Environment

Tracking Doomsday

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorFeb 3, 2009 5:59 PM

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Journalists love it when scientists cut right to the chase in a journal paper. It means we don't have to read the abstract. Just kidding. But we will pounce when your title is, Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions." Predictably, we will "go all doomsday" in our interpretation, as the good scientists at Real Climate have discovered. Fortunately, the experts there are trained to talk us off the ledge:

"...let's not confuse Irreversible with Unstoppable. One means no turning back, while the other means no slowing down. They are very different words. Despair not!"

It's worth reading their entire post to beat back that despair. But for my money, this other paper, published the same week, in the same journal, should be getting as much play. It's title, "Wildfire responses to abrupt climate change in North America," may not be a throat-grabber, but its findings--of an apparent link between increased wildlfires and abrupt climate change--are worth contemplating for their present-day implications. The West is already expected to burn more in the decades ahead, due to global warming and longer dry spells. If I'm reading this study correctly, then there's a dangerous feedback loop we need to watch out for, translated as: increased temperatures from global warming trigger more frequent fires, which then could trigger even more abrupt climate change. Interestingly, though, the big news generated from this paper is its refutation of the extraterrestrial impact hypothesis--which is that a large comet wiped out the saber-toothed tiger and the rest of his mega fauna gang that roamed North America 13 centuries ago. That evidence was marshaled in this 2007 publication. The authors of the new, comet-busting study base their findings on ancient charcoal and pollen records, which they say don't show evidence of continent-wide conflagrations. This fireball scenario--triggered by shock-waves from a supposed extrraterrestrial impact--is at the core of the the pro-comet argument. So if ET didn't kill off the mastodon, who or what did? The anti-comet folks speculate that

"Paleoindians may have increased fire activity directly by setting more fires or indirectly by reducing megafaunal populations. The decline in megafaunal populations, in turn, could have increased fuel loads and changed soil moisture regimes, both of which could have promoted fire."

It always seems to come back to us, don't it?

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