Archive for the ‘Rising Ocean Levels’ Category

A Cut-and-Dry Forecast: U.S. Southwest’s Dry Spell May Become Long-Lasting and Intensify as Climate Change Takes Hold

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

A new analysis using a standard drought index augurs that by the end of the century devastating drought conditions will take hold over much of the populated areas of the world

Lake Mead, the massive reservoir created in the late 1930s by Hoover Dam on the Arizona–Nevada border, has dropped to its lowest level ever, it was reported earlier this month. The lake has been steadily growing shallower since drought began reducing the flow of its source, the Colorado River, starting in 2000 due to below-average snowfall in the Rockies.

It is still too early to know whether the situation at Lake Mead and recent droughts throughout the U.S. Southwest are due to anthropogenic global warming, says Aiguo Dai, an atmospheric scientist in the Climate and Global Dynamics Division of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. There is not enough data to rule out natural variability as the fundamental cause. But the decadelong dry spell is consistent with the predictions of models used in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) in 2007, which projected that warming of the planet would lead to long-term drying over the subtropics—the climatic regions adjacent to the tropics, ranging between about 20 and 40 degrees north and south latitude, which includes the Southwest.

It’s also consistent with a new analysis, authored by Dai, which forecasts that increasing dryness over the next several decades will eventually become devastatingly severe, with long-lasting drought predicted for most of Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East, most of the Americas, Australia, and Southeast Asia. Dai computed global values through the end of the century for a commonly used index of drought severity, using data from 22 models used by IPCC-AR4, under a middle-of the-road emissions scenario that assumes human-generated greenhouse gas emissions start reducing about 2050, and that atmospheric CO2 increases to 720 parts per million (we’re currently at around 380) by the end of the century.

Dai’s projections are helpful because they begin to bring into focus some of the water-related global warming consequences that may be upon us relatively soon, says Richard Seager, a senior research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont–Doherty Earth Observatory. Seager, who was not part of the study, was a co-author of a 2007 study inScience that analyzed the findings of the IPCC-AR4 models. “When the IPCC report came out in 2007, there was relatively little that looked at how these climate changes developed within the coming decades,” he says. But in Dai’s new figures, “you can see that even in the coming decades or so we’re already getting into some trouble in this regard.”

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UN climate talks in China end without breakthrough

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

UN climate talks in China have ended without a major breakthrough and with angry words about the US from Beijing.

At the talks in Tianjin, China blamed the US for failing to meet its responsibilities to cut emissions and for trying to overturn UN principles.

The US accused China of refusing to have its voluntary energy savings verified internationally.

But there was some progress toward the next round of climate talks in Mexico in November.

There are hopes that the meeting in Cancun could agree details of a fund to transfer $100bn (£63bn) a year from rich countries to help poor nations cope with the projected consequences of climate change.

That sum is described by developing nations as substantial but inadequate.

‘Preening pig’

It has been the old deadlock in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin during the week-long talks.

China feels unfairly criticised by the US.

On Saturday, one of the Chinese climate negotiators reportedly accused the US of behaving like a preening pig, complaining about Beijing when Washington had done so little itself.

The head of the US delegation, Jonathan Pershing, was more diplomatic.

But he said that there could be no US signature on any binding deal that did not also bind China – America’s superpower rival.

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Canada senate kills climate bill ahead of UN summit

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has defeated a climate change bill calling for cuts in CO2 emissions.

Conservatives killed the motion backed by opposition parties 13 days before a UN climate change summit is held in Cancun.

The bill called for a reduction of greenhouse gases in the country by 25% from 1990 levels.

Canada’s House of Commons originally passed the legislation last year.

It was then reintroduced in May and passed again, before being struck down by the Conservative-led Senate late on Tuesday.

“This is a very sad day for Canada, for the environment, and for the role of Canada in the international stage on dealing with the crisis of climate change,” said New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, adding that he was appalled by the Senate’s decision.

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A billion people will lose their homes due to climate change, says report

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

British scientists will warn Cancún summit that entire nations could be flooded

Devastating changes to sea levels, rainfall, water supplies, weather systems and crop yields are increasingly likely before the end of the century, scientists will warn tomorrow.

A special report, to be released at the start of climate negotiations in Cancún, Mexico, will reveal that up to a billion people face losing their homes in the next 90 years because of failures to agree curbs on carbon emissions.

Up to three billion people could lose access to clean water supplies because global temperatures cannot now be stopped from rising by 4C.

“The main message is that the closer we get to a four-degree rise, the harder it will be to deal with the consequences,” said Dr Mark New, a climate expert at Oxford University, who organised a recent conference entitled “Four Degrees and Beyond” on behalf of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. Tomorrow the papers from the meeting will be published to coincide with the start of the Cancún climate talks.

A key feature of these papers is that they assume that even if global carbon emission curbs were to be agreed in the future, these would be insufficient to limit global temperature rises to 2C this century – the maximum temperature rise agreed by politicians as acceptable. “To have a realistic chance of doing that, the world would have to get carbon emissions to peak within 15 years and then follow this up with a massive decarbonisation of society,” said Dr Chris Huntingford, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Oxfordshire.

Few experts believe this is a remotely practical proposition, particularly in the wake of the failure of the Copenhagen climate talks last December – a point stressed by Bob Watson, former head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and now chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As he put it: “Two degrees is now a wishful dream.”

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Nature’s sting: The real cost of damaging Planet Earth

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

You don’t have to be an environmentalist to care about protecting the Earth’s wildlife.

Just ask a Chinese fruit farmer who now has to pay people to pollinate apple trees because there are no longer enough bees to do the job for free.

And it’s not just the number of bees that is dwindling rapidly – as a direct result of human activity, species are becoming extinct at a rate 1,000 times greater than the natural average.

The Earth’s natural environment is also suffering.

In the past few decades alone, 20% of the oceans’ coral reefs have been destroyed, with a further 20% badly degraded or under serious threat of collapse, while tropical forests equivalent in size to the UK are cut down every two years.

These statistics, and the many more just like them, impact on everyone, for the very simple reason that we will all end up footing the bill.

Costing nature

For the first time in history, we can now begin to quantify just how expensive degradation of nature really is.

A recent, two-year study for the United Nations Environment Programme, entitled The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Teeb), put the damage done to the natural world by human activity in 2008 at between $2tn (£1.3tn) and $4.5tn.

At the lower estimate, that is roughly equivalent to the entire annual economic output of the UK or Italy.

A second study, for the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), puts the cost considerably higher. Taking what research lead Dr Richard Mattison calls a more “hard-nosed, economic approach”, corporate environmental research group Trucost estimates the figure at $6.6tn, or 11% of global economic output.

This, says Trucost, compares with a $5.4tn fall in the value of pension funds in developed countries caused by the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008.

Of course these figures are just estimates – there is no exact science to measuring humans’ impact on the natural world – but they show that the risks to the global economy of large-scale environmental destruction are huge.

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Government Report Forecasts 43% Rise in Global CO2 Emissions by 2035

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) released a report summary earlier this week projecting a 43 percent rise in global carbon emission by 2035 under current policies and expected economic and population growth, particularly from developing countries.

The EIA summary says that emissions will rise from 29.7 billion metric tons in 2007 to 42.2 billion tons in 2035, with world energy consumption rising 49 percent.

Most of that increasing energy demand will come from developing countries, rising 84 percent and doubling their greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. Energy consumption in the developed world will increase by 14 percent as emissions remain close to current levels, according to the report.

In 2007, industrialized nations contributed about half the world’s carbon emissions. By 2035, that share will drop to about one third, as developing world economies quickly expand.

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Government review to examine threat of world resources shortage

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Study commissioned following sharp rises in commodity prices on world markets and food riots in some countries

[British] Ministers have ordered a review of looming global shortages of resources, from fish and timber to water and precious metals, amid mounting concern that the problem could hit every sector of the economy.

The study has been commissioned following sharp rises in many commodity prices on the world markets and recent riots in some countries over food shortages.

There is also evidence that some nations are stockpiling important materials, buying up key producers and land and restricting exports in an attempt to protect their own businesses from increasingly fierce global competition.

Several research projects have also warned of a pending crisis in natural resources, such as water and wildlife, which have suffered dramatic losses due to over-use, pollution, habitat loss, and, increasingly, changes caused by global warming.

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– research thanks to Tony H.

Senior military leaders announce support for climate bill

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

33 generals, admirals: “Climate change is making the world a more dangerous place” and “threatening America’s security”

The Pentagon affirmed earlier this year that “Climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked.”

Today an unprecedented 33 retired US military generals and admirals announced that they support comprehensive climate and energy legislation in a letter to Senators Reid and McConnell as well as a full page ad.  The news release points out:

It was the largest such announcement of support ever, reflecting the consensus of the national security community that climate change and oil dependence pose a threat American security.

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Enough is enough, say climate scientists

Monday, May 10th, 2010

A group of climate change scientists who are convinced mankind is slowly destroying the Earth have written an impassioned plea to be taken seriously.

255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences have written an open letter to the Guardian newspaper in the UK, in defence of climate research.

The letter begins by admitting that scientific findings are not always one hundred per cent accurate. And it acknowledges that pioneers like Galileo, Pasteur, Darwin, and Einstein achieved their lofty reputations by challenging what was – at the time – conventional scientific wisdom.

However, the letter goes on to say, there are certain things that are so universally accepted that they can now be considered ‘facts’: our planet is about 4.5bn years old (the theory of the origin of Earth), that our universe was born from a single event about 14bn years ago (the Big Bang theory), and that today’s organisms evolved from ones living in the past (the theory of evolution).

Anthropogenic (ie, caused by man) climate change should be listed among these “certainties” of science, the letter claims.

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Geologists Drill into Antarctica and Find Troubling Signs for Ice Sheets’ Future

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Modeler and geologist Robert DeConto of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, says the policy implications are grim. “Our models may be dramatically underestimating how much worse it’s going to get,” he says, noting that many population centers worldwide are within a few meters of sea level. Looking at signs of meltwater in the early Miocene, DeConto says, “we’re seeing ice retreat faster and more dramatically than any model predicts.”

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New sediment cores from an Antarctic research drilling program suggest that the southernmost continent has had a more dynamic history than previously suspected

ERICE, Italy—If you think of Earth’s poles as fraternal twins, the Arctic has been the wild one in recent years, while the Antarctic has been a steady plodder. Withered by summer heat, Arctic sea ice has shrunk to record low coverage several times since 2005, only to rebound to within 95 percent of its long-term average extent this winter. By comparison, Antarctica, with some 90 percent of the world’s glacial reserves, has generally shed ice in more stately fashion.

However, emerging evidence from an Antarctic geological research drilling program known as ANDRILL suggests that the southernmost continent has had a much more dynamic history than previously suspected—one that could signal an abrupt shrinkage of its ice sheets at some unknown greenhouse gas threshold, possibly starting in this century. Especially troubling, scientists see evidence in the geological data that could mean the vast East Antarctic Ice Sheet, which holds at least four-fifths of the continent’s ice, is less resistant to melting than previously thought.

ANDRILL, a collaboration among scientists from Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the U.S., obtained the evidence from a 3,734-foot-long core extracted in 2007 from the seafloor on the southern McMurdo Sound, near Antarctica’s Ross Island.

A prior core, extracted from the McMurdo Ice Shelf between October 2006 and January 2007, indicated that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet has frequently advanced and retreated. As ANDRILL scientists met here April 6-11 to integrate core results, the geologists and climate modelers pondered the hints of dynamism observed in the much larger East Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Contrary to what climate simulations suggest, David Harwood, the program’s co-chief scientist, says, “nature seems to give us a record that the ice sheets are coming and going.”

The southern McMurdo Sound core yielded clear evidence of some 74 cycles of ice sheet buildup and retreat during a 6-million-year stretch starting in the Miocene Epoch some 20 million years ago. The unexpected ice-sheet dynamism has ANDRILL climate modelers considering what input or software adjustments would make the simulation produce the kind of dynamism seen in the geological record. Their model currently indicates that even if the imperiled West Antarctic Ice Sheet succumbs to current warming trends, the much larger East sheet should stubbornly resist melting. According to the simulation, the East ice sheet melts only when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are at least eight times higher than preindustrial levels. The ice sheet’s so-called hysteresis, or resistance to change, is now in doubt.

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– research thanks to Tony H.