Slow-motion Armageddon

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Tunguska Event buffs, take a bow: According to a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the 1908 catastrophe, in which a remote area of Siberia was hit with the force of a bazillion kajillion atom bombs by some non-terrestrial mass (or was it?), may be a cause of global warming today:

[Vladimir] Shaidurov's theory is supported by other studies on Earth impacts and celestial debris that is scattered about at high altitude. Scientists from the Australian Antarctic Division, the University of Western Ontario, Aerospace Corporation, Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories have already laid their cards on the table and declared in a paper published in Nature that dust from asteroids entering the Earth's atmosphere has a bigger effect on weather than once thought. "Our observations suggest that [meteors exploding] in Earth's atmosphere could play a more important role in climate than previously recognized," the researchers write. These research teams urge that climate modelers should take such events into serious consideration, because dust from asteroids, meteors and the like regularly find their way into high altitude cloud. On one research field trip, Dee Pack, of Aerospace Corporation, watched as an: "asteroid deposited 1,000 metric tons in the stratosphere in a few seconds, a sizable perturbation," adding that meter-sized asteroids hit Earth 50-60 times every year. They suggest that asteroid dust could be modeled as the: "equivalent of volcanic eruptions of dust, with atmospheric deposition from above rather than below." This new information on micron-sized particles might "have much greater implications for extraterrestrial visitors like Tunguska," explains Peter Brown at the University of Western Ontario.

Shaidurov explains that these disturbances can alter the delicate bands of clouds that regulate the amount of solar energy entering the Earth's atmosphere. Shaidurov says that it doesn't take much of a change in atmospheric levels of water—in the form of vapor and ice crystals—before it contributes to a significant change in the Earth's surface temperature. He also notes that the most potent greenhouse contributor is water, arguing that a variance in water levels has a far greater effect on temperatures than the greenhouse gases usually blamed for global warming. A rise in water vapor of just 1 percent can raise the global average temperature of Earth's surface more then 4 degrees Celsius.

Whole article.

English-language PDF of Shaidurov's study, which was published in March by the journal Science First Hand.

Global warming dissenters hail this hypothesis, while non-dissenters say the science is bogus. I draw the obvious conclusion: The Tunguska event was pre-emptive Russian revenge for the earth-collision stinkeroo Armageddon, which took some really gratuitous swipes at the Russian space program—suspiciously dovetailing with NASA's late-nineties campaign to discredit the Mir space station.

Meanwhile, the Yucatan asteroid is cleared of the crime of killing the dinosaurs.

And a Japanese planetary-impact film dares to ask the question: Are the human cannot escape this destiny?

Ron Bailey took aim at earth-killing asteroids last year.

NEXT: Juvenile Justice

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  1. Any bonehead can tell you that the dinosaurs died because they drowned in Noah’s Flood.

  2. You see what happens when you fuck the russian space program in the ass hollywood?

  3. Cool! This is gonna be fun. Thanks Tim. I’ve never heard of the Tunguska event global warming hypothesis or the: TECTONIC INTERPRETATION OF THE TUNGUSKA EVENT, and I’ve always found the Yucatan asteroid K-T wipe out scenario to be reasonable. (BTY, there’s some good reason why an event that marks the boundary between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods is called K-T and not C-T but I spaced it.) And somehow I musta missed Ron’s article on earth-killing asteroids.

    This thread might well have more fascinating items jammed into it than any one thread ever has in the history of blogging. Ok, I’ll calm down but there really should be a Webbies Award for the best science coverage in a non-science blog. There isn’t another one that even comes close to this splendid place.

  4. (BTY, there’s some good reason why an event that marks the boundary between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods is called K-T and not C-T but I spaced it.)

    I think it’s because “C” was already taken as the initial of an earlier period than the Cretaceous — the Carboniferous.

  5. The main flaw, as far as I can see, is that deposition from space ought to be fairly constant year over year, century over century. Meteor showers, after all, are highly predictable because they happen when the Earth passes through a particular part of space or crosses the orbit of some debris left behind, say, a comet.

    I certainly see no reason to think this has been increasing in the last century. Our space probes haven’t been knocking snowballs out of the Oort cloud.

    Given this regularity, over millions of years, the Earth has probably reached an equilibrium such that it really has little or no effect on the climate. There’d probably be a change if the things *stopped* entering our atmosphere. Occasionaly extra-big events might have a temporary effect, but that probably settles out of the atmosphere within a year or two at most.

    This isn’t like volcanic eruptions, which are far more variable.

    I figure the (probably) brief, massive surge in the bison population on the great plains probably had a greater effect at throwing off the climate equilibrium. (All that farty methane).

  6. Somone set us up the asteroid!

  7. It is interesting that these guys appear to be from a field other than climatology. I have never seen an entire scientific field stake its entire reputation on a single theory the way climatologists have done with man made global warming. Imagine if in the next decade the world starts cooling or one of these alternative hypotheses turn out to be highly predictive. Would there be a more disreputable field of science than climatology? It would be a disaster for the entire field. That gives climatologists serious motivation to hang on to the theory regardless of the evidence.

  8. Yucatan asteroid is cleared? Ha! That asteroid is guiltier than O.J. I hope the dinosaurs get something in their civil suit. What a travesty of justice.

    As I understand it, the Yucatan asteroid theory is still the accepted one, despite the study. Hence the use of the word “controversial” when discussing the study. Even if the impact did occur earlier than the extinction, I don’t think we fully appreciate the long-term effects such a massive collision would have on weather and on the ecosystem. Egad.

    Of course, there is another explanation for the end of the dinosaurs’ dominion.

  9. I believe it’s the K-T boundary because both the Cretaceous and Tertiary are geologic periods; the Tertiary being the first period of the Cenozoic Era and the Cretaceous the final one of the Mesozoic. If the line were called the C-T boundary that would look like an abbreviation for the “Cenozoic – Tertiary” boundary, which makes no sense, because the Tertiary is part of the Cenozoic.

  10. Ah, lass, you’d be wrong in your assumptions. It’s called the K-T boundary for the simple reason that K-Y boundary would be too sexy for non-Scottish people.

  11. How would large amounts of dust at high altitudes make the earth warmer? That usually makes the earth cooler, because the dust blocks solar radiation. Temperatures dip a bit after a huge volcanic eruption for just that reason.

  12. “It is interesting that these guys appear to be from a field other than climatology. I have never seen an entire scientific field stake its entire reputation on a single theory the way climatologists have done with man made global warming.”

    Yeah, can’t think of another field of science with a coherent central theory to explain a specific area of their discipline.

    What they hell are you talking about?
    Do you know anything about science?

  13. Jenny: RTFA

    Tommy: I did. I still don’t see how Tunguska’s comet/asteroid dust magically avoids the sun-blocking qualities of mundane terrestrial volcanic dust.

  14. MainstreamMan,

    It is not a complete theory and the climate models haven’t predicted very well. There are alternative hypothesis to man made gases causing global warming. There are reputable astronomers who think that the recent warming is the result of changes in the sun. These people seem to think it is the result of asteroids. Yet, every climatologist, sans the guy out at Colorado State, say it is the result of man-made greenhouse gases. Every other field of science, there are generally different schools of thought about a subject until observation results settle the issue. In this case, observation hasn’t settled the issue, yet climatologists uniformly cling to one explanation when there are others available. That was my point. What you know about science other than the fact that a few people in lab coats have told you what you want to hear and you seem to use that as an excuse to act smug? I beleive the technical term for it would be knowing just enough to be dangerous.

  15. It’s a cute idea, but it doesn’t go anywhere until they can show that the water is elsewhere. If a 1% change in the quantity of water vapor in the upper atmosphere can trivially disappear into the oceans, that’s one thing. But considering the literally geometrically larger volume of the upper atmosphere, I suspect that 1% is a nontrivial volume of liquid water at sea level.

  16. I suppose it is plausible that the event caused a rapid release of water vapor into space. However, even that should be detectable as an extremely subtle alteration of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, perhaps even of Earth’s rate of rotation.

    In fact, basic rotational mechanics suggests that even a rapid fall of a huge quantity of water from the atmosphere into the oceans should cause some kind of alteration in the rate of rotation, unless perfectly offset by the space dust, which seems unlikely.

  17. Thanks for the response John,

    I’ll take that as a “no.”

  18. I think it’s because “C” was already taken as the initial of an earlier period than the Cretaceous — the Carboniferous.

    While I am humbled and honored to be able to out-nerd the Great Stevo, I must point out it’s because of the Cambrian period. Carboniferous is actually kind of a generic designation for the Mississipian and Pennsylvanian periods.

  19. It’s K because it comes from the German word for Cretaceous.

    Jennifer — as I understood the article, the added dust causes more rain, thus decreasing the cloud cover and increasing local suface warming, eventually causing global warming.

    If you read the whole article about the Yucatan asteroid, the conclusion is: oh wait, I guess it was the cause after all.

  20. Sorry to question your religion Mainstream Man. The fact is observation and experiment have not settled the issue of man made global warming and there are reputable people on both sides. Unfortunately group think has settled in among climatologists and no one is bothering to look at other potential hypothesis. It is similiar to what is going on in physics with string theory. Sting theory doesn’t predict anything and seems to be a dead end, but good luck getting tenure if you are not an adherent. Thus we get 30+ years now of no significant improvement in the standard model.

    I will take your answer to mean that you are not smart enough to understand what I am saying and have no rational response.

  21. John,

    The problem I have with your characterization of climate science is that you make inappropriate attributions regarding the nature and source of consensus. Even a cursory look at the actual science coming out would demonstrate that there is real scientific debate going on. But you claim that no one is bothering to look into alternate hypotheses. They are. You are claiming that the highly multidisciplinary field of climatology is somehow operating in ways different than other fields… this is just patently false. The degree to which there is consensus in the field is a direct result of the same scientific rigor that accompanies similar levels of consensus in other fields. Its highly interdisciplinary nature actually assures that it is held to a higher standard than other more isolated fields.

    And another point: science is not about certainty. Observation and experiment will never “settle” the issue for most scientific questions of any import.

    I would also like to point out that the whole “good luck getting tenure” argument is also bunk. Scientists who buck the status quo by doing good work and demonstrating where the standard assumptions are wrong rarely get punished for their good work. A greater danger for a tenure track faculty member is a lack of work that contributes anything new to the field.

    Be a skeptic. It is an important character trait. But be an informed skeptic. It is important to be skeptical of those who claim to know more than the rest, just as it is important to question those who rely on appeals to authority.

  22. MainstreamMan,

    I’ve embraced skepticism wholeheartedly. In fact, I’m now a solipsist. It’s a great philosophy, and I think everyone should try it.

  23. In fact, I’m now a solipsist. It’s a great philosophy, and I think everyone should try it.

    I did, but I found myself to be insufferable.

  24. I was a solipsist for a while, but I kept having Henry Rollins-style roid rage freakouts – and I wasn’t even taking steroids. I finally decided that since I was getting the benefit of an over-developed upper body, I might as will give the whole solipsism thing up.

  25. I have an idea for a new management book: The Solipsist Way: Getting in Touch with the Only You. Using solipsist techniques, managing people is a breeze–after all, those employees are all fictional constructs of you, the sole being in existence. Don’t waste time being nice, they’re not real, anyhow.

  26. Woops…

    I was a solipsist for a while, but I kept having Henry Rollins roid rage-STYLE freakouts – and I wasn’t even taking steroids. I finally decided that since I was NOT getting the benefit of an over-developed upper body, I might as will give the whole solipsism thing up.

  27. “Meanwhile, the Yucatan asteroid is cleared of the crime of killing the dinosaurs.”

    No, one group of scientists published a study indicating that it is innocent. Other studies indicate it is guilty. There are also indications that the Deccan Traps may have been involved, and that the might have been several impacts.

  28. “I’ve embraced skepticism wholeheartedly. In fact, I’m now a solipsist. It’s a great philosophy, and I think everyone should try it.”

    But how would you confirm that everyone had followed your advice?

  29. Remember:
    Reality is that which continues to exist after you stop believing in it.

  30. Syd,

    Yeah, it coulda been like comet shoemaker-Levy when it broke apart beore hitting Jupiter. Of course the Jovian planet’s tremendous gravity mighta had something do with the fragmentation of that comet.

  31. MainstreamMan,

    It was a joke, stolen, I believe, from Bertrand Russell. He got a letter from some friend of his who said she’d tried solipsism, liked it, and was recommending it to all her friends. I didn’t want to ruin the joke by explaining it 🙂

    Of course, since neither you nor Bertrand Russell exist, I am, once again, talking to myself.

  32. Rimfax,

    If a 1% change in the quantity of water vapor in the upper atmosphere can trivially disappear into the oceans, that’s one thing. But considering the literally geometrically larger volume of the upper atmosphere, I suspect that 1% is a nontrivial volume of liquid water at sea level.

    Go look up the density of water vapor and compare it to the density of liquid water. The oceans could easily absorb, or give up, a 1% change in atmospheric humitidy level.

    MainstreamMan,

    Scientists who buck the status quo by doing good work and demonstrating where the standard assumptions are wrong rarely get punished for their good work.

    That’s only true if you count posthumous recognition. I’ve had this debate with thoreau before (and I know it unsettles him greatly). Fact is, scientists are as prone to group think as any other “group”.

    The only people who doubt this are scientists themselves, because it rubs their self image the wrong way.

  33. Jennifer,

    How would large amounts of dust at high altitudes make the earth warmer? That usually makes the earth cooler, because the dust blocks solar radiation. Temperatures dip a bit after a huge volcanic eruption for just that reason.

    Anything that blocks sunlight is also absorbing radiation. Anything that absorbs radiation, will also re-emit radiation. In the long run, on net balance, you can end up with a global warming effect because of it.

    Beyond that, the answer to your question just isn’t simple because radiation heat transfer gets complicated. Water vapor, for example, absorbs thermal radiation in certain wavelength bands, and re-emits it in different wavelength bands. But there are other gases in the mix, like CO2, which have the same properties (with have different absorbing and emitting bands).

    I’ve run these kinds of calculations before, for the inside of a combustion chamber for a steam power plant. It really does get complicated and the end results can be counter-intuitive sometimes. And a combustion chamber is definitely a simpler system than the atmosphere.

    Which is precisely one of my reasons for still contending that we do not, even today, know the reasons why the atmosphere is warming, even if intuition says there’s a human component. We could kill ourselves cutting CO2 emissions, only to figure out later that something else was the dominant effect.

  34. Ghenghis…

    “Fact is, scientists are as prone to group think as any other “group”.”

    I wouldn’t disagree with this, but that doesn’t mean that John’s assertions are correct. I am sure we don’t need to get into a discussion of Kuhn, but one of the reasons that science has made progress is the social processes involved that put checks and balances on those tendencies towards group think.

    PL,
    I know. My lame response was an attempt to continue it.

  35. I just used my new solipsist management theory on a staff member. I was displeased with her performance and willed her out of existence. This is great. I’d write a book on the topic, but why bother?

  36. I’d write a book on the topic, but why bother?

    Didn’t they do something like this already in Dilbert? I’m afraid you’ve been scooped.

    Not that that ever slowed anybody down in this day and age. You just change the wrapping a little and run it again.

    Funny thing is, people will probably buy it.

    And now, if you publish it you owe me a consulting fee. If you don’t pay up I’ll will you out of existence.

  37. MSM,

    one of the reasons that science has made progress is the social processes involved that put checks and balances on those tendencies towards group think.

    Over the long run, I agree with you. But I’ve been around academia enough to say — if you believe this is true over the course of any one person’s career, you’re being pretty optimistic. It can take a long time to sort a problem out, and a surprising lot longer for the general community to learn that it has happened.

    I could show you dozens of cases en point, from the last decade. Sadly, I have to go back to work.

  38. Nice try, Ghenghis Kahn, but I know that I exist. At best, you and Scott Adams are vaguely possible.

    Je pense, donc je suis.

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