Polar ice adding more to rising seas: study

Mar 09, 2011
Store Glacier, West Greenland. A new NASA funded study finds that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass at an accelerating pace, three times faster than that of mountain glaciers and ice caps. Image credit: Eric Rignot, NASA JPL

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass at an accelerating pace, according to a new NASA-funded satellite study. The findings of the study -- the longest to date of changes in polar ice sheet mass -- suggest these ice sheets are overtaking ice loss from Earth's mountain glaciers and ice caps to become the dominant contributor to global sea level rise, much sooner than model forecasts have predicted.

The nearly 20-year study reveals that in 2006, a year in which comparable results for mass loss in mountain glaciers and ice caps are available from a separate study conducted using other methods, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets lost a combined mass of 475 gigatonnes a year on average. That's enough to raise global sea level by an average of 1.3 millimeters (.05 inches) a year. (A gigatonne is one billion metric tons, or more than 2.2 trillion pounds.)

The pace at which the polar ice sheets are losing mass was found to be accelerating rapidly. Each year over the course of the study, the two ice sheets lost a combined average of 36.3 gigatonnes more than they did the year before. In comparison, the 2006 study of mountain glaciers and ice caps estimated their loss at 402 gigatonnes a year on average, with a year-over-year acceleration rate three times smaller than that of the ice sheets.

"That ice sheets will dominate future sea level rise is not surprising -- they hold a lot more ice mass than mountain glaciers," said lead author Eric Rignot, jointly of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and the University of California, Irvine. "What is surprising is this increased contribution by the ice sheets is already happening. If present trends continue, sea level is likely to be significantly higher than levels projected by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007. Our study helps reduce uncertainties in near-term projections of sea level rise."

Total ice sheet mass balance between 1992 and 2009, as measured for Greenland (top), Antarctica (middle) and the cumulative sum of both ice sheets (bottom), in gigatonnes per year, as measured by the two different methods used by the researchers: the mass budget method (solid black circles) and time-variable gravity measurements from the NASA/German Aerospace Center’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (Grace) satellites (solid red triangles). Image credit: NASA/JPL-UC Irvine-Utrecht University-National Center for Atmospheric Research

Rignot's team combined nearly two decades (1992-2009) of monthly satellite measurements with advanced regional atmospheric climate model data to examine changes in ice sheet mass and trends in acceleration of ice loss.

The study compared two independent measurement techniques. The first characterized the difference between two sets of data: interferometric synthetic aperture radar data from European, Canadian and Japanese satellites and radio echo soundings, which were used to measure ice exiting the ice sheets; and regional atmospheric climate model data from Utrecht University, The Netherlands, used to quantify ice being added to the ice sheets. The other technique used eight years of data from the NASA/German Aerospace Center's Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (Grace) satellites, which track minute changes in Earth's gravity field due to changes in Earth's mass distribution, including ice movement.

The team reconciled the differences between techniques and found them to be in agreement, both for total amount and rate of mass loss, over their data sets' eight-year overlapping period. This validated the data sets, establishing a consistent record of ice mass changes since 1992.

The team found that for each year over the 18-year study, the Greenland ice sheet lost mass faster than it did the year before, by an average of 21.9 gigatonnes a year. In Antarctica, the year-over-year speedup in ice mass lost averaged 14.5 gigatonnes.

"These are two totally independent techniques, so it is a major achievement that the results agree so well," said co-author Isabella Velicogna, also jointly with JPL and UC Irvine. "It demonstrates the tremendous progress that's being made in estimating how much ice the ice sheets are gaining and losing, and in analyzing Grace's time-variable gravity data."

The authors conclude that, if current ice sheet melting rates continue for the next four decades, their cumulative loss could raise sea level by 15 centimeters (5.9 inches) by 2050. When this is added to the predicted sea level contribution of 8 centimeters (3.1 inches) from glacial ice caps and 9 centimeters (3.5 inches) from ocean thermal expansion, total sea level rise could reach 32 centimeters (12.6 inches). While this provides one indication of the potential contribution ice sheets could make to sea level in the coming century, the authors caution that considerable uncertainties remain in estimating future ice loss acceleration.

Study results are published this month in Geophysical Research Letters.

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User comments : 48

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Egleton
2.7 / 5 (12) Mar 09, 2011
Hello? Hello?
It is like an echo chamber in here. Where are all the fossil fuel mouth pieces?
Must be out for lunch with the boss.
Or getting their dose of enthusiasm.
Maybe it is payday and they are at the pub.
Vendicar_Decarian
3.7 / 5 (12) Mar 09, 2011
Once Republicans defund science, these inconvenient environmental stories will go away.
Bob_Kob
1.7 / 5 (11) Mar 09, 2011
Yeah yeah end of the world, boo hoo.
Sean_W
1.4 / 5 (10) Mar 09, 2011
"and regional atmospheric climate model data from Utrecht University, The Netherlands, used to quantify ice being added to the ice sheets."


Climate model data? Does this mean what it seems to be saying?
Sean_W
1.7 / 5 (12) Mar 09, 2011
Almost forgot...

WOLF!!!!!!!!!
DKA
3.8 / 5 (16) Mar 09, 2011
we really see, by reading these brillant comments, why Americans are the most stupid people on earth.
Yellowdart
2.2 / 5 (9) Mar 09, 2011
According to the graphs, it seems the rate of ice loss has slowed over the last few years. If that trend continues, then wouldnt it be a "decelerating pace"...
Royale
4.7 / 5 (12) Mar 09, 2011
That is sort of a broad generalization, isn't it DKA? I'd go as far as to agree with you that MOST Americans are in the dark, either by choice (religion) or lack of education (most US states). But most Americans that spend more than 20 minutes a day on this site are (assuming they're not trolls) open minded and interested in science. It's those people that don't weigh in when people make ridiculous comments.
MikeyK
4.1 / 5 (14) Mar 09, 2011
I wonder if most deniers realise we are just coming out of the warmest La Nina on record?
apex01
2.1 / 5 (12) Mar 09, 2011
Hey I can't wait tell water world gets here. What's next on their propaganda?
They really don't seem to be concerned with the fact that if they're wrong about AGW, scientists will lose a lot of integrity. Even if AGW were true we wouldn't be able to stop it anyhow, without convincing China, India and the rest of the world to stop modernizing themselves. Besides, I don't think the ice ages were well known for food production. Somebody call me non-intellectual along with all the other predictable baggage.
Modernmystic
1.7 / 5 (12) Mar 09, 2011
we really see, by reading these brillant comments, why Americans are the most stupid people on earth.


Gee that's funny I came to the exact opposite conclusion. Well not opposite, just that Europeans believe anything they're told from anyone in authority...the ultimate lemmings.

Baaaaaahhh....beeeeeeehhh.....

Good sheep!! Pretty sheep :)
jmcanoy1860
2 / 5 (4) Mar 09, 2011
Sheep are tasty

(It's a joke, not a reference to people)
GSwift7
1.9 / 5 (8) Mar 09, 2011
There was an article on this site recently that explained in great detail how recent accelerated arctic ice decay is being caused by the NAO and PDO which have caused an unusual amount of ice to be physically transported out of the arctic in the winter. That makes it harder for the ice to recover in the following winter. This effect was even stronger this year due to the location of a low pressure system over iceland that is usually closer to canada. It is unknown whether this will continue, so assuming a continued trend caused by this unusual 'perfect storm' of conditions favoring ice loss is questionable. This change towards conditions favoring ice loss could either be part of a natural cycle or it could be a permanent shift caused by regional climate changes. It's really too early to make good guesses about the future in this case. Thirty years is a really short time span as far as this goes. That only includes a handful of the big cycles to observe.
GSwift7
1.5 / 5 (6) Mar 09, 2011
By the way. To Mikeyk:

Was that a deliberate joke, a minor typo, or are you actually confused about what El Nino and La Nina are, and what an unusually strong La Nina means?

La Nina is the cold surface phase, not the hot. The unusually strong La Nina we just had produced unusually cool sea surface temperatures. The relationship between La Nina/El Nino and arctic ice loss is extremely weak though, as it can have different final concequences on arctic weather patterns from one ENSO cycle to the next.

The PDO and NAO (pacific decalal and north atlantic oscillations) have a much stronger influence on polar weather than the ENSO (El Nino Souther Oscillation) cycles.
PsuedoTurtle
1.6 / 5 (14) Mar 09, 2011
I would like to point out to you "scientists" out there that the earth is currently in the middle of the second-most severe of five ice ages that have occurred in the past 500 million years. That means the earth is highly likely to be warming up to its "normal" (i.e. non-glacial) temperature, regardless of what arrogant Man thinks he can do about it. As to what, if anything, should be done, I suggest we look at what happened to other species who failed to adapt to climate change if we want to survive.
Yellowdart
1.7 / 5 (6) Mar 09, 2011
Gswift7,

Any idea what might have gone on in '95/'96? Seems like a drastic outlier compared to the rest of the trend.

But I agree with you in your comments. Frankly, to claim an "accelerating pace" without prior data comparison is poor wording in this article in the least. The loss of ice mass is a negative rate for sure, but according to the graphs, this rate has decelerated in the past 5 to 6 years.
GSwift7
1.5 / 5 (8) Mar 09, 2011
Actually, yes, that is a well-known event. The AO (Arctic oscillation) shifts from negative to positive on a frequency of years to a decade and is tied to the NAO. It is a shift in semi-permanent high and low pressure systems around the far north lattitudes, causes wind pattern changes, amongst other things. From 1989 to 1995 the AO was strongly positive, meaning that wind conditions strongly favored ice loss. The same thing is happening now. Try the following NASA reference page. They specifically discuss the 1989-1995 time frame:

Can't get a link to post, so look up the NASA Earth Observatory home page, type "arctic sea ice" into their search box, wich brings up the page for Antarctic sea ice, then click on the link on the left margin that says "Arctic Sea Ice".
GSwift7
1.6 / 5 (7) Mar 09, 2011
The NASA site clearly says that the AO is the main driving factor for changes in ice loss from year to year. They do mention the ENSO cycle though. This is what they said:

Changes in the El Nino-Southern Oscillation Index (ENSO), an oscillation of ocean temperatures and surface air pressure in the tropical Pacific, can lead to a delayed response (three to four seasons later) in Antarctic sea ice extent. In general, El Nino leads to more ice in the Weddell Sea and less ice on the other side of the Antarctic Peninsula, while La Nina causes the opposite conditions


So, it's not really a strongly positive or negative effect, causing a positive effect on one side and the opposite on the other side.
NotParker
1.4 / 5 (10) Mar 09, 2011
Other stories suggest ice sheets are growing from the bottom up and the guys who wrote this story weren't paying attention.
GSwift7
1.7 / 5 (9) Mar 09, 2011
@ sinister181:

Feel free to add you brilliant thoughts to the discussion, and point out where you seem to think I have posted in error. It's no fun to just down-rate a post without bothering to say why. I eagerly await the inspiration of your wise comments.
GSwift7
2.2 / 5 (9) Mar 09, 2011
The fact that the above article doesn't even mention the arctic oscillation patterns seems suspiciously misleading to me, but that's purely opinion based on the article. Perhaps the original research paper does a much better job than this press release, but this is "typical" reporting on these kinds of issues.
gwargh
2.8 / 5 (4) Mar 09, 2011
Other stories suggest ice sheets are growing from the bottom up and the guys who wrote this story weren't paying attention.

Care to back that up with data?
Sanescience
5 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2011
Everyone assumes this is an AGW issue, the article mentions nothing about AGW. I respect just reporting the numbers without making assumptions about why it is happening.
Howhot
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 09, 2011
Well to heck with the AGW deniers. Everything is going so fast that a 6 meter rise is easy by 2050. Perhaps 2025. It really depends on how much heat is trapped from all of the CO2 humans create and that has been dumped into the atmosphere for the past 10-20 years.

It's a lot, so global warming should be a lot. The two correlate very well.
NotParker
2 / 5 (4) Mar 10, 2011
"An International Polar Year aerogeophysical investigation of the high interior of East Antarctica reveals widespread freeze-on that drives significant mass redistribution at the bottom of the ice sheet. While surface accumulation of snow remains the primary mechanism for ice sheet growth, beneath Dome A 24% of the base by area is frozen-on ice. In some places, up to half the ice thickness has been added from below."

ht_delete_tp://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/03/09/antarctic-ice-models-not-correct-sea-level-rise-complicated/
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Mar 10, 2011
Everyone assumes this is an AGW issue, the article mentions nothing about AGW.


Well, they may not use that phrase, but the link is inferred. From the article:

dominant contributor to global sea level rise, much sooner than model forecasts have predicted


and

sea level is likely to be significantly higher than levels projected by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007


Also, in the conclusions, they say that if the current rate continues for the next 100 years then sea level will rise xx amount. That's an AGW assumption. Without AGW it's absurd to assume the short trend we've seen will continue.

I didn't mention AGW in my comments either, but people who support it rated my comments low, although my sources are credible studies by reputable organizations.
GSwift7
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 10, 2011
To Notparker and Gwargh:

The story about the ice refreezing from the bottom was covered here on this site too. It didn't say that the overall growth/shrinking of the ice sheet has been measured wrong. It just said that there's a mechanism they didn't know about that causes ice at the bottom to move around in ways they didn't expect, causing a change in the directions of flow in the ice sheet that isn't accounted for in the models. It also means that the ice at the bottom in certain places may not be the oldest ice, wich has implications on interpreting ice cores. It's a big deal for the people who model the ice flows and may be the missing piece that explains why they've had so much trouble modeling it up to now. We should get way better ice flow models now that they discovered this.

I'm waiting to see if they still think the oldest ice core samples are original ice as they previously thought, or if it could be refrozen. I'm pretty sure that's being looked at now.
MikeyK
5 / 5 (2) Mar 10, 2011
By the way. To Mikeyk:

Was that a deliberate joke, a minor typo, or are you actually confused about what El Nino and La Nina are, and what an unusually strong La Nina means?

La Nina is the cold surface phase, not the hot. The unusually strong La Nina we just had produced unusually cool sea surface temperatures......


No typo, just an illustration of the effects of global warming. The current La Nina, now fading, is showing its peak effects on tropospheric cooling the last two months. Global temperatures are at the same as the El Nino's in 1995 and just a little cooler than '91 and '88. As you say it was a particularly sharp La Nina so wouldn't one expect global temperatures to be much cooler than recent El Nino's? Here's Dr Roy Spencer's (one of Watt's friends)graph to illustrate
h___ttp://www.drroyspencer.com/wp-content/uploads/UAH_LT_1979_thru_Feb_2011.gif

GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Mar 10, 2011
Oh, okay. Now I understand your question, and it was a thoughtful question.

The answer is: No, global temperatures do not always follow the ENSO cycle. ENSO is just one of many regional events. The complicated ways that different combinations of all the cycles can come together on any given year is hard to predict (to the point of it being nearly chaotic in nature). The ENSO cycle alone doesn't predict the global temperature trend really.
Steven_J_Scannell
1 / 5 (2) Mar 10, 2011
I have solved the energy crisis, and global climate change. The system is a three fuel common denominator system for sustainable energy storage and shipment. I call the system The Tripe System read about it at my web page 11 pages illustrated. The unique thing about the system is that pipes transfer horsepower from offshore or any other green energy site, plains wind mills, geothermal, solar, and then the pipes come ashore, along the rail lines, in fact becoming new rail lines themselves. The track pipe system, or tripe, has multi conduits for broadband, natural gas, hydrogen, ORCA (oxygen rich compressed air), compressed air, water, sanitation (urine and gray) black water, gray etc. drainage water, etc. The comprehensive infrastructure system design has a two hundred year mindset. I'm on Cape Cod. Hyannis. I always figured the "global warming" was going to get us in hot water.
Skeptic_Heretic
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 10, 2011
Is there some sort of rank-botting going on here? Every comment, including the few factual comments, is sitting with an unusually low rank.

Just wtf is going on here?
GSwift7
2.5 / 5 (2) Mar 11, 2011
There are a small number of people with multiple accounts who get a kick out of ranking comments low. It could even be one person. If you look at my recent history, there are some good comments that received multiple 1/5 ratings. It's either just simple trolling, or it's someone with a socio-political agenda doing the usual discredit smear tactic.
GSwift7
3 / 5 (2) Mar 11, 2011
On that note, I read a very interresting article in a video game magazine last night. The magazine was GameInformer and the article was about a research paper recently published in a psychology journal. The storyline was that there's a guy who does research about obsessive gaming. Then the video game trade organization complained about his research, using the usual discredit smear tactics I mentioned in my previous post. The funny thing is that the video game magazine actually interviewed the researcher and was coming out on his side of the row. When they asked him whether he thinks video games are good or bad they guy quoted his father as saying the following: "there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who divide the world into two groups and those who don't."

I thought it was a funny quote and immediately saw how that relates to so many of the 1/5 comment raters on this site. If you don't agree with their philosophy then you get 1/5, even if you just asked a question.
gvgoebel
5 / 5 (1) Mar 12, 2011
WOT? Mannie Oliver hasn't weighed in on this one? He seems to think that "AGW hoax" makes a great segue to his "the Sun is really a big ball of iron" theory ... I don't think he really cares about AGW all that much.

To the AGW critics, I would have to think MO's contribution is about as welcome as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's is to the 9-11 Troother gang.
Alphakronik
1 / 5 (1) Mar 12, 2011
When every geologic scientist on the Earth says the #1 natural resource that will be warred over in the next 50 years is water, I can't see where this is a bad thing.

Rising sea levels = More rain fall = More potable drinking water for all.
Bitflux
not rated yet Mar 13, 2011
When every geologic scientist on the Earth says the #1 natural resource that will be warred over in the next 50 years is water, I can't see where this is a bad thing.

Rising sea levels = More rain fall = More potable drinking water for all.


So youre sure that the rising seawater wont seep ind and contaminate our drinking water ressources, actually leaving us with lesser drinking water?
Actually this global warming thing is pretty awesome - if it happens to be true, it will most probably fix it self, because humanity will perish. If it is wolfcrying, it will die out too.
Which makes me thinking that all this bickering is just a simple ego size dispute... or?
Steven_J_Scannell
not rated yet Mar 13, 2011
The fresh water tables are always higher than the sea level, even during higher tides, but not the occasional storm surge tide. There is a problem with some isolated lenses being over pumped and then that causing salt water intrusion. Yesterday I was working on designs that would get water from the Boston area to the Miami area using the Gulf stream current to pull the water in that direction, either vessels or pipe line undersea. Our sanitation systems are out dated to me and these need to be seen as water guzzlers, while the newer or older systems compost.
Steven_J_Scannell
not rated yet Mar 13, 2011
As sea level rise will indicate more surface, and higher temperature water, but what about the other inshore weather systems? Hotter dryer land masses dead plants and fires, will these dry the air? I would think so. It's like global warming and global shade from jets.
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Mar 13, 2011
It's like global warming and global shade from jets.

report abuse quote send PM
The contrail aspect that you're citing here was shown to have a net zero to miniscule positive feedback effect based on the day-night cycle.
Alphakronik
3 / 5 (2) Mar 13, 2011
When every geologic scientist on the Earth says the #1 natural resource that will be warred over in the next 50 years is water, I can't see where this is a bad thing.

Rising sea levels = More rain fall = More potable drinking water for all.


So youre sure that the rising seawater wont seep ind and contaminate our drinking water ressources, actually leaving us with lesser drinking water?
Actually this global warming thing is pretty awesome - if it happens to be true, it will most probably fix it self, because humanity will perish. If it is wolfcrying, it will die out too.
Which makes me thinking that all this bickering is just a simple ego size dispute... or?


What, you missed the record rain falls, and snow levels we are having now?

Is that sea water or fresh?
gvgoebel
5 / 5 (1) Mar 13, 2011
The contrail aspect that you're citing here was shown to have a net zero to miniscule positive feedback effect based on the day-night cycle.


Maybe that's not what he really means. It's all about the mind-control chemicals in the contrails, allowing the Illuminati to lull the "sheeple" into somnolence so they will buy AGW theories. Tinfoil-lined hats are no longer enough, people.

(Yes, I AM joking. I realize that considering some of the postings made on PSORG in all seriousness, it can be hard to tell.)
GSwift7
1.5 / 5 (2) Mar 14, 2011
The contrail aspect that you're citing here was shown to have a net zero to miniscule positive feedback effect based on the day-night cycle


No, it's been shown that what you say is likely, but those conclusions are not strong. The constraints on the magnitude of the effect are not well defined yet. The best data is only in temporate regions. Once again, you make it sound like certainty because a study says that it is likely. There's a difference between experimentally verified theory with strong mathimatical modeling and the contrail theory you are talking about. They are not sure yet, and that's the best you can say about that. Positive feedback? maybe. If it is a positive feedback, then that's good because it means that even less of the 20th century warming was due to co2 alone, so the fact that we can't stop creating co2 is slightly less troubling. ...If your contrail assertion is true.
Moebius
1 / 5 (2) Mar 14, 2011
we really see, by reading these brillant comments, why Americans are the most stupid people on earth.


We are not the most stupid people on earth but we are way ahead of number 2.

I hate to repeat myself but not only is global warming real and climate change caused almost solely by us but it is as bad or worse than the worst case predictions and we will see devastating effects before 2050, maybe well before.

The tsunami in Japan is a great analogy for how we do everything. Did they know tsunamis happen before they built those power plants on the shore? Could they have spent the billions, that they are now going to spend on rebuilding, beforehand on sea walls to prevent this damage to begin with? Do you honestly think the US will learn anything from this? All we do is retroact instead of proact. Thanks in no small part to idiot skeptics. We learn nothing from the past and are forever doomed to repeat it because we ARE stupid as a species and many live here in the US, too many.
Steven_J_Scannell
not rated yet Mar 14, 2011
Is it true that the net whole planet rainfall is up? I know some areas are experiencing long term drought and desertification. Other areas are having more floods?
group0
not rated yet Mar 14, 2011
Moebius,

"Do you honestly think the US will learn anything from this? All we do is retroact instead of proact. Thanks in no small part to idiot skeptics. We learn nothing from the past and are forever doomed to repeat it because we ARE stupid as a species and many live here in the US, too many."

I agree for the most part. The historical significance of your last paragraph is in print. It is easily accessible either from online sources or the local library and yet, here we are, essentially bound up in an endless loop not having learned from past mistakes.

As researchers, we find ourselves in the old 'publish or perish' cycle. That pressure is not always well tolerated and "think before you speak" or WRITE A PAPER doesn't always come into play. The 'politics' of scientific research are having a negative effect on what is printed and 'peer review' is not always what it should be.

The world is changing but it's inhabitants it seems, are not; at least in this regard.
MikeyK
not rated yet Mar 15, 2011
Oh, okay. Now I understand your question, and it was a thoughtful question.

The answer is: No, global temperatures do not always follow the ENSO cycle. ENSO is just one of many regional events. The complicated ways that different combinations of all the cycles can come together on any given year is hard to predict (to the point of it being nearly chaotic in nature). The ENSO cycle alone doesn't predict the global temperature trend really.

??? Global temperature doesn't follow ENSO cycles.....really?
h__ttp://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/hadcrut3vgl/scale:10/from:1900/mean:12/plot/jisao-pdo/mean:12
GSwift7
1 / 5 (1) Mar 15, 2011
That site doesn't have the ENSO index. You are looking at the PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscilation), not ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscilation). You just proved my point. The global temperature is not dependent on only ENSO, as demonstrated by your link showing the relationship between global temp and the PDO. Other long cycles are also strong influences on global mean temps. Please also note that if you look closely, the global temp does not follow the PDO exactly either.
MikeyK
not rated yet Mar 19, 2011
My bad using the correlation between PDO and ENSO tendencies to try and make a point. Perhaps these graphs will demonstrate it better.
This shows how ENSO affects temperatures in the tropics:
http/http://img264.imageshack.us/img264/4685/ensotropicsvg9.png
and this shows how the tropic temperatures affect global temperatures:
http/http://img23.imageshack.us/img23/1857/rsstropicsglobalqq9.png
Now thats what I call firm correlation!

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