Friday, January 24, 2014

Far Above Cayuga's Waters...

Another week of sub-zero weather here in Utopia, NY, and still Cayuga's waters (the ones we are far above) stubbornly remain waters, not ice. Yes, there's about 100 yards of crumbling rime ice drifted up against the shore at Stewart Park, but the rest of the lake is open water. COLD open water, but water nonetheless.

By contrast, when I first started teaching at Cornell (back in the Pleistocene, or the 1970s, I forget - it was so long ago), Cayuga's waters routinely froze over end-to-end, sometimes so thick that a truck could drive across it. Indeed, back in the late 1800s, there was a thriving winter industry in Ithaca, whereby guys in heavy clothing would drive teams of horses and wagons out onto the ice, which they cut with big saws into two-foot-thick blocks and shipped to New York City in boxcars full of sawdust, to supply the ice boxes and ice houses of the Big Apple. Even as late as the 1980s, hardy Ithaca folk would drag their ice fishing shacks (some were more like mini-resorts) out onto the ice, where they would remain until just before breakup in March.

But now, despite two bone-chilling "polar vortices" (which are genuine meteorological phenomena, despite the rantings of Rush Windbag), Cayuga's waters remain...water. Why? Could it be that a few decades of increased atmospheric heat has warmed those billions of gallons of lake water to the point that a few days of sub-zero cold won't freeze them any more? And could this foreshadow what will happen as the immensely larger oceans of the world absorb more and more heat from the warming atmosphere? And could that have something to do with the fact (and yes, it is a FACT) that the atmosphere hasn't had this much carbon dioxide in it since the Jurassic? And could that be due to the fact that since the 1800s we have released an almost incomprehensible quantity of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while cutting down millions of acres of forest that used to take it up and turn it into wood? Damn good question...

And an even better question: if this keeps up, what will the world be like in a few more decades, much less a few more centuries?

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As always, comments, criticisms, and suggestions are warmly welcomed! --Allen

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