March 10, 2000 (Ira Pilgrim)


It was six men of Indostan

To learning much inclined,

Who went to see the Elephant

(Though all of them were blind),

That each by observation

Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,

And happening to fall

Against his broad and sturdy side,

At once began to bawl:

"God bless me! but the Elephant

Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,

Cried, "Ho! what have we here

So very round and smooth and sharp?

To me 'tis mighty clear

This wonder of an Elephant

Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,

And happening to take

The squirming trunk within his hands,

Thus boldly up and spake:

"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant

Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,

And felt about the knee.

"What most this wondrous beast is like

Is mighty plain," quoth he;

" 'Tis clear enough the Elephant

Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,

Said: "E'en the blindest man

Can tell what this resembles most;

Deny the fact who can

This marvel of an Elephant

Is very like a fan!?

The Sixth no sooner had begun

About the beast to grope,

Than, seizing on the swinging tail

That fell within his scope,

"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant

Is very like a rope!"

And so these men of Indostan

Disputed loud and long,

Each in his own opinion

Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!


So oft in theologic wars,

The disputants, I ween,

Rail on in utter ignorance

Of what each other mean,

And prate about an Elephant

Not one of them has seen!

John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)

Just in case you haven't noticed, short term weather predictions have become much more accurate , so that now accurate weather forecasts can be made for up to 5 days. This is because of such developments as satellite images of clouds and other things, as well as Doppler radar which can see clouds and their activity, and computers. In the next 20 or so years, we can expect similar developments in climatology, the science of the climate.

What has happened is that climatologists now know that much of what produces climate changes happens in the ocean, particularly the tropical oceans. They have now placed buoys that measure the wind speed and direction, air and water temperature, concentration of carbon dioxide and nutrients. A satellite that measures color tells how much green chlorophyll is present at the surface of the water. The amount of chlorophyll tells oceanographers roughly how many green microscopic organisms are present. It is now known that a major determinant of how much carbon dioxide is in the air is the capacity of the ocean to absorb and use carbon dioxide, or to produce it. They found out that during El Nino, some parts of the tropical oceans produced more carbon dioxide than they absorbed, due, they believe, to a lack of nutrients provided by certain ocean currents. This decrease in the numbers of chlorophyll-containing microorganisms, in turn, limited the amount of carbon dioxide that could be absorbed. During the cooling La Nina event that followed El Nino, the process reversed and the ocean became a big absorber and user of carbon dioxide. This came as a surprise to the scientists studying it. It seems likely that the future will yield more surprises as more information accumulates. New studies of the Pacific Ocean between Japan and California are also yielding important information about our own climate.

To hear some scientist-politicians talk, you would think that global temperature was entirely a function of the greenhouse effect, which in turn can be caused in part by atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is increased by people, particularly people in the industrial world. As you can tell from the poem at the top of this column, I don't believe it. Climate cannot be explained by a single factor, or even a few factors. The things that are involved in determining global temperature are far more complex. Besides what I have just mentioned, the Sun plays a major role. The amount of heat put out by the Sun is not constant. During a peak in the sunspot cycle, the Sun puts out more heat; not less, as was once believed. It also interferes with radio transmission. The existence of satellites that measure the Sun's temperature is relatively new and they are supplying much needed information.

Long before man could influence much of anything, a great glacier covered much of North America. There is abundant evidence for this and I have seen enough to convince me. In other words, climate has changed drastically in the past and is likely to change in the future. The only way that we will have a clear idea of what produces climate change will be by much study, along with accurate measurement of a large number of factors that are related to it, over a long period of time. The next 20 years may yield a few surprises, as well as some new theories of global warming and cooling. The science that exists now is only the barest beginning.

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