Daily Archives: January 26, 2015

Jan 26, 1978: Paper “West Antarctic ice sheet and C02 greenhouse effect: a threat of disaster”

jan26mercerOn January 26th 1978 the journal Nature carried a cheerful little paper entitled West Antarctic ice sheet and C02 greenhouse effect: a threat of disaster” by JH Mercer [Nature Vol 271, p 321-5.]


As with the January 1st post, we’ve known about this for a long time. Yes, it took some time for the signal to emerge from the noise, but the signal has been there for 20 years. And we’ve “chosen” (with a little help from our friends in the fossil fuel industries) not to see or hear.

Gillis, J. and Chang, K. (2014) Scientists warn of Rising Oceans from Polar Melt New York Times. May 12.

“The new finding appears to be the fulfilment of a prediction made in 1978 by an eminent glaciologist, John H. Mercer of the Ohio State University. He outlined the vulnerable nature of the West Antarctic ice sheet and warned that the rapid human-driven release of greenhouse gases posed “a threat of disaster.” He was assailed at the time, but in recent years, scientists have been watching with growing concern as events have unfolded in much the way Dr. Mercer predicted. (He died in 1987.)”

James Hansen cites what he calls the “John Mercer effect” in his essay on “Scientific Reticence.”

“I suspect the existence of what I call the `John Mercer effect’. Mercer (1978) suggested that global warming from burning of fossil fuels could lead to disastrous disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet, with a sea level rise of several meters worldwide. This was during the era when global warming was beginning to get attention from the United States Department of Energy and other science agencies. I noticed that scientists who disputed Mercer, suggesting that his paper was alarmist, were treated as being more authoritative.”


See also:

Lonnie Thompson

Bowen, M. (2005) Thin Ice: Unlocking the Secrets of Climate in the World’s Highest Mountains


Other things that happened on this day:

1990 Lewis Mumford dies

2011 Kevin Trenberth  presentationCommunicating Climate Change: In Honor of Stephen Schneider,” presented at the 91st American Meteorological Society Meeting Special Session on Promoting Climate Change Information and Communication of Climate Change, Seattle, WA, 26 January 2011. Powerpoint Presentation, PDF (“We request that you ask the author’s permission to use any materials from the Presentation”).

As ever, see the disclaimers, help the project and comments policy.