The theory of Global Warming has now become common knowledge, and everyday we are reminded by some news media or other that the abnormally high temperatures experienced in some areas of the world are due to the effects of fossil fuel consumption and the release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. The evidence is increasing that indeed global temperatures continue to rise world wide, and that a growing body of empirical evidence is pointing to carbon dioxide, and other fluorocarbons as possibly being significant factors in the current cycle of rising global temperatures.
As we know rising temperatures on their own will play havoc with our civilization. The idea that the seas may rise 15 to 30 feet over the next hundred years is scary enough(considering that this rise may not be as evenly tempered as we might be prone to assume.) The idea that severe droughts will occur in some areas, while other areas experience monstrous storms resulting in devastating floods is itself a frightening scenario, and we need not think past Katrina to see just how unpleasant such eventualities may be. However, there may yet be another consequence of global warming which may be even more frightening, and potentially much more destructive, but at present few scientists have considered a legitimate concern.
The fact is that there is some evidence that a thickening atmosphere which becomes more able to trap heat and prevent it from escaping into space, may also help to raise the temperature of the earth's core. Though some have claimed this not likely, I think rather that it is possible and at the very least the hypothesis should be considered seriously. Certainly the degree of danger that it posses by itself should prompt some consideration, for unlike a sudden rise in atmospheric temperatures, which will cause some obvious destruction to be sure, but may not necessarily be cataclysmic, a rise in core temperatures will almost certainly cause an increase in both seismic activity, and in volcanic activity, and such an increase in seismic activity is likely to signify an increase in the occurrence of earthquakes, and an increase in the occurrence of volcanic eruptions. Unlike climate change, a sufficiently violent volcanic eruption could commence an age of mass extinction , and it could literally happen overnight.
A study of past periods of increased volcanic activity has been seen to be related to, or pre-dated by , a rise in global temperatures We do know that volcanic eruptions can cool the earth. By releasing Sulfur Dioxide(SO2) into the atmosphere as volcanoes do in large eruptions, the temperature of the earth is lowered since SO2 seems to reflect sunlight into space and so allows less light to warm the earth.. Whether or not these events have some kind of esoteric logic(Such as the "Gaia" theory might suggest ) we cannot say, but the result is that a rise in surface temperatures seems to predicate a rise in volcanic activity which ultimately results in the cooling of the earth.
These eruptions, can however, be quite disruptive in nature. In the seventeenth century a large volcanic eruption in Indonesia(Tambora) released so much SO2(sulfur dioxide) that it lowered global temperatures by four degrees or more. It was so cold that it snowed in New York City in July. Another such explosion(possibly the Super Volcano, Taupo in New Zealand) at the beginning of the dark ages is supposed to have blocked the sunlight for as long as a week, and plunged world temperatures to catastrophic levels causing wide spread famine, and disease. This lasted for over four years. Volcanic eruptions can be catastrophic, and can become so in a matter of weeks, not decades or centuries. One mass extinction was likely caused by a group of volcanoes in Alaska which continued to erupt for ten million years!
If indeed we have caused ( or more likely aggravated) this current trend of rising global temperatures with the release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere , it is quite possible that the earth will react, and it may do so violently. Certainly it is quite possible that the core temperature of the earth will also rise. We have seen in the past that there seems to be a relationship between climate changes and increased seismic activity. Some have attributed this to the loosening of the lithosphere as ice melts from the glaciers on the surface. That is the idea that the lithosphere will then rebound and recover from the deformity caused by the weight of the glacier, or frozen lake, once these are melted and removed from the surface. This has in fact been observed in the past, and so this theory cannot be ruled out as a possible cause for the present spike in earthquake activity, but it should be noted that a core temperature rise can also cause the same phenomenon, and would be far more consequential.
Why should we assume there is no relationship between the earth's subsurface temperature, and atmospheric temperature? Certainly the oceans could well be warming due to increased volcanic heat, and it is without doubt that infrared radiation emitted from the earth's core will be absorbed by the greenhouse gasses thus increasing the overall temperature of the planet. Noting that the heat transfer between the earth's sub-surface into the atmosphere(and ultimately into space) is quite slow , it could imply that any interruption of this heat transfer, therefore any increase in the insulation factor of the earth's atmosphere , by even a small amount might cause an increase in the core temperature. We can say almost with certainty that any rise in surface temperature will predict a corresponding rise in the sub-surface temperature to some degree. The only question is how much? It could be a lot, or it could be very little. The assumption that these changes might be too slow, or too small to cause notable effects, however, is just that: an assumption! If for any reason the convection currents from the core to the lithosphere are interrupted or disturbed, or made less efficient the ultimate result will be a rise in core temperature and it could be dramatic once it is established. This would, at some point in time, result in overcompensation and the appearance of far more violent convection currents, resulting in an increased occurrence of earthquakes and volcanic activity. It should not be assumed that these convection currents are of necessity slow since they are not likely the same as normal convection currents found in fluids at normal pressures or temperatures. The likelihood is that heat transfer is conducted through waves of molecular vibrations, rather than any real movement of the highly pressurized materials in the earth's mantle. Thus we cannot really say with certainty that a rise in core temperature would take millennia to surface. In fact we have so little experimental knowledge of how molecules actually behave at pressures and temperatures such as those found in the mantle that we really cant say for sure how heat transfer is conducted, not even on the atomic level(such as through infrared radiation) since we don't really know how these elements behave at such temperatures and pressures at the atomic level either.
In the final analysis these possibilities must be studied and determined as risk factors. Should it be the case that Seismic activity can increase with the rise of global temperatures, it would then be in the best interest of human civilization to consider a course of action! Waiting for a devastating earthquake, tsunami, or volcanic eruption to happen before considering our response may well put us in a position of being far too late. Though I admit there is no definitive proof either way at this time if the earth's core temperature should rise significantly the possibility is that a general trend of increased seismicity and volcanism would become evident, which would result in a series of events that could last for years, decades, centuries or more. In such a case our civilization might quickly find itself facing possible extinction with not even a plan of action at the ready! Even if the possibility is remote(which may be the case) it must be considered and some sort of response should be planned just the same. I believe this risk is much greater than an asteroid collision, but it could be just as devastating. The risk alone justifies a significant, and open minded assessment of a possible relationship between surface temperatures and core temperatures. The risk alone would justify a contingency plan on some level depending on the final determination of probability. We plan for Long Valley Caldera , though the possibility of eruption is quite small, but we do so because an eruption of the Long Valley Caldera can be anything from a mild hardly significant explosion to a cataclysmic deluge of ash and rock that can bury half the United States in a matter of weeks. The risk is small but the consequence is so great that planning for it is still justified, especially since it has been acting up for the past twenty five years!
Lowering greenhouse emissions would be a start, but the truth is that it is likely too late to be our only response. If in fact climate change is being precipitated by greenhouse gasses, then we likely cannot lower greenhouse emissions in time to prevent these events from occurring, and even if we could do so in a few years, the economic impact alone would be quite traumatic .(In fact the problem of the impact on the economy has seemingly been ignored by the academia, and yet there will be an economic impact, and the nature of that impact becomes a problem within a problem! To cut back on the use of fossil fuels will most certainly mean a period of adjustment and that adjustment may be very unpleasant. Thus any remedy will ultimately involve our global social-political-economic order. No solution can be found that will be merely technological, that will neatly and painlessly solve our energy problems. Fossil fuels run our entire world, finding an alternative will not be easy, nor do I think that any alternative will be free of environmental consequences. To think that we can simply wave our magic wand and simply transform our world based on carbon fuel consumption to one based on some other form of energy is to be rather too optimistic about our future. Any changes will likely be painful, and all changes painful or not will have a price attached to them, as all things do.) We need to look at a lot more than just a simple minded, one track response. Planting trees would also be a part of our response, slowing the rate of development in rain forest areas would also likely be a part of the strategy. But what will be the price, who is going to pay for it? Our entire political system might well be subjected to a great, nearly unbearable strain; so great could be that strain, that our civilization could well collapse!
It seems that the problems raised by these "possibilities" have taken on an after life of their own. The fact that we can seriously, legitimately raise such questions to begin with, has seemingly launched our world to another level where the mere possibility of such events will justify an adjustment to our present civilization. It's as if we have to take out an intellectual insurance, just in case. Yet as we know insurance can be very expensive, but in the event of a calamity can mean the difference between viability and complete collapse.
Certainly more research needs to be done, and one way or another this possibility of core warming must be carefully studied. If it is not an issue, and we can safely dismiss it, then we have rid ourselves of one such concern, and can deal with the issue of global warming on it's own. If , however, core warming turns out to be a concern, then we must continue to study the situation carefully and if we find that there is a significant risk, then we must redouble our efforts to encounter the possible consequences, and our political order should be put on notice that a new and possibly dangerous situation has arisen and we must meet it head on if we are to continue to grow and prosper as a civilization. Dismissing this possibility without due consideration could well be fatal to all of us.
Chris P. Shinghirtis
A few odds and ends:
We know that the oceans are warming. Thus far we have assumed that this has something to do with global warming. However, the oceans themselves have the effect of dumping CO2 into the atmosphere as they warm , thus their warming may not be the result of global warming of the surface, but in reality a contributor to global warming.. For all that's said and done, THIS IS STILL A POSSIBILITY!!
Secondly, it has never really been explained as to how the oceans come to warm up anyway. True the sun will contribute a great deal of the heat trapped by the oceans, but what can explain the El Nino effects exactly? Is it a climactical cycle, or does the heating occur due to cyclical variations deep inside the earth? Is it possible that the El Nino, and El Nina effects are actually due to core temperature fluctuations? If so then a direct relationship can be established between the surface climate model, and heating cycles within the mantle, or asthenosphere.
Another note of interest is the phenomenon of Cryovolcanoes on certain moons in the solar system. Enceladus is of particular interest. What could explain the geysers of Enceladus save but the friction caused by the tremendous tidal forces of Saturn? This would pretty much end debate as to where and how most of the heat in the earth is being generated. One cannot attribute radioactive decay to the heating effects evinced on Enceladus. The most likely, most obvious culprit is Tidal friction. This friction is cause enough to explain earth's core heat as well as it circles the moon even as a double planetary system. There is no question that the earth's liquid core would oscillate over the solid iron core and that pressure generated by the tidal swell would result in massive amounts of heat being generated. This is not to say that radioactive decay is not responsible for some of the heating in the core of the earth, but it is likely not important enough to argue against the obvious: which is that heat really is being generated at the core of the earth and that that heat must somehow escape into space. Though we may not as yet understand the mechanisms to the degree that we would like to, we can not deny this fact of earth core heat generation.
The core temperature of any body that radiates heat from the core or that radiates heat homogeneously, as from a black body(in theoretical physics) should be hotter than the elements at the surface. This is due to the interference that deeper core elements would encounter in trying to release their heat presumably in the form of infrared radiation.. That is to say that elements which find themselves near the surface of a some such body will have less distance to go before finding an escape route to cooler temperatures outside the body itself.. Thus we might assume that this is also true of our planet. That is to say that our planet is much hotter at the core than at the surface or near the surface. Because of this we can assume the existence of convection currents from the core area to the surface. Independent experimental data would confirm these theorectical implications, and they do.
The overall release of heat from the earth's core to
surface is slow, and by comparison to the internal volume of heat
in the earth's sub-surface, the volume of the heat that is released is
small and seemingly weak. The surface layer acts as a highly efficient
shield(save but when we experience volcanic eruptions.)Nevertheless it
makes sense to submit that if the insulation coefficient of the earths
lithosphere and atmosphere is increased by a quantity d
then the earth's sub-surface temperature will increase by some value D
. We cannot say at present what the value of D
will be, nor can we say what it's rate of change will be or the nature
of D = f(d)
since there are too many unknowns, however, it seems almost certain
it will increase over time and at some point it will presumably become
high enough to increase seismicity, and/or increase the occurrence of
Experimental data would help to establish this relationship eventually,
and thus tell us if there is reason to believe in a relationship
atmospheric insulation and the rise of earth core temperatures.
To be fair it should also be noted that by it's nature magma seems to be a good keeper of heat in the sense that it will absorb a great deal of heat and release it very slowly. But this too could be worrisome in that it could mean that the earth's core would have the capacity to absorb great amounts of heat before actually "reacting" thus making it possible to continue absorbing heat without giving any indication of any danger, until it's too late. That is until the heat absorbed is so great that only a violent release of this heat can bring the system down to it's natural equillibrium(assuming some evolving equilibrium point that serves as the stepping stone for ultimate trends. After all the earth is evolving into something new but it is doing so in a cyclical manner.) The fact that the core is so good at storing heat, may well make it susceptible to sudden violent release once a critical threshold is reached, much like steam which will release an enormous amount of heat on condensation.
A careful measurement of the temperature of lava emissions over time might give us an indication of any temperature changes within the earth.
In the end we should all want the truth to prevail. Whether climate warming is due to natural cycles or to fossil fuel burning; or whether these are co-factors in the rise in temperature; or whether climate warming will involve core warming to any degree, is all up for study and consideration. There are no givens here. We cannot be certain of anything, but we cannot rule out anything either. Too often in the past scientists have been too quick to condemn one view or other only to find out years later that it was valid. Was this not the case with the particle theory of light which a century after Huygens blossomed into the vaunted quantum theory of physics? The point is that no hypothesis should be dismissed without trial, and absolutely no theory is certain even after a myriad of trials. If the notion of absolute time and space can fail(as in Newtonian physics), what notion can possibly remain unassailable? Socrates once said "The only thing I know for certain, is that I know nothing at all for certain!" And yet the progress of science is the progress of civilization, and on this occasion geologists may well be responsible for the ultimate fate of our civilization. A world sufficiently forewarned of the possibility of a geologically unstable time may well make the difference between a chance for survival, or none at all.