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Is it Hot Enough For You?
“Is it hot enough for you?”
I probably don’t need to tell anyone living on the North American continent - but the summer so far has been oppressive. With temperatures in June and July soaring past 100 many are wondering what is going on. Actually, out of the hottest summers in the last 200 years, 14 have occurred in the last 15 years.
If our climate is changing, and most scientists agree that it is, what can our civilization expect as a result? Many cultures have risen and fallen due to climate change. One of the most obvious examples is change in the Sahara.
About 12,000 years ago, slight changes in the Earth's orbit around the sun brought the northern hemisphere into the limelight. Summers became warmer as more solar radiation hit the lands north of the Equator. Solar 'insolation' levels were up to 8 percent higher than today.
With insolation driving monsoonal climates like a huge heat engine, rainfall increased. One climate model estimated that the 8 percent increase in radiation in North Africa resulted in a 40 percent increase in precipitation. Today, the West African monsoon avoids the Sahara, passing further south. But as the Earth's orbit changed the rains intensified and shifted five degrees north. Slowly the desert started to bloom. By 10,000 years ago, the Sahara had turned into a savanna-like ecosytem with trees and grass and grazing aninmals.
Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem of a traveler who discovers a once majestic statue of Ozymandias in the sands of the Sahara could be an ode to climate change. Gone were the ruler's subjects, fertile fields, and flocks. Now, due to climate change, this lone statue was the ruler of only shifting sands.
Between 300 B.C. and A.D. 1100, the Tiwanaku (culture in South America) built an urban complex that probably supported nearly half a million people. They sustained this dense settlement through raised field agriculture, a technique that improved drainage and recycled nutrients in the poor tropical soil.
Around the year 1100, the cities and fields were abruptly abandoned.
Once again, the paleoclimate record may contain clues to the Tiwanaku collapse.
The Quelccaya ice core, drilled just 125 miles from Lake Titicaca, contains an annual record of precipitation for the region. This ice core record shows close overlap between the time of the Tiwanaku abandonment and the start of an increasingly dry spell. Sediment cores from Lake Titicaca itself also chronicle the event, showing a 33-foot drop in the lake level at the time. The drought persisted for several centuries, during which the Tiwanaku went into a slow decline.
Today, every known glacier in the tropics is retreating. They are melting at a rate of 15 feet a year. It’s likely that the ice caps in Africa and South America will be gone in 15 years.
The changes in glacial ice are harbingers of immense global warming to come.
While culture decimation caused by climate change may be bad for the civilizations involved, it can make for a good story whether the apocalypse occurs in continents here on Earth, or on a planet elsewhere in the galaxy – for example, the Star Trek classic: The Wrath of Khan.
The ‘secret technology’ of ancient civilizations that were brought to ruin by climate change is the bedrock of SciFi and Fantasy writers alike.
We invite you to sit back under your air conditioner this August and relax while reading these very cool short stories.
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