Peter Ward: Our Future In a World Without Ice Caps

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Apr. 11, 2013: In honor of Earth Month: Peter D. Ward, Ph.D., is a paleontologist and professor of Geological Sciences at the University of Washington. Ward specializes in the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event (the one that killed the dinosaurs), the Permian-Triassic extinction event, and mass extinctions in general. He was elected as a fellow of the California Academy of Science in 1984 and has been nominated for the Schuchert Medal, an award of the Paleontological Society. Ward has written many books including Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future and The Flooded Earth: Our Future In a World Without Ice Caps.


Earth’s energy balance
In response to a positive radiative forcing, such as characterizes the present-day anthropogenic perturbation (Forsteret al., 2007), the planet must increase its net energy loss to space in order to re-establish energy balance (with net energy loss being the difference between the outgoing long-wave (LW) radiation and net incoming shortwave (SW) radiation at the top-of-atmosphere (TOA).

Complete restoration of the planetary energy balance (and thus full adjustment of the surface temperature) does not occur instantaneously due to the inherent inertia of the system,which lies mainly in the slow response times of the oceans and cryosphere. Therefore, prior to achieving a new equilibrium state, there will be an imbalance, between radiative forcing and climate response. This imbalance represents the net heat flux into the system, with nearly all of this heat flux at present going into the ocean (Levitus et al.,2005).

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