by DAVID AXE
They didn’t look like much: three tall cardboard boxes, each roughly the size of the Gabonese soldiers handling them into the bed of a battered military truck. But appearances can be deceptive. These unassuming boxes represent the critical, final components of a sophisticated early warning system for the potentially cataclysmic effects of global warming.
In the fight against climate change, public attention is focused on carbon emissions from cars, aircraft and power plants. These polluters, however, represent a drop in the ocean compared with the carbon that might be released by the initial effects of global warming. Temperature increases resulting from primary polluters such as cars could tweak weather patterns in small but significant ways, thus releasing vast stores of carbon sequestered over a period of eons in weather-sealed “warehouses.”
One of the biggest of these natural carbon warehouses is deep in the world’s oceans, in a layer of water that normally never reaches the surface as it circulates the planet. It was a sudden shift in this global pattern that inspired the plot of the 2004 disaster movie, The Day After Tomorrow, in which the resulting overnight transformation of the world’s weather led to a cascade of lethal storms. While hugely exaggerated, the movie got the basic science right, says Dr. Augustus Vogel, an American researcher from the hip university town of Charlottesville, Virginia.