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25 years of data collection shows Long Lake fluctuations

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By Lou Schultz

SPECIAL TO THE ENTERPRISE

Are we experiencing global warming or global weirding? There is some debate on the former but certainly not on the latter.

We have seen extreme heat, cold, fires, floods, tornados, earthquakes, drought, and heavy rains. One unusual dichotomy is there seems to be an increase in typhoons in the Pacific but not an increase in the hurricanes in the Atlantic. Hmm. We will talk about a possible cause of that later.

A favorite expression of mine is, “When in doubt, look at data.” The residents of Long Lake near Park Rapids have collected data on ice-out on their lake for the last 25 years. A friend, Vern Campbell, has a nice software statistics program and displayed this data in a control chart. Upper and lower control limits are calculated (three normal deviations), which contain 99.7 percent of all variation in a normal process. The data on ice-out has a mean or average date of April 20 with the latest expected to be May 21 and earliest on March 21. There is nothing in this chart to indicate any abnormal activity.

However, the second chart plots the variation between ice-outs from year to year. We see a point in 2013 that tells us to investigate. It could be normal variation but we are 99.7 percent sure that something from outside earth’s normal weather process is impacting our lake’s behavior.

We read about many possible causes of climate change; deforestation, carbon pollution from autos and coal-fired power plants, population explosion, and carbon dioxide emission from people and animals. The most interesting theory is the pollution from the booming economies in Southeast Asia, primarily China and India. The conclusion of a study by Texas A&M University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences is that pollution from Asia is likely leading to stronger cyclones in the Pacific, more precipitation, and faster movement of heat from the tropics toward the North Pole.

Think of this pollution entering the atmosphere like seeding clouds to generate rain. Normal aerosol particles are sea salt tossed up by waves and dust blown off the land, which cause our normal precipitation. Now, man-made aerosols vastly outnumber natural aerosols. The increased number of particles leads to more water droplets, but smaller, which rise to greater heights and can form ice before they precipitate out creating instability in weather patterns. These aerosols or particles move from west to east with the prevailing winds over the Pacific Ocean and into North America causing the extreme weather that we are experiencing. Perhaps the Atlantic Ocean has not been affected yet, which explains why hurricane patterns have not changed.

Solutions are going to be painful. No one wants to give up driving his car or getting inexpensive electricity. No one wants to curtail production of goods and services, which make our life easier.

Economic measures will need to be made on countries contributing to these airborne particles like tariffs on goods produced or bans on imports from those polluting countries. We can expect a backlash as the United States has not signed the Kyoto Protocol, which was negotiated by countries around the world to voluntarily reduce emissions. Our logic for not signing was that the protocol exempted 80 percent of the world, specifically China and India.

However, even boycotting of goods from China and India will have little effect. They have huge populations so their industrial activities have large internal markets. As their industrial activities increase, which pollute the air, their economy increases. As the economy increases, people can afford to catch up with the rest of the world and buy luxury goods like automobiles, which pollute. Education and negotiation can be tried but probably not effective. They need scientific breakthroughs to eliminate the sources of pollutants.

Meanwhile here at home, we will be affected. Solutions for us include higher taxes on gasoline, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities. Again, we need scientific solutions to eliminate sources of pollutants and to cope with weather extremes.

In summary, the data from Long Lake supports the theory that an outside influence is affecting our weather. The tremendous air pollution in Southeast Asia is sending particles into the atmosphere, which precipitate out in unusual ways. The prevailing West winds drive this unusual weather into the Pacific and across to North America. Climate change is real and steps must be taken to cope. We won’t like the actions and they will be painful until our scientists find solutions.

Lou Schultz is a Long Lake resident.

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