22 July 2008

Global Warming Worldbuilding

From Jeri (via Eric):
I need some sort of event that will cause immediate global warming in the course of one summer/fall - to the point that it will not freeze come winter in the arctic and it will happen so fast it will surprise the world. What sort of event can you think of, outside of deus ex machina?

Umm. What kind of story is this? You could always blame it on space aliens with superior technology.

Barring that, basically you'd have to find a way to dump a whole lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. A whole lot. Enough to overwhelm all the balances that are presently in place.

I used to have a book, Out of Thin Air by Peter Ward, that explained how the Mesozoic got to be as warm as it did. I no longer have it, so going entirely by memory here, but basically it was because all the accumulated plant detritus during the Carboniferous (which was called that for a reason...) suddenly released their stored carbon into the atmosphere. I think he said it was a really big fire.

So... maybe in your case, find a way to burn every single plant in the entire world?


Megadeus said...

Asteroid hitting the earth, causing massive fires that wipe out the plants?

I'm reaching a little bit and I'm not sure if that falls inside the realm of "deus ex machina," but it's the best I can do on short notice ^_~

Jeri said...

I started to explain the background for this question in more detail, and maybe answer a couple of your questions about setting and objective - but once it hit a few hundred words I decided to make it my blog post for the day. It's here.

Thanks much for the help and creative thought!

Eric said...

The problem with an asteroid impact is that it's usually suggested as a mechanism for global cooling, since the dust raised by impact (potentially added to ash and soot from the fires) offsets the CO2 release. Not a bad thought, tho'.

That line of thought leads me to wonder about Ward's hypothesis, if he blamed fires: the TTAPS scenario also assumes that the CO2 released by fires is more than offset by atmospheric ash and soot scattering sunlight back into space. Admittedly, the concept of "nuclear winter" remains a little controversial (there may be less debate now more from political shifts than scientific--the end of the Cold War has made global thermonuclear war seem a remote threat).

Thinking about it: there's another possible answer if CO2 release isn't offset by the effects of ash and soot: a nuclear exchange might lead to burning a lot of plants. I'm just not sure the models really back the concept, though, and even if they did--nuclear winter is a 20-year old concept and you'd have a hard time selling a nuclear summer even if you could back it up with back-of-a-napkin math.