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Glacier Bay National Park. Two and a half centuries ago, the entire area was covered by thick sheets of ice.
High snowfall and cold weather to blame.

A bitterly cold Alaskan summer has had surprising results. For the first time in the area's recorded history, area glaciers have begun to expand, rather than shrink. Summer temperatures, which were some 3 degrees below average, allowed record levels of winter snow to remain much longer, leading to the increase in glacial mass.

"In mid-June, I was surprised to see snow still at sea level in Prince William Sound", said glaciologist Bruce Molnia. "In general, the weather this summer was the worst I have seen in at least 20 years".

"On the Juneau Icefield, there was still 20 feet of new snow on the surface [in] late July. At Bering Glacier, a landslide I am studying [did] not become snow free until early August."

Molnia, who works for the US Geological Survey, said it's been a "long time" since area glaciers have seen a positive mass balance -- an increase in the total amount of ice they contain.

Since 1946, the USGS has maintained a research project measuring the state of Alaskan glaciers. This year saw records broken for most snow buildup. It was also the first time since any records began being that the glaciers did not shrink during the summer months.

Those records date from the mid 1700s, when the region was first visited by Russian explorers.  Molnia estimates that Alaskan glaciers have lost about 15% of their total area since that time -- an area the size of Connecticut.

One of the largest areas of shrinkage has been at the national park of Glacier Bay. When Alexei Ilich Chirikof first arrived in 1741, the bay didn't exist at all -- only a solid wall of ice. From that time until the early 1900s, the ice retreated some 50 miles, to form the bay and surrounding area.

Accordingly to Molnia, a difference of just 3 or 4 degrees is enough to shift the mass balance of glaciers from rapid shrinkage to rapid growth. From the 1600s to the 1900s, that’s just the amount of warming that was seen, as the planet exited the Little Ice Age.

Molnia says one cold summer doesn't mean the start of a new climatic trend. At least years like this, however, might mark the beginning of another Little Ice Age.

As DailyTech reported earlier, Arctic sea ice this year has also increased substantially from its low in 2007.

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RE: I knew!!
By Ringold on 10/16/2008 9:05:10 PM , Rating: 2
1. Is it better to produce too much food, so we can keep prices down and throw away the stuff we don't eat?

Lower prices doesn't necessarily mean food gets tossed in the ocean.

2. Lower prices for food means farmers get less paid. The ones that are hurt the most by this is third world farmers who cannot afford the luxury of using oil-based fertilizers.

I'll also tackle 3, regarding historic low prices. Prices were low for a reason. Prices surged for a reason. The reasons are the same. Governments, in America, Europe as well as developing countries, have erected trade barriers and put in place large subsidies that distort global markets and protect their farmers. This has meant that farmers who should've gone on to other things have stuck around pumping out too much food, depressing prices. Then we, the US, comes along and suddenly over the space of a few years divert about 1/3 of our domestic maize crop to ethanol, and put in place mandates for even more ethanol. Economists warned at the very start of the ethanol craze it'd drive up prices, asking how ethical that would be.. but when the farm lobby and liberals get together, the resulting force is unstoppable.

Prices did need to be a bit higher, but before prices came back down it was way too high.

4. Most ethanol is produced in Brazil. I doubt growing cheap food in South America will help the Africans much.

We have an import tariff on Brazilian ethanol, and thus almost none is imported.

5. ...but the cheaper oil prices as a result of more people using bio-fuels will help everyone!

Not if, as has been the case up till now, biofuels wreak havoc in other markets just to have a tiny impact on oil prices. Oil is coming down because of a global recession, not ethanol. Also, you appear concerned about Africa and poor countries, but that happens to be where a lot of oil is. Lower oil prices mean less revenue their governments have to invest in human capital and infrastructure. Double edged sword!

just how large a population can our planet sustain?"

As long as we aren't burning food for fuel, Brazil alone has vast tracts of land that could be brought under cultivation, and if everybody had the same productivity as American farmers.. we're no where near the limit we could sustain over time. The above question only rears its head with the same idiots that thought in the 70s that by 2000 the world would have already collapsed in to mass famine.

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007
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