David KnottExxon Corp. urges further consideration of the subject before expensive regulations are imposed, Royal Dutch/Shell and BP Amoco plc advise a precautionary approach, and scientists are divided.
We're talking global warming, and in the latest step of the debate, the European Space Agency (ESA) is to undertake a space mission to measure the changing thickness of the polar ice caps.
The £400 million Living Planet program will comprise a series of space missions to chart the Earth's environment with global measurements of physical, chemical, and biological processes.
The first probe will be launched in 2002, and over 3 years will relay to Earth measurements of fluctuations in land and marine ice fields. These are seen as critical, since climate change theory predicts the polar ice caps will show the most obvious effects of global warming.
This first mission was proposed by Prof. Duncan Wingham at the Department of Space & Climate Physics at University College, London. He sees data on polar ice variations as vital for being able to predict climate change.
CalculationsWingham's probe will use radar techniques to measure the difference over time between the sea level and the height of the polar ice, from which the thickness of the ice cap can be calculated.
"According to computer simulations," said Wingham, "the largest rise in temperature will be in the Arctic, where the almost complete collapse of the ice cap has been predicted. It is urgent to see if this is already happening."
The British National Space Centre (BNSC), a unit of the U.K. Department of Trade and Industry, said the second mission will measure soil and sea surface salinity to improve weather forecasting and climate-change calculations.
Announcing the ESA program, BNSC said the aim of one large satellite mission would be to gather knowledge of the radiative processes that play a critical role in determining the Earth's climate and climate changes. BNSC added: "Current uncertainties in model predictions of climate change need to be significantly reduced-in particular the role of clouds and aerosols."
Growing pressureU.K. Science Minister Lord Sainsbury said that space technology is a key way of gathering information on how the Earth should be managed.
"An ever-increasing world population and pressure for development will place more demands on our planet, and it will become increasingly vital for nations to understand environmental and climate changes," he said.
These missions are unlikely to reveal 'silver bullet' evidence linking global warming undeniably to the burning of fossil fuels, which might at first glance seem a good outcome for industry's 'no link' lobby. Yet, with no equivalent industry mission to prove there is no link between global warming and fossil fuels, public opinion-and public spending in gasoline stations-is likely to swing the argument the other way before the debate is ended by science.
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