results “The region of heavy precipitation over Alaska, the northeastern United States, Greenland and Europe is consistent with the formation of ice sheets during the ‘Ice Age’. Likewise, heavy precipitation over the polar regions would lead to ice there. Relatively dry areas occur in Egypt, the Middle East, and central Asia. This would have permitted civilizations to have migrated out of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley south westward and eastward following events at the Tower of Babel.” (S. A. Austin. 1996. Script for Slides. Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: A Global Flood Model of Earth History. p. 19) Other simulations were run with hot sea temperatures over the mid-ocean ridges. Temperatures of 40 degrees C, 50 degrees, 60 degrees and 70 degrees C were used. The model was run for each initial temperature at the ridges for a year of real time. Highly convective storms were indicated by these simulations with highest precipitation over the North Atlantic just south of Greenland and near Antarctica.
Thus the computer simulations run by Dr. Vardiman indicated that increased evaporation from warm seas would lead to dramatic cooling and heavy precipitation at the poles. These results concur with long held beliefs of some young earth scientists that there was a rapid but brief ice age following the flood. These six scientists caution however that what they have produced is merely a model, an attempt to explain information with the fewest possible additional assumptions. Nobody is saying this is what happened, but events something like this may have occurred. The global flood model, after ten years, is still in its formative stages and is thus incomplete (Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism. 1994. p. 610) They anticipate that much additional work will need to be carried out. This makes sense when one considers that thousands of scientists have been working since the late 1960s to refine the standard view of plate tectonics.
Nobody knows if global warming is a real phenomenon. Whether it is, or is not, is irrelevant to the discussion here. The interesting thing is that secular predictions for the future and young earth scientists interpretations of past events, seem to be in agreement. Of course computer models are not necessarily very reliable. Many interpretations may change in the future. However the whole issue has served to heighten our interest in models based on a global flood and also on studies of the Antarctic ice pack. Three cheers for Radarsat’s wonderful images. We can’t wait for the follow up results in 1999.
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