Pollack details a ‘World Without Ice’

By Kristen Falzon
Correspondent

One of the world’s leading experts on climate change gave an informative lecture on Wednesday, April 18. “Ice, Water and Climate” highlighted humanity’s role in contributing to the Earth’s rising surface tempature as part of the School of Science’s 2012 Colloquium Series.

Henry Pollack, a professor of geophysics at the University of Michigan for 40 years, has been the science advisor to former Vice President Al Gore’s climate project since 2006, a member of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and shared in the receipt of the 2007 Noble Peace Prize with Gore.

Pollack’s talk gave an outline of the geologic and climatic systems that are exhibiting significant changes as human activity emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, while coinciding with the nearing of Earth Day.

The goal of Pollack’s popular science book “A World Without Ice,” published in 2009, is to bridge the gap between the scientific community and the public. The presentation, which Pollack said outlined the content of his book, compared geologic features such as ice caps, glaciers, rivers and lakes of the past and present to highlight the dramatic way in which these water resources are diminishing. Pollack also looked to the future and he explained, as the title of his book implies, that we may one day live in a world without ice at the polar regions.

“Today, humans are the biggest agent of change on the planet. We exceed the power of nature in many, many ways,” Pollack said.

He explained that humans have changed oxygen levels in the oceans to the extent that dead zones exist at the mouth of many rivers that carry agricultural and industrial chemicals to the sea.

“Nature has her own thermometers, and those are talking to us as well,” said Pollack, pointing out that birds are laying their eggs earlier in the year. He then turned his attention to the main of theme of his presentation: “Nature’s best thermometer, most unambiguous thermometer, is ice,” he said.

Pollack said that we could experience an ice-free Arctic Ocean for the first time in history by mid-century. He also said that sea ice has thinned almost by half of its thickness in the last 30 years. At the end of the 20th Century average sea levels were rising at twice the rate that they were at the beginning. Pollack said that millions of people might be displaced by only a one-meter rise of the sea level.

“I don’t want to leave you only thinking about the dangers,” said Pollack, as he displayed the image of the Chinese character for “crisis” and explained that the two symbols forming the character each had a different meaning — one meaning “danger,” the other, “opportunity.”

“I think the opportunity that’s in front of us is to remake the modern industrial economy run on a different energy source,” he said. “The countries that grab that opportunity will be the leaders of the 21st Century.”