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by Rudolf BALANDIN, Engineer-Geologist
Global warming is among the pressing problems of today. It was assumed previously that temperature growth on our planet takes place very slowly and at the will of Mother Nature. Nowadays many experts are increasingly concerned that it is taking ominous size as quickly as within a single generation's life time as a result of technogenesis. Is there a way to counter the process? An attempt to answer the question is presented in the book "Can Man Change the Climate? Two Projects" by Pyotir Borisov (M., Nauka, 2003, 270 pages).
Back in the 1950s Dr. Borisov (1901 - 1973) developed and published a sensational hydro-technical project. He proposed to lock the Bering Strait with an enormous dam equipped with powerful pumps and start repumping waters of the Arctic Ocean southwards. As a result, the Gulf Stream was supposed to penetrate further northeast washing the Arctic shores, start melting heavy sea ice with the effect of warming up the climate in the adjacent areas.
It may seem at first glance that monster projects like that are hopelessly obsolete presenting but historical value. In the preface to the book Academician Vladimir Kotlyakov points out: "The project was a hallmark of its time. It was permeated with the pathos of transformation, the spirit of great construction sites, the will to actively interfere in natural processes, to identify and correct the cases of unfairness in nature, whether it was insufficient solar energy received by inhabitants of Siberia or the low fertility of the Taiga zone...
Great projects were in the air: diverting the discharge of northern rivers, flooding the Sahara, dams in the Straits of Gibraltar and Dardanelles, similar ambitious projects in Mexico, North America, Australia, South America, India. All of those were after rerouting imperfect sea currents, redirecting great rivers' flows, creating enormous fresh-water seas, constructing dams, canals, cyclopean pumping plants... The list alone is breath-taking. And the projects were not products of a sci-fi writer imagination but preoccupation of serious scientists."
The latter statement commands special attention. As a matter of fact, Dr. Borisov was not just a gifted engineer in a position to estimate the potential of contemporary technology. He delved into geographical sciences, including paleoclimatology, in order to be able to give correct forecasts of probable changes in natural environment as a result of purposeful human activities.
To be sure, today forecasts like that are based on mathematical processing of huge data arrays followed by computer simulation. But, notwithstanding all advantages, formal methods cannot substitute for the probing mind of an extraordinary personality.
Incidentally, back in mid-1900s projects like one contemplated by Dr. Borisov were principally feasible. However, as we know, humankind has taken a different path. Even the positive experience of the so-called "Stalin nature transformation plan" aimed at controlling land drainage and creating tree belt areas (many of which are still intact facilitating land improvement and ground water drainage) remains unclaimed, despite the multiple growth of technological potential. In connection with that a natural question arises: why necessarily go for gigantic schemes? Would not it be wiser to limit ourselves to local measures? Or leave everything altogether as it is, as the most ardent environment protectors believe?
But according to conclusive enough scientific findings, technogenesis has long transgressed the purely local scale going global. If the civilization proceeds this way any longer, then as soon as within some 50 years the climatic destabilization will become catastrophic. In other words, biosphere will experience a most powerful "heat shock". That is one of the possible development options.
Cross-section of the dam across the Bering Strait.
Map of January surface constant temperature lines: 1-present; 2-projected after climate improvement as a result of the "Poiar Gulf Stream " according to P. Borisov.
The causes of global warming are still at issue * . However, many specialists agree that due to the increased carbon dioxide concentration in troposphere in mid- 2000s the temperature of the surface air will grow in average by 3 - 5°C. It does not seem to be too big a figure. But two factors should be considered.
First, there is a whole number of the so-called greenhouse gases which lock the heat of solar rays as they escape reflected from the surface of the earth. Methane is the most active one of those, surpassing CO2 21-fold in that indicator. According to some projections, general warming and some other factors will increase the influx of this gas into the atmosphere triggering off soaring self-energizing of greenhouse effect ** .
Second, we should never forget about the contrasting unstable nature of climate which was, incidentally, pointed out by Dr. Borisov. In the recent decades such changes were experienced first-hand by hundreds of millions of people in the Northern Hemisphere periodically harassed by powerful floods from pouring rains replaced by droughts and forest fires. In the sub-tropical zone sudden snowfalls and freezing occur frequently, while in the temperate zone-unbearable heat waves like the one of 2003.
However, abnormal weather conditions happened in the past too. "The instability of temperature regime, -according to P. Borisov, -has been registered for a long time throughout the world. As is known, in Moscow the average January temperature is - 10.3°C, but sometimes it would not go below -3°, common for a southern town like Odessa, or would hit -22° like in northern Spitsbergen, Franz Joseph Land or the extreme north of Novaya Zemlya... The same was true of Leningrad where the average January temperature fluctuated between -24.4°C like in the Arctic and 0.6° like in Feodosia, Anapa or even Tashkent.
The instability of our climate is not limited to annual or perennial cycles. An even larger amplitude is demonstrated by multi-centennial observations. The annual rainfall of Altai plains may range from 160 mm like in 1860s to 500 mm..."
To be true to fact, having cited the above data (with reference to old Russian chronicles registering weather anomalies), the author concentrates on the problem of overcoming Arctic cold pointing out with full right that on substantial land spans of our country economic activities are extremely handicapped by severe climatic conditions *** . Based on that, he makes a conclusion about the practicality of a project that would open up the way for Gulf Stream into Arctic seas to spur active melting of ices with subsequent substantial warming both in the water area and around.
However, the above brings us to the question which Borisov was not concerned with more than three decades back: how would such abrupt changes of natural environment be taken, say, in USA? It is there that the dismay about global warming is voiced most loudly during the recent quarter of a century. And with good reason: North America, with the
* See: R. Shagiycv, Kh. Shagiyev, "Global Climate Change: the Cause'.'", Science in Russia, No. 6, 1998; O. Sorokhtin, "Hothouse Gases Versus Global Warming", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2001. - Ed .
** See G. Golitsyn, "Methane... and Hothouse Effect", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2002. -Ed.
*** See: V. Naydenov, V. Shveikina, "But Water Has Still Multiplied on Earth...", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2000; D. Rundkvist, "Future of Russia's Natural Wealth", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2000. - Ed.
Comparison of temperatures and precipitation in Cainozoe Temperatures: 1-average annual in Western Europe, 2-coldest month in Middle Asia, 3-Yakutsk, 4-World Ocean bottom water near equator. Precipitation: 5-Central Middle Asia, 6- Yakutsk. Anthropogenic horizontal scale is amplified ca. 10 times
exception of Alaska, occupies latitudes south of Paris, while Florida lies below Cairo. Greenhouse effect, some researchers believe, will make the heat there unbearable, and enormous quantities of energy will be consumed by refrigerators and air conditioners.
It seems, against such background any talks about considerable change of Arctic climate for the warmer are pointless. But let us not rush at conclusions. Dr. Borisov's project may be a salvation for no other than Americans. Let us see.
Modern mathematical models projecting climatic changes triggered by greenhouse effect assume the stability of basic natural conditions in the Northern Hemisphere. Notably, Borisov termed his project "Direct current of warm Atlantic waters through the Arctic basin into the Pacific Ocean as a basis of by-stage climate improvement". He stressed the dramatic transformations of both sea currents in the Arctic basin, and the ice cover, including its complete annihilation, and atmospheric circulation in an enormous region where air masses would generally become warmer.
Paradoxically, the scientist's optimistic projections are based on the data of paleoclimatology which suggest that in quite recent geological past (3 - 4 million years ago) the Arctic Ocean was free of ice. The nature there then supported the life of people: the present-day tundra had broad-leaved forests. Beech, hornbeam, lime tree, yew, evergreen holly were quite comfortable in the middle reaches of Volga, and oak reached as far as the polar region * .
So it was, e.g., during the recent interglacial phase termed Miculian (between 70 and 110 thousand years ago), and there is no evidence of any arid deserts closer to the equator at the time. The climate then was warm and humid without sharp contrasts between separate regions. It must have been an impact of the comparatively warm and ice-free vast Arctic water area.
Until the global cooling, about 40 million years ago, Dr. Borisov points out, "... Spitsbergen, the Extreme
North of the European USSR and the Northern Urals were covered by subtropical coniferous/broad-leaved forests with the participation of holly, myrtle and palm, while Northern Yakutia and the New Siberian Islands featured poplar, sequoia and pine. The northern frontier of palms reached the Cook Inlet in Alaska, i.e., 62°N. Flora much similar to that of South-East Asia was found in the north of Canada, in Greenland and Spain... Ukraine knew palm species presently common for Indo-China, Philippines and Indo-Malaysian Archipelago."
Note the monotony of natural environment over broadest land spans. The average annual tempera-
* See: A. Velichko, "Climatic Warming: Glimpse into the Future", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2002. -Ed.
Scheme of proposed water reservoirs in the borderland slope into the Arctic Ocean.
ture observed in Western Europe then was much above the present one (over 20°C), still plants and animals were comfortable even within the Polar Circle. Similar situation was observed even when the planet began to somewhat cool down. According to Dr. Borisov, about 10 million years ago "with the identical (at least in major part) continental topography and World Ocean coast line, in the absence of drifting ice in the Arctic water area, ... the climate of the Eurasian expanses was more favorable than in our days, the flora, thermophilic and hydrophilous, was more diversified, the area of the present deserts was smaller and not so arid, the regions currently prone to droughts were much wetter. Generally, biological productivity was beyond comparison with that of today. The same was true of North America".
The researcher concludes by saying that the contemporary weather and climatic anomalies primarily result from the sharp thermal contrast between the polar region and more southern areas produced by the Arctic ice cover. Its white shroud repels solar rays, and cold air masses periodically flow down from there into lower latitudes.
Stressing the danger of greenhouse effect, scientists usually have in mind general global warming. But it is not as bad as growing climatic contrasts. Destabilization of natural conditions triggered by them may become catastrophic much earlier than we feel higher temperature of the surface air.
Is there a way to ward off the plague? P. Borisov suggests to get rid of the Arctic ice through the instrument of warm Gulf Stream, "exerting care and prudence". We could only add: the project proposed by the author would require qualified all-round analysis or even revision. And the technical aspect of the problem is not the most complex one. It will be much harder to predict the ecological impact of such tremendous natural transformations.
So, the book by Dr. Borisov, first published more than 30 years ago, may prove to be vital for the 21st century. No wonder, presently attempts are made through the instrument of the Kyoto Protocol * to mitigate the greenhouse effect by reducing technogenic CO2 discharges into the atmosphere. But many US, Russian and Australian experts do not believe that such measure will produce a tangible positive result. It is not just that gas that has greenhouse effect, and the key air pollution factor, especially in cities, are motor cars. No less conspicuous is the degradation of woodlands on the planet, while the contrasts of weather and climate are aggravated by the proliferation of technogenous deserts and conurbations drastically altering the natural environment.
One could object: why arrange an enormous costly dam in the Bering Strait and spend huge amounts of energy to repump sea waters, if the global warming will eventually melt the Arctic ice cover all the same?
Indeed, the process is likely to carry on, although slowly. It appears, in the upcoming decades the Northern Hemisphere will hardly witness a smoothing-out of climatic contrasts. The scales of the expected changes are still hard to predict: scientists have no final estimates. So, why do not they pool efforts to get rid as quickly as possible of the key destabilizing factor-the ice shield of Arctic? Specific options may be discussed, although the creation of an artificially regulated "Polar Gulf Stream" is preferable if only because it promises a comparatively quick positive effect.
As stressed by the author of the reviewed book, we live in the final
* The document was developed in 1997 by major world countries and is presently ratified but by USA, Russia and Australia; it supposes imposing economic sanctions on countries whose industry generates highest quantities of CO 2 . -Ed.
phase of one of the glaciations in the northern territories of Eurasia and America. Such epochs are characterized by substantial instability of natural environment boosted by technogenesis. As is known, the notable impact of civilization on climate started at least 6 thousand years ago forming Sahara and numerous semideserts and savannas (mainly through burning out of vegetation by man). But the process was comparatively slow stretched out for centuries. The industrial development has accelerated it manifold.
Alas, at the beginning of the 21st century people still exploit the environmental resources as actively. But with each new decade the "ecological boomerang" hits more vigorously, making the elements strike at shorter intervals. The outlook for the near future is grim. That is the reason why we should probably reconsider engineer Borisov's project as an option.
Unfortunately, the colossal technical potential of modern civilization is in glaring contradiction with the miserable ideals of personal (clan, class) well-being. It is already good that reprinting such books as this one expands the intellectual outlook of new generations, compels one to ponder over the destiny of the biosphere and its inhabitants, especially those that refer to themselves as homo sapiens.
And the issue should be the quest for planetary solutions or at least major reconstructions in the Northern Hemisphere. That was Borisov's line of thought as he proposed his next project regarding the diversion of a part of Siberian rivers' discharge into Middle Asia and construction of big reservoirs in their estuaries. The author made some points in favor of such structures. But let us not forget that the idea put forward in the USSR back in 1970s raised vigorous protests of scientists, writers and public figures, although it is fair to say neither advocates nor opponents of the project performed a truly in-depth scrutiny of the problem.
So, browsing over Borisov's book one could arrive at a seemingly paradoxical conclusion: the greenhouse effect which has made the topic of many international conferences, addressed by the Kyoto Protocol, and, to be more precise, -the scary warming, -may be turned to the good! Indeed, freeing the Arctic Ocean of its deadly- white cover will most likely bring about leveling off of the climate over enormous expanses and its stabilization. In that case some increase of the carbon dioxide content in the air will contribute to the expansion of forests into presently bare areas, including the polar region. Most probably, a natural environment will settle down similar to that of the warm imerglacial phase and next of the epoch that preceded the global cooling-down...
All those speculations surely require detailed scrutiny by scientists of different specialties from as many countries as possible. And it is quite probable that the book "Can Man Change the Climate...", written a long time ago and reprinted in 2003, will encourage us to unity for the sake of bringing about a dramatic change in people's attitude towards their common home-planet Earth. But we should hurry up unless it is too late.
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