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Letter: ‘Juicing the atmosphere’

In answer to John W. Gilman’s question (Feb. 5) “where are the advocates for global warming (given the severe winter)?” I would say that they’re happily planning sea lanes for the north polar regions once the photogenic bears are gone. Global warming doesn’t have many advocates.

The concern is disequilibrium. The sun, the earth and the atmosphere work together as a system. The “juice” in the system is radiant energy. The sun’s radiation heats the earth. The earth’s radiation cools the earth by escaping to space. The atmosphere mediates the exchange by allowing radiation to enter and to escape. When the heating effect of the incoming sun is matched by the heat loss of the earth to space, earth’s temperature stays steady.

Each actor in the exchange is subject to change, however. The earth can blow up (volcanoes) and block the incoming sun by adding dust to the atmosphere. The sun can blow up (flares) and affect the earth’s magnetic fields (radio interference). The atmosphere’s ozone layer can disappear and stop blocking ultraviolet radiation (skin cancer).

The atmosphere is made up of many different gases with different characteristics. Some transmit radiation from the earth directly to space. Some absorb heat from the earth before letting it go.

Carbon dioxide and the other “greenhouse” gases (like methane) delay the transfer of earth radiation to space. By pouring greenhouse gases into the atmosphere we are “juicing” the atmosphere.

Warming the earth, even melting the polar ice, may be the least of our problems. We don’t really know what will happen. Too bad we’ll have to find out.

BARBARA FRANCIS

Leyden

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