Warren Miller: Warren’s theory of global cooling
Vail, CO, Colorado
In the northeastern Pacific Ocean there is a giant layer of floating plastic that is twice the size of Texas. It appears to me that scientists have concentrated their efforts on the contamination that the plastic is causing. I’ve seen no scientific investigation about the reflecting powers of all of that plastic.
Let’s look at how it all got there. It is the clockwise motion of the Japanese current, which leaves the Sea of Japan and flows north toward the Aleutians in a clockwise manner, then down the West Coast to California and then heads west again.
As the current moves south along the west coast of North America, it picks up anything that was left on the beach or that has floated down a river or a storm drain or that was possibly dumped overboard by countless ships. The plastic layer is composed of hundreds of millions of plastic water bottles and anything else made out of plastic that will float.
About 40 years ago, I was producing a film for Continental Airlines on how great Micronesia was as a vacation paradise. My camera crews reported that on many of the beaches it took them longer to clean up the debris on the beaches that had floated ashore than filming the sequence, so today’s floating trash is not at all a newcomer to the environment.
My concern with the giant sea of floating plastic debris is its reflective power and its impact on our weather.
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Imagine if somehow half of the state of Texas was in shade and the other half was in the sun. How much higher would the temperature be in the sunny part of Texas? I think the same thing applies for the northeast Pacific Ocean because all this floating debris.
It would be easy to conduct a semi-scientific experiment by taking two large trays of water and filling each one to the same depth. Then, set them in direct sunlight for a day while you float a large mirror in one of them.
Common sense tells us that the one with a mirror floating in it would be a lot cooler than the other one after 10 hours of exposure, reflecting light rather than absorbing it.
As storms roll out of the northeastern Pacific and come powering on to southeast Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California, then rolling across the western United States and Canada, it stands to reason that as those storms pass over this reflective part of the ocean, the temperature of the storm system would also be lower than normal.
This conclusion can be best summed up with a few examples:
1. Thirty years ago in a meeting with several ski shop owners in Southern California, we were discussing how the winter would be in the Southern California mountains. My comment was, “I went surfing this morning and the water was the warmest that I have ever seen it this time of the year. Because of that, we will have a lousy winter for skiing in Southern California.” (This was before manmade snow machines.) That year the local resorts only operated six or seven days.
2. A possible significant effect of that giant sea of reflective floating plastic is that Arapahoe Basin opened the earliest in their history this year. Each year in the past dozen or so years has been increasingly earlier than the last.
3. In early October, Sun Valley had almost 2 feet of snow at the top of Baldy for an all-time early and deep snowfall record.
4. During the first week of October, Bozeman, Mont., received 8 inches of snow. This is an unheard of early winter based on my experience.
As I said, I believe that analysis of the temperature of the Japanese current in the northeastern Pacific Ocean would show that the current’s temperature has been lowered by the giant sea of floating plastic. Remember, that layer of plastic is twice the size of Texas.
For many years it’s been known that the temperature of Western Europe is controlled by the Gulf Stream, which of course is controlled by the temperature of the Gulf of Mexico. That Gulf Stream goes around Florida and up the East Coast.
The phenomenon occurs when the temperature of the Gulf Stream varies as a function of how warm the Gulf of Mexico is the summer before. The ability to predict weather in Europe has been known since the 1930s. They used this knowledge to predict the weather for the invasion of Normandy in World War II.
The scientists studying the floating plastic layer are spending all of their time, effort and millions of dollars on the ecological damage that this floating debris is doing to the whales, the turtles and the other sea life.
However, the far-reaching consequence is the altering of the weather patterns in the western United States. Each plastic water bottle that you throw away is possibly causing the earlier, longer and more severe winters.
Imagine if you lived in Arapahoe Basin or in Keystone and you started shoveling snow the first week of October. You’d get to shovel it for the next eight months so you could get in your car and drive to the nearby ski lifts.
Is it possible that the same phenomenon as the Gulf Stream weather exists in the Sea of Japan? Is that part of the ocean now growing colder by the year because the thick floating layer of plastic — the one twice the size of Texas and as deep as 300 feet — is reflecting heat?
It will be interesting to see if my seat-of-the-pants-scientific-analysis of this phenomenon is correct. And we will only find out as each winter progresses. Nothing could be more welcome to me and the ski industry than a long and deep snowy winter.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff log onto Warren Miller.net.