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Environment

Not Such An Anomaly

February 24, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 8

C&EN has once again addressed the seeming anomaly of the “observed slowdown in global warming during the past dozen years, which has perplexed climate scientists” (C&EN, Dec. 23, 2013, page 19).

I propose a simple explanation that does not invoke arcane arguments about fluorocarbon bans or decreased methane emissions. Sometimes it is useful to consider the obvious—namely, the latent enthalpy of fusion of water. The calorie is historically defined as the energy required to raise the temperature of 1 g of water by 1 °C; the energy required to convert 1 g of ice to water is about 80 calories.

No one can argue with the fact that the glaciers and polar ice masses are shrinking dramatically. That consumes a staggering quantity of energy and could well explain the recent flat change in surface temperature.

To put this concept in a context that even a climate denier can understand, picture an icy glass of lemonade sitting on a picnic table on a summer afternoon. It is refreshing as long as ice tinkles in the glass. But once the last ice cube disappears, it doesn’t take long for the beverage to become unpalatable.

Unfortunately, Earth is rapidly losing the icy reservoir that acts to buffer global temperature increases.

Ted McKinney
Riverside, Calif.

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