Sunday, August 17, 2008

Can a tent stop a glacier from melting?

The headline read: "Germans try to slow glacier melt with giant screen"

The intent is to install a tent-like screen to trap cold air over the Rhone Glacier in Switzerland. "We hope our installations will bring about a net cooling of the area. And if the melt is not stopped, that it is at least slowed," the project's leader, geography professor Hans-Joachim Fuchs, said in a statement.

Wow, I thought, that must be one huge screen to stop or slow the melting of a glacier. So I read more and got to this:

"The structure, 15 metres long and three metres high (49 feet by 10 feet), ..."

Um...490 square feet? I must have read that wrong - or there must be a typo.

But no - the numbers are correct - 490 square feet. That's smaller than the tent we had in our yard last month for a friend's wedding reception!

Curious person that I am, I wondered just what percentage of the glacier this small tent would cover. So out to Google I went.

The Rhone glacier is 17.6 square meters, which 189,444,823.04 square feet. The screen, at 490 square feet, will cover .00000259 of the glacier.

How will covering such a small amount of the glacier actually have any impact? They researchers hope it will keep cold winds over the glacier, but I don't see it. Being on Maumee Bay and experiencing all sorts of winds, I can tell you that a tent/screen less than the size of my yard won't keeps winds from doing anything. This experimental screen might provide a bit of shelter for the immediate area, but will have negligible effect on the other 189,444,823 square feet of the glacier.

So these students and researchers will will measure the effect of the screen until August 21. I do hope their evaluation will include all the other things that can impact their results: daily temperature, wind speeds, sun spots, cloud cover, rain, etc. I would hate to think that a couple of days of below-normal temperatures in this one-week experiment would have them declaring their tent/screen a success.


skeeter1107 said...

You find it amusing?

You won't think it's that amusing when Carty buys a tent from Rob Croak for $90,000 (10 times $9,000) to be used at the Erie Street Market to deflect the hot air from Toledo City Council.

Hey is "Finkbeiner" of Germanic origin? Maybe there is some explanation.....never mind.

Tim Higgins said...


Far be it from me to disparage the efforts of the scientific community, but it appears to my uneducated view that they are going about this all wrong.

It is the students and researchers that appear to have been out in the sun too long, not the glacier.

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