Saturday, March 21, 2015

195.6 - Global warming: the evidence keeps mounting

Global warming: the evidence keeps mounting

Professor Wanless had it right: Denying climate change is criminal. Just criminal. It is gross criminal negligence. I haven't talked about climate change for some time, but that doesn't mean the evidence hasn't just kept on piling up.

For one example, a paper published on March 9 in the peer-review scientific journal Nature Climate Change concluded that global warming is poised to accelerate at rates unseen for at least 1,000 years. What's more, the Arctic, North America and Europe will be the first areas to transition to a new climate.

Over the past 1,000 years, temperatures have typically fluctuated up or down by about 0.2°F per decade. But over the past 40 years the trend has been upward at a rate approaching 0.4°F per decade, double the typical rate and just barely within historical bounds. By 2020, that rate should exceed those bounds and if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trend, the rate of warming will reach 0.7°F per decade and stay that high until at least 2100. This could mean an increase of something like four degrees Celsius by 2100 on top of the increase already seen: this is disaster territory.

We don't have to wait until then to see impacts of climate change - or at all, for that matter. There is evidence linking climate change to both the heavy snowfalls and blizzards in the east and northeast US this year and the extended heat and drought in California which has left the state with just one year's supply of water to climate change - an effect repeated on the other side of the globe, where climate change has also been linked to the devastating heat waves and droughts being seen by Australia.

And it promises to get worse: winter storms have been increasing in frequency and intensity since the 1950s while new research, published in the journal Science Advances last month, predicts that drought conditions unprecedented in 1,000 years are likely to hit the Southwest and Central Plains after 2050, with a more than 80 percent chance of a 35-year-or-longer "megadrought."

According to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, sea levels in the northeast US rose just under 4 inches in one year, between 2009 and 2010, a level called "unprecedented" in the history of the tide gauge record and is said to represent a 1-in-850 year event.

Greenland may now be warmer than at any point in the last 100,000 years and may well have passed a point of no return where natural feedback cycles will cause the rate of ice melt to accelerate - and that rate has already increased to six times what it was in 2001.

Meanwhile, two peer-reviewed studies from January predict that extreme versions of El Niño and La Niña will likely occur nearly twice as often as a result of global warming if greenhouse gases continue increasing on their current trajectory. That means that people living around the Pacific Ocean basin, including in parts of Asia, Australia, and western North and South America, should expect wilder climate swings in the future, including torrential rains alternating with searing droughts, with the prospect of tens of thousands more weather-related deaths and mass economic damage.

A study published last month in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, two zoologists studying parasites in drastically different environments - one in the Arctic, the other in the tropics - made the same discoveries: As climate change caused habitats to shift or disappear for certain species, parasites unexpectedly were able to "jump" to other species, species that will not have developed resistance to those parasites. At the same time, climate change will also open up new areas into which pathogens can spread. The result: The rate of, and the damage done by, outbreaks of diseases such as bird flu, cholera, Ebola, plague, tuberculosis, and others can be expected to increase.

To cap it all off, you know that so-called "pause" in global warming that the right-wing has been harping on for a while now ("There's been no warming in blah blah years!") - a pause that wasn't actually a pause but just a slower increase?

There is a reason for it: Research reported the end of February in the peer-reviewed journal Science found that the slowdown was caused by an interaction between two naturally-occurring oscillations of ocean winds and conditions, one affecting the Atlantic Ocean and one affecting the Pacific. Without getting into technical details, the result of the interaction was that excess heat has been getting piled up in the tropical waters of the western Pacific.

The results explain why ocean temperatures have been rising faster than anyone expected while land temperatures, the ones we normally hear about, have been rising slower than expected, creating the false so-called "pause" in global warming.

What this means in sum is that the effect of these natural oscillations has been to suppress the evidence of human-driving warming. As that Pacific oscillation moves out of one phase into another, as it now is appearing to do, Pacific trade winds will slacken so the heat will not get piled up in one area of the ocean but will be released to the air.

Which means that over the next few to several years we could well see a dramatic spike in global temperatures. Some have suggested that might convince some of the nanny-nanny naysayers about climate change. Maybe, but I've come to doubt it. Perhaps the bigger question is will we be ready when the spike comes. I doubt that as well. I am afraid I have become a pessimist about this.

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