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From the book, The Sea Around Us.
Copyright 1950, 1951, by Rachel Carson.
Reprinted by permission of Oxford- University Press, Inc.
|The ocean comes alive in one of this year's most fascinating books. This article is condensed from The Sea Around
Us by Rachel Carson. A lilelong student of nature, Miss Carson is editor-in-chief of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife
Day by day and season by season, the ocean dominates the world's climate. Can it also be an agent in bringing about the long-period swings of climatic change that we know have occurred throughout the long history of the earth-the alternating periods of heat and cold, of drought and flood? There is a fascinating theory that it can.
|This theory links events in the deep, hidden places of the ocean with the cyclic changes of elimate and their effects
on human history. It was developed by the distinguished Swedish oceanographer, Otto Pettersson, whose almost century-long
life closed in 1941.
To review the Pettersson theory is to review also a pageant of human history, of men and nations in the control of elemental forces whose nature they never understood and whose very existence they never recognized.
Pettersson's work was perhaps a natural outcome of the circumstances of his life. He was born-as he died 93 years later-on the shores of the Baltic, a sea of complex and wonderful hydrography. In his laboratory atop a sheer cliff overlooking the deep waters of the Gulmarfiord, instruments recorded strange phenomena in the depths of this gateway to the Baltic. As the ocean water presses in toward that inland sea it dips down and lets the fresh surface water roll out above it; and at that deep level where salt and fresh water come into contact there is a sharp layer of discontinuity, like the surface film between water and air.
The Atlantic is slowly rising, and there's enough water frozen in land ice to raise it 100 feet. If ALL that ice were to melt, which is unlikely, New York would be flooded as shown on the left.
Each day Pettersson's instruments revealed a strong, pulsing movement of that deep layer - the pressing inward of great submarine waves, of moving mountains of water. The movement was strongest every twelfth hour of the day, and between the 12-hour intervals it subsided. Pettersson soon established a link between these submarine waves and the daily tides. "Moon waves," he called them, and as he measured their height and timed their pulsing beat through the months and years, their relation to the ever-changing cycles of the tides became crystal clear.
He had found that the submarine waves varied in height and power as the tide - producing power of the moon and sun varied. From astronomical calculations he learned that the tides must have been at their greatest strength during the closing centuries of the Middle Ages - those centuries when the Baltic herring fishery was flourishing. Then sun, moon and earth came into such a position at the time of the winter solstice that they exerted the greatest possible attracting force upon the sea. Only about every 18 centuries do the heavenly 'bodies assume this particular relation. But in that period of the Middle Ages, the great underwater waves pressed with unusual force into the narrow passages to the Baltic, and with the "water mountains" went the herring shoals. Later, when the tides became weaker, the herring remained outside the Baltic, in the North Sea.
Then Pettersson realized another fact of extreme significance - that those centuries of great tides had been a period of "startling and unusual occurrences" in the world of nature. Polar ice blocked much of the North Atlantic. The coasts of the North Sea and the Baltic were laid waste by violent storm floods. The winters were of "unexampled severity" and in consequence of the climatic rigors political and economic catastrophes occurred all over the populated regions of the earth. Could there be a connection between these events and those moving mountains of unseen water? Could the deep tides affect the lives of men as well as of herring?
|Marshaling scientific, historic and literary evidence, he showed that there are alternating periods of mild and
severe climates which correspond to the long-period cycles of the oceanic tides. The world's most recent period
of maximum tides, and most rigorous climate, occurred about 1488, its effect being felt, however, for several centuries
before and after that year. The minimum tidal effect prevailed about A.D. 550, and it will occur again about the
Surface waves are mild compared to great submarine waves found at mouth of Baltic where salt water meets fresh. Such tide waves are thought to explain long-range climate changes.
During the latest period of benevolent climate, snow and ice were little known on the coast of Europe and in the seas about Iceland and Greenland. Then the Vikings sailed freely over northern seas, monks went back and forth between Ireland and "Thyle" or Iceland, and there was easy intercourse between Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries.
|But these bland climatic conditions began to deteriorate in the thirteenth century. The seacoast of Holland was
devastated by storm floods. Old Icelandic records say that, in the winters of the early 1300's, packs of wolves
crossed on the ice from Norway to Denmark. The entire Baltic froze over, forming a bridge of solid ice between
Sweden and the Danish islands. Pedestrians and carriages crossed the frozen sea and hostelries were put up on the
ice to accommodate them. The freezing of the Baltic seems to have shifted the course of storms originating in the
low-pressure belt south of Iceland. In southern Europe, as a result, there were unusual storms, crop failures,
famine and distress. Icelandic literature abounds in tales of volcanic eruptions and other violent natural catastrophes
that occurred during the fourteenth century.
Glaciers show effect of rising temperatures: they melt back faster than they are renewed by snow, so that they are shrinking. Many smaller ones have already disappeared.
|All those ancient records of climatic variations seemed to Pettersson an indication that cyclic changes in the
oceanic circulation of the Atlantic had occurred. Applying the discoveries in his laboratory on Gulmarfiord, he
believed that the climatic changes were brought about as the tide-induced submarine waves disturbed the deep waters
of polar seas. Although tidal movements are often weak at the surface of these seas, they set up strong pulsations
at the submarine boundaries, where there is a layer of comparatively fresh, cold water lying upon a layer of salty,
Less ice is drifting down from the frozen top of the world, opening far northern seas to fisheries and navigation - all signs of the warming up of subarctic regions.
In the years or the centuries of strong tidal forces, unusual quantities of warm Atlantic water press into the Arctic Sea at deep levels, moving in under the ice. Then thousands of square miles of ice that norreally remain solidly frozen undergo partial thawing and break up. Drift ice, in extraordinary volume, enters the Labrador Current and is carried southward into the Atlantic. This changes the pattern of surface circulation, which is so intimately related to the winds, the rainfall and the air temperatures. For the drift ice then attacks the Gulf Stream south of Newfoundland and sends it on a more easterly course, deflecting the streams of warm surface water that usually bring a softening effect to the climate of Greenland, Iceland, Spitsbergen and northern Europe.
Although the really catastrophic disturbances of the polar region come only every 18 centuries, according to Pettersson, there are also rhythmically occurring periods that fall at varying intervals-for example, every nine, 18, or 86 years. These correspond to other tidal cycles. They produce climatic variations of shorter periods and of less drastic nature.
The year 1903, for instance, was memorable for its outbursts of polar ice in the Arctic and for the repercussions on Scandinavian fisheries. There was "a general failure of cod, herring .and other fish along the coast from Finmarken and Lofoten to the Skagerrak and Kattegat. The greater part of the Barents Sea was covered with pack ice up to May, the ice border approaching closer to the Murman and Finmarken coasts than ever before. Herds of arctic seals visited these coosts, and some species of the arctic whitefish extended their migrations to the Christiana Fiord and even entered into the Baltic."
This outbreak of ice came in the year when earth, moon and sun were in a relative position that gives a secondary maximum of the tide-producing forces. The similar constellation of 1912 was another great ice year in the Labrador Current - a year that brought the disaster of the Titanic.
Now in our own lifetime we are witnessing a startling alteration of climate, and it is intriguing to apply Otto Pettersson's ideas as a possible explanation.
It is now established beyond question that a definite change in the arctic climate set in about 1900, that it became astonishingly marked about 1980, and that it is now spreading into subarctic and temperate regions. The frigid top of the world is very clearly warming up.
The trend toward a milder climate in the Arctic is perhaps most strikingly apparent in the greater ease of navigation in the North Atlantic and the Arctic Sea. In 1982, for example, the Knipowitsch sailed around Franz Josef Land for the first time in the history of arctic voyaging. And three years later the Russian ice-breaker Sadko went from the northern tip of Novaya Zemlya (Northern Land) to 82 degrees 41 minutes, north latitude - the northernmost point ever reached by a ship under its own power.
In 1940 the whole northern coast of Europe and Asia was remarkably free from ice during the summer months, and more than 100 vessels engaged in trade via the arctic routes. In 1942 a vessel unloaded supplies at the west Greenland port of Upernivik (latitude 72 degrees 43 minutes N) during Christmas week "in almost complete winter darkness." During the Forties the season for shipping coal from West Spitsbergen ports lengthened to seven months, compared with three at the beginning of the century. The season when pack ice lies about Iceland became shorter by about two months than it was a century ago. Drift ice in the Russian sector of the Arctic Sea decreased by a million square kilometers between 1924 and 1944, and in the Laptev Sea two islands of fossil ice melted away completely, their position being marked by submarine shoals,
Activities in .the nonhuman world also reflect the warming of the Arctic - the changed habits and migrations of many fishes, birds, land mammals and whales.
Many new birds are appearing in far northern lands for the first time in our records. Some high-arctic forms, which thrive in cold climates, have shown their distaste for the warmer temperatures by visiting Greenland in decreasing numbers.
As the chill of the northern waters has abated and the fish have moved poleward, the fisheries around Iceland have expanded enormously, and it has become profitable for trawlers to push on to Bear Island, Spitsbergen and the Barents Sea. These waters now yield perhaps two billion pounds of cod a year - the largest catch of a single species by any fishery in the world. But its existence is tenuous. If the cycle turns the waters begin to chill, and the ice floes creep southward again, there is nothing man can do that will preserve the Arctic fishcries.
The recession of the northern glaciers is going at such a rate that many smaller ones have already disappeared. If the present rate of melting continues others will soon follow them.
The melting away of the snow fields in the Opdal Mountains in Norway has exposed wooden - shafted arrows of a type used about A D. 400 to 500. This suggests that the snow cover in this region must now be less than it has been at any time within the past 1,400 to 1,500 years.
The glaciologist Hans Ahlmann reports that most Norwegian glaciers "are living only on their own mass without receiving any annual fiesh supply of snow"; that in the Alps there has been a general retreat and shrinkage of glaciers during the last decades, which became "catastrophic" in the summer of 1947, and that all glaciers around the North Atlantic coasts are shrinking. The most rapid recession of all is occurring in Alaska, where the Muir Glacier receded about 10 kilometers in 12 years.
The milder arctic and subarctic climate seems already to have resulted in longer growing seasons and better crops. The cultivation of oats has improved in Iceland. In Norway good seed years are now the rule rather than - the exception, and even in northern Scandinavia the trees have spread rapidly above their former timber lines, and both pine and spruce are making a quicker annual growth than they have for some time.
The countries where the most striking changes are taking place are those whose climate is most directly under the control the North Atlantic currents. Greenland, Iceland, Spitsbergen and all of northern Europe, as we have seen, experience heat and cold, drought and flood in accordance with the varying strength and warmth of the eastward - and northward - moving currents of the Atlantic.
It is interesting to calculate where our twentieth - century situation fits into the cosmic scheme of the shifting cycles of the tides. The great tides at the close of the Middle Ages, with their accompanying snow and ice, furious winds and inundating floods, are more than five centuries behind us. The era of weakest tidal movements, with a climate as benign as that of the early Middle Ages, is about four centuries ahead. We have therefore begun to move strongly into a period of warmer, milder weather. There will be fluctuations, as earth and sun and moon move through space and the tidal power waxes and wanes. But the long trend is toward a warmer earth; the pendulum is swinging.
If in fact the earth is getting warmer, I believe this is the explanation for it. Little we puny humans do will have much of an effect. Rachel Carson was the hero of the environmentalists, and perhaps rightly so back in the 60s. How about listening to her now? Or is the real agenda of the environmentalists to destroy the free enterprise system?
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