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Ken Zeigler, who taught chemistry and physics at George West High School for several years, spoke to the George West Lions Club about climate change during a meeting on Oct. 4. (Photo by Jeff Osborne)

Retired George West school teacher Ken Zeigler gave a presentation to the George West Lions Club that shows climate change in a different light, detailing how those types of disruptions in Earth’s atmosphere have been common throughout history, and they will continue with or without any human input.

Biggest impact

“What is the most important factor affecting the Earth’s climate today?” he asked. How about the sun?” He said without the sun’s warmth, the planet would have a temperature of minus 455.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The sun only had 70 percent luminosity (compared to now)” millions of years ago,” Zeigler said. “The sun is going to change, as it already has numerous times, and climate change is inevitable.”

In a few million years, the sun’s intensity is expected to increase in intensity, “and that would give us a molten metal climate similar to Venus, he said. “So in the long run, it’s going to get hard.”

A more short-term concern is that sunspot activity is expected to decrease as a grand solar minimum goes into effect.

“We’re going to lose luminosity, but overall temperatures are still going to go up, most assuredly,” Zeigler said. “But it won’t be by much, just an average of 1 and a half degrees. There are people who claim it’s going to go up markedly in the next 40 or 50 years, but it looks pretty linear to me. By (the year) 2100, the average temperatures will be 1 degree higher.”

Constant changes

He noted that 10,000 years ago, the sea levels rose by several inches per year, and if someone lived on the coast, they’d have to move inland within a short time.

“Rising seas will be a problem long term,” Zeigler said. “The oceans will rise and fall, rise and fall. It’s been that way for millions of years. New York City won’t be able to exist where it is 2,000 years from now. Change is inevitable in the long term.”

About 4.5 billion years ago, Earth was a ball of molten metal with frequent meteor impacts, he said. Under those conditions, Earth couldn’t support life.

“We’re not exactly sure when life developed here, but we know it was here 2 billion years ago.” The type of life that originally existed was able to thrive in a toxic atmosphere that would be deadly to the forms of life that exist today.

Carbon dioxide’s role

“Mass extinctions come and go as oxygen levels go up and down,” he said. Millions of years ago, the atmosphere was mostly nitrogen, with some carbon dioxide and a lot of methane. The sun was only 80 percent as luminous back then, so temperatures were in the 80s and 90s, Ziegler said.

“A lot of this is theoretical,” he said, adding that 200 million years ago the Earth was a frozen ice ball, until carbon dioxide levels rose. “In the last 600 million years, you had the Cambrian period where there were suddenly lots of plants and animals. We’ve increased carbon dioxide levels (since the Industrial Revolution) but they are still much lower than they’ve been historically.

“We’re throwing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere but we’ll make it. The amount of carbon dioxide people are adding into the atmosphere will not kill the planet. In fact, the carbon dioxide level now is better for plants than it was in the pre-industrial era.”

Adapting to challenges

In the future, people will be able to put up mylar barriers in space to help decrease the sun’s light by up to 3 percent to help prevent some of the extreme climate changes, Zeigler said.

“Our best bet is to put a large asteroid there,” he said. “It’s impossible with today’s technology, but in 500 years? We are able to change things, and that’s why I believe God put us here.”

While many scientists have raised an alarm about the possibility of rising sea levels, Zeigler said that’s been an issue historically whether or not humanity has an impact on that.

“The oceans will rise – it’s inevitable,” he said. “It’s not going to be the end of the world. We’re going to have to adapt, but we’ll be OK.”

Meanwhile a shorter term concern that can have a major impact on Earth’s climate is magnetic pole reversal, and also a connection between the sun’s magnetic field and the Earth’s.

“If it’s weak, you’re going to have a lot more polar outbreaks like what we experienced this year (with subfreezing temperatures that blanketed the area in February),” Zeigler said. “If there’s a strong magnetic field, the colder weather stays at higher altitudes. If it’s weak, that cold air escapes and makes its way down to middle America.

“Also keep in mind that if the sun cannot create a heliosphere, cosmic rays can reach us and they are much more powerful and can really mess things up. ... We’re in uncharted territory (as far as that possibility).”

Zeigler said he has been studying climate change for about 30 years, working with someone who studies how stars evolve.

“The temperature has changed by rising 1 and a half degrees from 1830 until now,” Zeigler said. “Temperatures are increasing, I don’t debate that. If we weren’t heading into a grand solar minimum, it would be worse.”

He said most climatologists don’t take that approaching solar minimum into account when predicting climate change, but the Russian model does, which shows that the solar minimum will help offset some of the extreme changes that would otherwise take place.



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