Archive for July, 2008

[Update] Mind Games: Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal panders to "skeptics" by abjuring science and declaring himself an expert on "mass neurosis"

July 6th, 2008 1 comment

[Update:  For an ongoing case study of the startling irrationality and “sick souls” of some of the “skeptics”, see my related discussions with the physicist Lubos Motl:

[Update] Mind Games/Luboš Motl: how an absence of functioning markets means that I’m right, but you’re a delusional, neurotic “zealot”

Luboš Motl 2: The cool-headed overheat; to this “rational” scientist, I’m a freedom-hating hypercommunist Nazi who should be “jailed or executed”

Luboš Motl 3: This lover of freedom and hater of irrationality can’t stand discourse and fantasizes about elimination

Luboš Motl 4: His considered plan to eliminate enviros: they should be treated like N*zis, so it may be necessary to kill millions (less if we get started soon!)

On July 1, The Wall Street Journal ran a jaw-droppingly astonishing, juvenile and profoundly self-deluded column by editorial writer Bret Stephens.  In the editorial, entitled “Global Warming as Mass Neurosis“, Stephens concludes that “Global warming is sick-souled religion.”  When I put the thing down, I couldn’t help thinking that this was either an impeccably well-done “Onion” spoof of a WSJ column or an April Fool’s post that was accidentally put up three months late, but then again the WSJ has consistently mocked the intelligence of its readers and of other “skeptics” on the issue of climate change.  (A Google search will show how eagerly Stephens’ audience ate up this nonsense, too.)

Bob Higgs has engaged with Stephens here on similar snide dismissals of libertarian views on foreign policy.  Apparently Stephens, a neocon and former editor of the Jerusalem Post, boasts no scientific or psychotherapy expertise.

In this editorial, Stephens completely:

  1. dismisses the concerns of scientists (including all major academies of science), economists, farmers, investors and businessmen across a wide range of energy and other industries, political leaders and defense and intelligence officials – at home and abroad – about growing evidence that massive and growing human economic activities are affecting the atmosphere, oceans and climate,
  2. ignores the fundamental and well-known dynamics of the exploitation of valuable but unowned and uncontrolled open-access commons and other resources, and
  3. ignores the basic public choice insight about rent-seeking and the political deadlock where interest groups seek to use the levers of government to influence the outcome of a struggle over resources.

Instead, Stephens choses to insult the intelligence of his readers (and to pander to hard-core “skeptics”), first by by a sleight of hand that dismisses what scientists have learned over the past three decades and that pretends that only irrational and deluded people (apparently all of those noted in (1) above) are concerned about “global warming”, and then by pretending to help his readers, not to engage with the arguments of those who express concern with “global warming”, but instead to plumb and explicate the deeply twisted minds and the “motives for belief” by all of the irrational “believers”:

What we have here is a nonfalsifiable hypothesis, logically indistinguishable from claims for the existence of God. This doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist, or that global warming isn’t happening. It does mean it isn’t science.

So let’s stop fussing about the interpretation of ice core samples from the South Pole and temperature readings in the troposphere. The real place where discussions of global warming belong is in the realm of belief, and particularly the motives for belief. I see three mutually compatible explanations.

Sorry, Bret, but if you crack the IPCC’s reports over two decades, or talk with Exxon, Florida Power, Dupont, Japanese auto manufacturers or any number of Nobel prize-winning and distinguished economists, you’ll find plenty of rational people with their feet on the ground ready to discuss science, technology infrastructure and economics.  It’s a neat trick that you can dismiss everything they have to say by pretending that they’re deluded and trying to guess the magical thinking that drives them.

Of course global warming is falsifiable.  It’s just complicated, involves the not surprising possibility that our economic behavior may have deleterious side-effects over a wink of a geological eye (a few decades and centuries), and policies to deal with it threaten the financial interests of dominant established interests.

Stephens offers the following explanations for the “beliefs” of the warmers:

The first is as a vehicle of ideological convenience. Socialism may have failed as an economic theory, but global warming alarmism, with its dire warnings about the consequences of industry and consumerism, is equally a rebuke to capitalism.

Bret, nice canard.  No doubt THERE BE LEFTISTS who are worried about climate change, but what about everyone else?  Even a number of prominent and level-headed libertarians are convinced that there’s a problem.  And what about leftists who think that climate change is hyped, like Alexander Cockburn and Martin Durkin, the radical polemicist behind “The Great Global Warming Swindle”?

And of course concern about global warming is NOT per se a rebuke to capitalism, but merely a recognition of the pedestrian observation that “environmental” problems frequently arise when a lack of clear and enforceable property rights or high transaction costs mean that individuals and communities with differing preferences cannot express (or defend) such preferences through market transactions.  Are we to take it that it is your position that pollution and environmental damage never occur, but are simply ideological attacks by those who hate capitalism?

A second explanation is theological. Surely it is no accident that the principal catastrophe predicted by global warming alarmists is diluvian in nature. Surely it is not a coincidence that modern-day environmentalists are awfully biblical in their critique of the depredations of modern society: “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” That’s Genesis, but it sounds like Jim Hansen.

And surely it is in keeping with this essentially religious outlook that the “solutions” chiefly offered to global warming involve radical changes to personal behavior, all of them with an ascetic, virtue-centric bent: drive less, buy less, walk lightly upon the earth and so on. A light carbon footprint has become the 21st-century equivalent of sexual abstinence.

First, why leave out the Japanese, who have been widely convinced for decades that global warming is a serious problem, and the Chinese, Indians, Indonesians and others who agree?

Second, while it’s not surprising that those in the West make reference to shared frameworks of understanding, including Biblical ones, it’s also hardly surprising that those who wish to drive policy in ways that reflect their preferences do so by scare-mongering.  In fact, isn’t this something that the Bush administration specialized in, egged on by neocons?  You know, fear of Islamofascism, fear of gay marriage, fear of French fries, fear of Enviros, fear of practically anything but big and more invasive government?

Third, of course the major solutions offered for global warming clearly involve major transitions in technology and markets, for which a state-led introduction of “carbon pricing” is seen as the chief driving mechanism.  Isn’t Jim Hansen pushing the need for carbon capture and storage and for the implementation of a fully-rebated carbon tax?  How is this different from what Exxon, Duke, FPL, AEI, and many others are saying?  Sure, some believe that changes in personal behavior are also a good way to be reflect those concerns and to use one’s worries and values to drive changes in markets – such voluntary changes are hardly objectionable, as frightening as they may seem to you.

Finally, there is a psychological explanation. Listen carefully to the global warming alarmists, and the main theme that emerges is that what the developed world needs is a large dose of penance. What’s remarkable is the extent to which penance sells among a mostly secular audience. What is there to be penitent about?

As it turns out, a lot, at least if you’re inclined to believe that our successes are undeserved and that prosperity is morally suspect. In this view, global warming is nature’s great comeuppance, affirming as nothing else our guilty conscience for our worldly success.

I’m not sure what or whom you’re listening to, Bret, but what I hear are the themes of “tragedy of the commons”, “pollution”, “externalities”, “uncontrolled experiments on a planetary scale”, “transferring of costs to others”, “responsibility” and other non-psychological themes that don’t require penance, but hard work and widespread cooperation.  Could it be that you’re “projecting”, Bret, and feel more than a little guilty for your own worldly success?

Perhaps there are some who believe that “our successes are undeserved and that prosperity is morally suspect”, but would you include within this group those who think that our successes are hard-won and well-deserved, but that prosperity does not mean that we should stop working hard, including working to resolving shared threats and problems?

In “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” William James distinguishes between healthy, life-affirming religion and the monastically inclined, “morbid-minded” religion of the sick-souled. Global warming is sick-souled religion.

So caring about the possible effects of mankind’s activities on our only home, on our children and grandchildren and the other unique forms of life that we share the planet with is “sick-souled”, and not “healthy” or “life-affirming”?  Bret, how can I put this fairly and sensitively?  You seem to understand the “sick-souled” very well.  Does it come from looking in the mirror?

In sum, Stephens doesn’t engage at all with any those who are concerned with climate change, but offers up a twisted editorial addressed solely to help “skeptics” to continue to remain skeptics through an argument addressed largely at a strawman that bolsters the egos and beliefs of the presumably more “rational” skeptics who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid offered by the supposed believers.  If indeed this editorial is not a spoof, it can only be seen as either willfully deceptive or as an artifact of profound self-deception and wishful thinking.  Such a cocoon-like work is, sadly, a profound retreat from reason, and has little place on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, other than perhaps as an object lesson in how not to engage in reasoned discourse and how easy it is for us to fool ourselves.

Bret, are you putting us on, trying to pull the wool over our eyes, or trying to deceive yourself?  Like Penn and Teller, are you going to tell us that actually you “don’t know”, and have smarter friends who are worried about climate change?  Inquiring minds (many here at LvMI) want more of your incisive psycho-babble!

Of course, Stephens is not alone in trying to explain away those who disagree with him by exploring their “beliefs”; certainly our cognitive apparatus plays tricks on us, so there is some fertile ground here.  Chris Horner, who frequently makes excellent points about the foibles of the left, has a recent post up that follows up on Stephens’ by noting the important work of Leon Festinger, who detailed how “the failure of a prophecy to come about can often yield the opposite effect of what the rational person would expect: the cult following gets stronger and its adherents ever more convinced of their truth.”  However, it seems that Horner carries this too far, by an implicit assumption that all of those concerned about climate change are a “cult” with views that are not rational, and that this is rather obvious in the face of a recent break in some of the warming.  Horner concludes that the Warmers are engaged in mental gymnastics of the types exhibited by cult followers:  “As a meteorologist colleague commented to me last night about a recent manifestation of precisely this, ‘these people are no different than the guys sitting around waiting for the spaceship.'”  Oh, really?  The National Academies of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society, every other nation’s academy of science, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Schelling and now Exxon and AEI – all waiting for the spaceship???  “Beam me up” indeed, Chris!

I’d suggest that Horner might be a little more cautious in his gleeful dismissal of warmers, and make sure he too is engaging on facts and not beliefs, wishful thinking, and a tribal self-vindication.

This display of nonsense by Stephens and Horner’s own reflexive and hyperbolic scorn [and now the rants by guys like Lubos Motl] might suggest that Horner – and a host of “skeptics” who seize rather too eagerly any argument that puny man has no impact on the world (at least one that can’t be solved with his great technology) – ought to take a careful look in the mirror.

[Mind Games:] Penn & Teller – "Bull****" artists – get ready to change their "skeptical" stance on climate change

July 5th, 2008 4 comments

There’s an interesting bit of arm-twisting, self-deception, defensiveness and reluctant position-shifting going on in the libertarian science skeptics crowd, and Penn and Teller seem to be letting the social pressure help clear their minds.

At James Randi‘s gathering of skeptics in Las Vegas last month (The Amazing Meeting 6), apparently both Penn and Teller very reluctantly conceded in response to audience q & a that they now “don’t know” whether or not “global warming is Bull****“, but that they certainly hate Al Gore.

After being mocked and criticized by Sharon Begley (Newsweek science columnist) for “basically saying, don’t bother me with scientific evidence, I’m going to make up my mind about global warming based on my disdain for Al Gore” and for illustrating Begley’s talking point at the meeting that our beliefs are often NOT based on reason (says Begley, “Both Penn and Teller are well-known libertarians and supporters of the libertarian Cato Institute, which has been one of the leaders in spreading doubt about global warming. Which just goes to show, not even the most hard-nosed empiricists and skeptics are immune from the power of emotion to make us believe stupid things.”), Penn Jillette offered up a rather whiny response at the LA Times (in an op-ed defensively titled “Climate change? Once more, ‘I don’t know’; Being honest about not knowing enough of the science to make a judgment isn’t the same as an outright denial”):

During our loose Q&A period this year, someone asked us about global warming, or climate change, or however they’re branding it now. Teller and I were both silent on stage for a bit too long, and then I said I didn’t know.

I elaborated on “I don’t know” quite a bit. I said that Al Gore was so annoying (that’s scientifically provable, right?) that I really wanted to doubt anything he was hyping, but I just didn’t know. I also emphasized that really smart friends, who knew a lot more than me, were convinced of global warming. I ended my long-winded rambling (I most often have a silent partner) very clearly with “I don’t know.” I did that because … I don’t know. Teller chimed in with something about Gore’s selling of “indulgences” being BS, and then said he didn’t know either. Penn & Teller don’t know jack about global warming … next question. …

Is there no ignorance allowed on this one subject? … You can’t turn on the TV without seeing someone hating ourselves for what we’ve done to the planet and preaching the end of the world. Maybe they’re right, but is there no room for “maybe”? There’s a lot of evidence, but global warming encompasses a lot of complicated points: Is it happening? Did we cause it? Is it bad? Can we fix it? Is government-forced conservation the only way to fix it?

To be fair (and it’s always important to be fair when one is being mean-spirited, sanctimonious and self-righteous), “I don’t know” can be a very bad answer when it is disingenuous. You can’t answer “I don’t know if that happened” about the Holocaust.

But the climate of the whole world is more complicated. I’m not a scientist, and I haven’t spent my life studying weather. I’m trying to learn what I can, and while I’m working on it, isn’t it OK to say “I don’t know”?

I mean, at least in front of a bunch of friendly skeptics?

Of course, given the tricks that we play on ourselves, it’s entirely possible that Begley did not accurately capture the gist of Penn and Teller’s remarks, but even if they both said they “don’t know” at TAM6, it’s a lack of knowledge that rather curiously didn’t prevent them from spending the past five years mocking climate change concerns.

Ron Bailey, science correspondent for Reason, another libertarian climate skeptic who prominently changed his mind two years ago, summarizes here, where he quotes from both Begley and Penn.  Bailey both schools and chides Penn, while acknowledging that there is ample room to debate policy:

Is it happening? Did we cause it? Yes, the balance of the evidence is that it is happening. Is it bad? Relative to what? Can we fix it? Maybe. But at what’s the best way to do so? Are immediate deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions necessary? Some analysts don’t think so. Government-forced conservation? Perhaps there is another way. Skepticism is certainly merited when it comes to proposals that aim to solve global warming.

Finally, is it OK to disdain Al Gore? Sure it is. But even an annoying self-important scold can be right sometimes.

It seems to me that Penn and Teller’s defensiveness clearly signals a shift in their position from broad disagreement with global warming, both on science and on policy, towards conceding the core of the science while focussing on policy.

It’s interesting that apparently that their shift was motivated not by a desire to be right on the science – after all, they have prominently mocked others on climate change without even seriously bothering to address the scientific evidence – but because of pressure from other skeptics who have already changed their own minds.

It’s also interesting that Penn and Teller, who are not known for showing much concern for the feelings of those whom they mock and ridicule, are essentially saying to their fellow skeptics, “hey, this criticism from friends hurts our feelings”.  It’s very interesting that while they talk about their friends they are careful to put Begley at a distance, referring to her as “one of the non-famous, non-groovy, non-scientist speakers” (a nice case of misdirection, since even if Begley is less famous or groovy than Penn and Teller, they certainly aren’t scientists either) and complaining that SHE is the one who is “one is being mean-spirited, sanctimonious and self-righteous”. Hey, that nerd Sharon Begley is being MEAN to us! they say.

Yep.  So while Penn and Tell grudgingly concede that maybe all of those AGW “religionists” might be onto something, they need to downplay their own change of mind by continuing to disdain Al Gore, and by directing their ire at that b*tch, Sharon Begley.  Not particularly noble, but a change of mind nonetheless.

This may dishearten others who passionately believe that puny man with his fabulous technology and booming numbers can’t possibly influence the Earth’s climate, but I predict that many will find ways to distract themselves from Penn and Teller’s shift, such as by attacking Sharon Begley and the evil MSM.

Inquiring minds?! Wherein the author jumps through hoops for a "skeptic" on the wonders of CO2 (that man has no influence on)

July 3rd, 2008 No comments

An LvMI blogger sent me the following inquiry, which I post here – along with my response – as a public service. 

I note first that I am no climate expert, but someone who doesn`t mind a little scientific or other inquiry.

Question:  “I would like to see your response to this:” [headline: “CO2 rise making the earth greener, more diverse”]

This link brings me to a wepage that quotes ANOTHER webpage, that finally links to a summary of a science article.  The first link consists of the following:


“According to NASA satellite data:

Over a period of almost two decades, the Earth as a
whole became more bountiful by a whopping 6.2%. About 25% of the
Earth’s vegetated landmass — almost 110 million square kilometres —
enjoyed significant increases and only 7% showed significant declines.
When the satellite data zooms in, it finds that each square metre of
land, on average, now produces almost 500 grams of greenery per year.

[A] 2004 study, and other more recent ones, point to the warming of
the planet and the presence of CO2, a gas indispensable to plant life.
CO2 is nature’s fertilizer, bathing the biota with its life-giving
nutrients. Plants take the carbon from CO2 to bulk themselves up —
carbon is the building block of life — and release the oxygen, which
along with the plants, then sustain animal life. As summarized in a
report last month, released along with a petition signed by 32,000 U.
S. scientists who vouched for the benefits of CO2: “Higher CO2 enables
plants to grow faster and larger and to live in drier climates. Plants
provide food for animals, which are thereby also enhanced. The extent
and diversity of plant and animal life have both increased
substantially during the past half-century.”

“Despite the evidence that cutting CO2 would cause environmental destruction and a net loss of bio-diversity,

Amazingly, although the risks of action are arguably at
least as real as the risks of inaction, Canada and other countries are
rushing into Earth-altering carbon schemes with nary a doubt.


My response?:

let me make a few notes about your question (which I may take up in a blog post):
– so man’s emissions of CO2 really DO make a noticeable difference!
– what if I liked my land (plants and animals) the way it was before?  Are those who trumpet the expansion of growth right to assume that notions of global utility (and special interests of emitters) prevail over issues of property and individual rights?
– posts like this are easily shown to be unthinking and one-sided.  This may be deliberate in some cases, but also reflects a subconscious desire not to change one’s mind, as can clearly be seen in the unquestioning, eager snapping up of this on the comment thread (to the linked post). So who’s got religion?
– By “easily shown”, note that your link doesn’t go to the science, but to one guy’s analysis of some (as well as to an editorial by someone at Canada’s Financial Post who proudly announces his denialist credentials).  Did you actually bother to look at the science yourself?  To his credit, the guy at Watt’s Up? at least provides a link:  Click on the link, and it takes you to an article summary that has links to other works that refer to the “CO2 is great” work.  These also show a more complicated picture that futher show how mankind’s mindless mucking is having real effects and presents legitimate cause for concern.
One of these, “Drier summers cancel out the CO2 uptake enhancement induced by warmer springs”, states the following:

the CO2 minimum concentration in late summer (an indicator of net growing-season uptake) showed no positive trend since 1994, indicating that lower net CO2 uptake during summer cancelled out the enhanced uptake during spring. Using a recent satellite normalized difference vegetation index data set and climate data, we show that this lower summer uptake is probably the result of hotter and drier summers in both mid and high latitudes, demonstrating that a warming climate does not necessarily lead to higher CO2 growing-season uptake, …
The seasonal amplitude of atmospheric CO2 (an indicator of biospheric activity) was observed to have increased over the same
period and was linked to the increase in northern hemisphere photosynthetic activity (1). The trend in extratropical terrestrial
photosynthetic activity has been mainly attributed to an observed warming trend
(1). Additional contributions to the trend
include increased precipitation (6), improvement in agricultural practices, and forest regrowth (7). The contributions of CO2
fertilization and nitrogen fertilization to the photosynthetic activity trend were probably small
(7, 8), and changes in radiation [cloud cover] were probably only important in the tropics (5).

(emphasis added)

Clicking on the various article summaries takes you to other relevant and interesting summaries (and the full papers, many of which are free).  Since you are actively concerned about this, I imagine that you have already been clicking through these, in order to learn (and consider) as directly as possible, rather than relying solely on the echo chamber of those who insist that man can’t possibly affect GHG levels/ he can, but it can’t possibly have any effect/ it does have an effect, but it’s great!

Note to readers:  I`m  always happy to help those who profess to love reason to exercise theirs. 

Any more questions out there?

Categories: AGW, climate change, CO2, science Tags:

Robert Sohn of Wood’s Hole: the 1999 Arctic seafloor volcanic explosions are NOT responsible for rapid sea ice melting

July 2nd, 2008 2 comments
In personal email correspondence with me, geophysicist Robert A. Sohn, the lead scientist on the international team that reported last week about powerful explosive volcanic activity in 1999 in the deep Arctic Ocean seafloor has strongly rejected the wild speculation – thrown up by Investors Business Daily (“Are Volcanoes Melting Arctic?“) and  rapidly picked up by the gullible “skeptical” blogosphere – that such volcanic activity has any responsibility for the recent disturbingly rapid summer melting and thinning of the Arctic Ocean sea ice.
Science journals and other news services last week ran stories last week about the June 26, 2008 report in prestigious Nature magazine about the July 2007 Arctic Gakkel Vents Expedition (AGAVE), financed by the U.S. National Science Foundation and NASA, to explore a region of the deep (4 kilometers below the Arctic Ocean) and remote Gakkel Ridge, a portion of the largely unexplored mid-ocean ridge system that runs through the Arctic Ocean and which was the site of seismic activity in 1999.  Rob Sohn, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, led the expedition and was lead author on the paper, along with 21 co-authoring scientists from nine institutions in four countries. 
The expedition found evidence of apparently “spectacularly” large explosive volcanic eruptions, at depths previously thought impossible.  According to one report, Sohn said that “These are the first pyroclastic deposits we’ve ever found in such deep water, at oppressive pressures that inhibit the formation of steam, and many people thought this was not possible,” and that “This means that a tremendous blast of CO2 was released into the water column during the explosive eruption.” 
According to another report, Sohn, who is an expert on mid-ocean ridges, said: “The scale and magnitude of the explosive activity that we’re seeing here dwarfs anything we’ve seen on other mid-ocean ridges,” that the volume of gas and lava that appears to have blasted out of the Gakkel volcanoes is “much, much higher” than that seen at other ridges (“Jets or fountains of material were probably blasted one, maybe even two, kilometers up into the water”), and that “it is a good thing there is four kilometers of seawater on top of the Gakkel Ridge as the eruptions would have been ‘highly problematic’ had they occurred on dry land”.
This is the information that has quickly been spun rather wildly – especially as some noted that Arctic sea ice began to thin more rapidly since 1999 –  even though a responsible observer would have noted that the international team stated that such explosions have been part of “a widespread, and ongoing, process”, and “The scientists say the heat released by the explosions is not contributing to the melting of the Arctic ice, but Sohn says the huge volumes of CO2 gas that belched out of the undersea volcanoes likely contributed to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. How much, he couldn’t say.”
In response to queries by commenters at the New York Times “Dot Earth” blog, an July 1 Andy Revkin posted a brief survey of scientists regarding what Andy called an “eruption of assertions” that the recent startlingly rapid summer melting and thinning of Arctic Ocean sea ice might be due not to climate change but to “all the heat from the recent discovered volcanoes peppering the Gakkel Ridge, one of the seams in the deep seabed”. 
Andy’s post (“What’s Up With Volcanoes Under Arctic Sea Ice“) and the questions of commenters prompted me to do a bit of digging on my own.  Fortunately, I was able to get ahold of Rob Sohn, to whom I directly the following questions
Perhaps you might care to weigh in on the discussion re: the 1999 eruptions?
In particular:
  • how much CO2 was released? 
  • would any/a significant portion of the CO2 released gone directly to the surface?
  • was the release reflected in atmospheric CO2 measurements?
  • how high did the debris column likely go?
  • would it be possible that any of the heat released would have created a column of hot water significantly light enough to rise to the surface?
  • even if not, could such a below surface hot spot have slowed downward heat flux, producing a greater upward heat flux?

 In response, Rob stated:

Tom, we are still trying to figure out how much CO2 was released – not an easy question given that we got to the scene of the crime long after the CO2 was gone. We are also still trying to understand the dynamical aspects of the explosions in terms of what happened in the overlying water column.

We doubt that the events perturbed the overlying pack ice because of the incredible damping from 4 km of water between the volcanoes and the ice. At most we believe the explosive plume reached about halfway through the water column, but there may have been some transient heat flux to the underside of the ice right above the volcanoes.

One thing that is certain, however, is that these events were not capable of causing any significant melt-off on the basin scale. Some have asserted that these events are linked to the diminishing ice cover in the Arctic, and that simply cannot be true.  Wishful thinking, perhaps, but not grounded in scientific fact.

In any case we need to do a lot more work to understand these explosions and their impact on the water column and surrounding seafloor, and the fact they are located in the remote Arctic is a big problem.

Thanks for your interest in my research.


(emphasis added)

Personal communication; July 2, 2008.

It sounds to me that Rob, while noting that this and other deep sea volcanic activity is CANNOT be responsible for any significant melting of Arctic sea ice, that it might be possible that the massive 1999 eruptions had a “transient” local effect.

[UPDATE:]  In a follow up email, I asked Rob “What do you think happened to the CO2 though – could a substantial portion have bubbled directly to the surface?  I imagine this is a question that you’ll get from others, too.”

Rob responded:

Tom, unfortunately it takes a while to answer these questions. The first step is to estimate the amount of CO2 that was discharged. We are working on that, and I hope to have decent estimates by end of summer. Then we have to try and understand how this CO2 (and other volcanic products) interacts with the overlying water column. …. Our paper last week has touched off a lot of interest inside the scientific community, and I believe it will help stimulate the necessary research. But it will all take time.

I can see how it would be frustrating for the public because it takes a lot longer to answer the key questions than it does to formulate them. Federal funding for this kind of basic research has been stagnant and in many cases declining, which makes it all the harder to advance the field.  One possible positive side effect of all the interest we’ve generated
would be to increase awareness about the need for this kind of research.

Best regards, Rob