June 23, 2005

HANNIBAL HAD A WALK IN THE PARK (via Robert Schwartz):

A New Alpine Melt Theory (Hilmar Schmundt, 5/23/05, Der Spiegel)

The Alpine glaciers are shrinking, that much we know. But new research suggests that in the time of the Roman Empire, they were smaller than today. And 7,000 years ago they probably weren't around at all. A group of climatologists have come up with a controversial new theory on how the Alps must have looked over the ages.

He may not look like a revolutionary, but Ulrich Joerin, a wiry Swiss scientist in his late twenties, is part of a small group of climatologists who are in the process of radically changing the image of the Swiss mountain world. He and a colleague are standing in front of the Tschierva Glacier in Engadin, Switzerland at 2,200 meters (7,217 feet). "A few thousand years ago, there were no glaciers here at all," he says. "Back then we would have been standing in the middle of a forest." He digs into the ground with his mountain boot until something dark appears: an old tree trunk, covered in ice, polished by water and almost black with humidity. "And here is the proof," says Joerin.

Radical new theory

The tree trunk in the ice is part of a huge climatic puzzle that Joerin is analyzing for his doctoral thesis for the Institute for Geological Science at the University of Bern. And he is coming to an astonishing conclusion. The fact that the Alpine glaciers are melting right now appears to be part of regular cycle in which snow and ice have been coming and going for thousands of years.

"The weather changes" is a radical theory?

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 23, 2005 9:22 PM

This is of a piece with last year's story about tree ring analysis in Northern Europe. The research confirmed rapid tree growth ... presumably linked to warmer temperatures ... about 1000 years ago. Between then and the 20th Century, things cooled off. Now it's warming up again. Ecclesiastes.

Posted by: ghostcat at June 23, 2005 10:44 PM

Roman scientists posited that weather patterns could be changed by elephant emissions. The theory wasn't proven, but the danger was so great they felt that prudence required that Carthage be destroyed.

Posted by: David Cohen at June 23, 2005 10:50 PM

carthage delenda emmissions, eh ? i don't know why but the phrasing above is really funny to me.

Posted by: cjm at June 23, 2005 10:53 PM

Doesn't oj drive a Carthage Delenda?

Posted by: ghostcat at June 24, 2005 1:19 AM

Yeah, he does. But it's the SE not the EST. : )

Posted by: Bartman at June 24, 2005 8:32 AM

Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie worked this out, on the basis of, among other thing, harvest records nearly 20 years ago, though he couldn't go back 7K years.

Some people just haven't been paying attention.

Climatologists probably ignored Le Roy Ladurie because he was a historian, Orrin because he was French.

History is a better guide to climate than prospective computer models. Just as the best prediction of tomorrow's weather is today's.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 24, 2005 6:18 PM