Saturday, March 03, 2007

Global Warming--On Mars

Both Mars and Earth are experiencing Global Warming right now. Did you know that? Earth ain't the only one of Sol's satellites experiencing climate change. The polar ice cap at Mars' south pole is melting, and if there were people on the Red Planet, they would be turning down the thermostat. Of course, if there were people on the Red Planet, they would be the default setting in explaining why Mars is getting less chilly--people burning things is, after all, getting most of the credit for influencing Earth's climate these days--but there are no pesky humans on Mars, so what's the deal? Planets don't just warm up on their own, now do they? Is there some reason for both planets to be experiencing their own little heat waves in sync, or are their mutual bikini days strictly a case of freaky happenstance, like when you and your best friend both turn up at the same restaurant, in the same dress, at the same time, but with different reservations?

Well, there are people involved in figuring that out, so you can bet there are conflicting opinions. Kate Ravilious, at National Geographic News, is reporting that "mainstream scientific opinion" is dismissing any connection between the warming of the Earth and the warming of Mars, laying it down to coincidence, since the majority of climate scientists believe that Earth is being warmed by greenhouse gasses and Mars' is being warmed by a possible wobble in his orbit of the Sun. There is another perspective coming out of Russia, however:

Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of the St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia, says the Mars data is evidence that the current global warming on Earth is being caused by changes in the sun.

"The long-term increase in solar irradiance is heating both Earth and Mars," he said.

Abdussamatov believes that changes in the sun's heat output can account for almost all the climate changes we see on both planets.

Mars and Earth, for instance, have experienced periodic ice ages throughout their histories.

"Man-made greenhouse warming has made a small contribution to the warming seen on Earth in recent years, but it cannot compete with the increase in solar irradiance," Abdussamatov said.

By studying fluctuations in the warmth of the sun, Abdussamatov believes he can see a pattern that fits with the ups and downs in climate we see on Earth and Mars.

Abdussamatov believes that the irradiance of the Sun has been dropping since the 1990s, and that it will be reaching it's lowest point sometime around 2040, causing "a steep cooling of the climate on Earth in 15 to 20 years." Abdussamatov is the head of the space research sector of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and he's made the pages of the Meow before. I've written about Russian scientists predicting the onset of Global Cooling, and Abdussamatov's belief that efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions should be put on hold for the next century or so, because the fluctuations in Earth's temperature are part of natural cycles resulting from variations in the Sun's temperature, and Abdussamatov says the Sun's going to turn down the heat, and won't be making things get this toasty again until some time in the 22nd century. As Ravilious explains in her National Geographic article, he sees the concurrent warming on Mars as support for his theories about warming, and cooling, on Earth.

So, who's right, Abdussamatov or the many scientists who support the theory of anthropogenic global warming? We don't know yet. Despite the authority of "mainstream scientific opinion," the scientific community is by no means united on this topic, and more scientific observation will be required to make a definite determination. As Michael Crichton has noted, "science" and "consensus" are not equivalent terms, and theories like those of Habibullo Abdussamatov cannot be ignored if man-made global warming theory is to be found credible over the long term. Can Mars' temperature spike be due to a wobbly orbit? Of course, that's possible. Can it be due to an increase in solar radiation, which is also raising the heat index here on Terra? Yes, that's possible, too. It would be great to see the scientific community investigating Abdussamatov's theories, rather than dismissing them. If experiments and observation prove Abdussamatov correct, then they will have determined one of the contributing factors to our climate's ups and downs. If they prove false, then they will have something they can strike from their "possible causes" list with assurance, instead of with the ill-defined repudiation that comes from refusing to acknowledge a possibility because it is in conflict with what they themselves hold to be true.

Things are warming up on Earth and Mars at the same time. Abdussamatov believes that the causes are the same in both cases: The Sun's got a lot of power, and he's flexing his muscles. On it's face, this is a reasonable argument, since our planet gets all the heat that keeps us alive from this source. It makes sense that shifts in the amount of heat the Sun is throwing our way would send our thermometers on a little joy ride. It's simple and logical, and meets Occam's razor (from this non scientist's perspective, anyway.) If one is not already in the "humans are the catalyst" camp, Abdussamatov's theories seem at least worth investigating. However, we are told by "mainstream scientific opinion" that they are not viable, that Mars and Earth are separate cases, influenced by disparate powers, and we can strike the Sun off the list of possible climate culprits.

I would like to understand why, and I'm sure I'm not alone. So, I'll put in a request as a representative from the non-scientific community. I would like to see the evidence that Earth and Mars cannot be linked in this way, and a deeper exploration of why this theory, among others, doesn't work. Run experiments that will confirm the dismissal of conflicting theories. Publish those experiments with explanations a layperson can understand. If we are to discount the conclusions of everyone who comes up with an alternative theory to man-made global warming, why we should discount those conclusions warrants a fuller explanation, complete with experimental evidence, to those of us who are counting on the scientists to get it right. I don't have a whole lot of hope that these experiments and explanations are forthcoming, because we have long passed into the "this is fact because everybody who's important agrees" stage of the climate discussion, but it is what we should be demanding from the people who could influence the course of human development. Earth and Mars have the same heat source, and they are warming at the same time. Abdussamatov says he knows the reason why. Want to convince me Abdussamatov is wrong? Prove it--with verifiable experiments. Want to convince the world that man is the cause of global warming? Prove it--with verifiable experiments, not "everybody knows this." Everybody knew the Earth was flat, too. Not good enough.

Update: This is interesting. Apparently, there is global warming occurring on Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto, Venus, Enceladus and Triton, as well. Just thought I'd pass it on as more food for thought. (I apologize for the snarkiness of the graphics, but I thought the information was worth a gander.)