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Desert Diary
Climate/Flipping Climates


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There are a lot of climatologists worried today. As we learn more and more about past climates, it's become apparent that not all climatic change is gradual. Indeed, if some of the major changes of the past occurred now, we would see climatic upheavals within the life span of individuals. We're learning that climatic systems may flip from one stable configuration to another without drastic changes in input. You might consider how landslides often occur—not because of some great insult, but by the soil becoming increasingly heavy and weakened through the slow seepage of water; water that at the same time acts as a lubricant between soil and bedrock. At some point, the addition of one more drop of water, and the hillside erupts, finding stability again only far downslope.

Climatically, our problem is that we don't know how many drops of water we are from disaster nor what kind of change will cause the next flip. One fear is the shutdown of the Gulf Stream. We'd probably be OK here, but pity Great Britain and the Continent!
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.