Earth Headed for Global Warming Catastrophe
By Michael T. Neuman
Summary: A leading worldwide climate research institute in Hamburg, Germany predicted last month that the Earth is heading for a climate catastrophe in the next 100 years, with sea ice in the North Pole region predicted to completely melt in summer and extreme weather events increasing in both frequency and strength.
The study is being followed up this week by the release of a report from the UK's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to the presidency of the European Union, on the impact of climate change on migratory species. The report details and predicts major losses in many of the world's animal populations with continued global warming.
The releases come on the heels of another release issued by National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), a part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder, which has reported that summer Arctic sea ice fell far below average for the fourth year, with winter ice seeing sharp declines, and spring melts beginning much earlier that even 10 years ago.
Meanwhile, the US mainstream media and government continue to abdicate their responsibility to appropriately inform and alert Americans to the growing threat of global warming, as well as the need for timely and responsive change to slow global warming through massive reductions in fuel burning and other greenhouse gas releasing sources.
Text: According to the climate prediction calculations of scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, over the next century the climate will change more quickly than it ever has in the recent history of the earth.
Researchers from the institute said computer simulation at the German High Performance Computing Center for Climate and Earth System Research has shown that average global temperature would rise by 4.1¡ Celsius (¡C) by 2100, or roughly 7 times the global average surface warming rate over the 20th century of 0.6¡C.
Increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases originating from human activities including fossil fuel burning are changing the radiation budget of the earth. The accumulation of such gases in the atmosphere is predicted to continue rising for the foreseeable future.
As a consequence of the higher buildup of greenhouse "heat-trapping" gases in the atmosphere, the global mean temperature rises. The scientists expect that under certain conditions, sea ice in the arctic will completely melt. In Europe, summers will be drier and warmer, and this will affect agriculture. The winters will become warmer and wetter. Another consequence of the heated atmosphere will be extreme events like heavy precipitation with floods. Sea level could rise on average by as many as 30 centimeters (11.81 inches).
Expressing concern at the findings, Klaus Toepfer, who heads of the United Nations Environment Program, said that the study's results underlined the need to address the issue immediately, especially in wake of recent anomalies shown by the weather throughout the world.
The Max Planck Institute for Meteorology is one of the leading worldwide climate research facilities. The results of the research were presented to media representatives at a press conference held September 29, 2005 in Hamburg.
The National Snow and Ice Date Center (NSIDC) says Arctic temperatures have increased significantly in recent decades. Compared to the past 50 years, average surface air temperatures from January through August, 2005, were 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than average across most of the Arctic Ocean. In Alaska last week, satellite images released by two US universities and the space agency NASA revealed that the amount of sea-ice cover over the polar ice cap has fallen dramatically over the past four years.
The persistence of near-record low extents leads the group to conclude that Arctic sea ice is likely on an accelerating, long-term decline.
This summer, the legendary Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic from Europe to Asia was completely open except for a 60-mile swath of scattered ice floes. In earlier centuries, whole expeditions were lost as their crews tried to beat through thick ice and bitter cold. The Northeast Passage, north of the Siberian coast, was completely ice-free from August 15 through September 28.
Global sea level is strongly influenced by atmospheric and ocean water temperatures. Aside from precipitation, the melting of large ice sheets over land (Greenland, Antarctic, mountain glaciers) and thermal expansion of sea water are cited as the two main reasons why increasing sea levels are predicted with global warming.
Since the ocean is able to store large amounts of heat, the sea level will continue to rise even after the concentrations of the different greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are not increasing any more.
Regional differences in the sea level changes are caused by changes of the ocean circulation and the hydrologic cycle (precipitation minus evaporation). In the high southern latitudes changes of the sea level during the 21st century are comparatively small; in the Arctic Ocean, however, sea level rises more than twice as much relative to the global mean, due to an increasing fresh water influx from rivers and precipitation.
Almost mirroring predictions made by the Union of Concerned Scientists for various regions of the US, the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology predicts summers in Europe will be drier and warmer, while winters will become warmer and wetter. It is expected that the sea ice in the North Pole region will completely melt in the summer.
Since 2002, satellite records have also revealed that springtime melting is beginning unusually early in the areas north of Alaska and Siberia. The 2005 melt season arrived even earlier, beating the mean melt onset date by approximately 17 days, this time throughout the Arctic.
The reports show a remarkable consistency with "Earlier in the Year Snowmelt Runoff and Increasing Dewpoints for Rivers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota." by Twin Cities area hydrologist Patrick J. Neuman, who found the date of first annual snowmelt in 3 major river basins in the Northern Great Plains and the headwaters of the Upper Mississippi River System has jumped back 3 weeks, on average, in the last 50 years.
The trend in sea ice decline, lack of winter recovery, early onset of spring melting, and warmer-than-average temperatures suggest a system that is trapped in a loop of positive feedbacks, in which responses to inputs into the system cause it to shift even further away from normal, claims Roger Barry of the National Snow & Ice Data Center located at the University of Colorado.
One of these positive feedbacks centers on increasingly warm temperatures. Serreze explained that as sea ice declines because of warmer temperatures, the loss of ice is likely to lead to still- further ice losses. Sea ice reflects much of the sun's radiation back into space, whereas dark ice-free ocean absorbs more of the sun's energy. As sea ice melts, Earth's overall albedo, the fraction of energy reflected away from the planet, decreases. The increased absorption of energy further warms the planet.
"Feedbacks in the system are starting to take hold," argues NSIDC Lead Scientist Ted Scambos. Moreover, these feedbacks could change our estimate of the rate of decline of sea ice. "Right now, our projections for the future use a steady linear decline, but when feedbacks are involved the decline is not necessarily steady. It could pick up speed."
"Almost everywhere on earth, the forestry industry will have to husband different types of trees than it has until now", says Dr. Erich Roeckner, the project leader of the model calculations in Hamburg.
Of even more significance than the impacts of global warming on forestry will be the impacts on the world's animal populations. A report that's being presented to the UK Presidency of the European Union this week in Aviemore, Scotland by the UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs finds that: four out of five migratory birds listed by the UN face problems ranging from lower water tables to increased droughts, spreading deserts and shifting food supplies in their crucial "fueling stations" as they migrate; one-third of turtle nesting sites in the Caribbean -- home to diminishing numbers of green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles -- would be swamped by a sea level rise of 50cm (20ins); shallow waters used by the endangered Mediterranean monk seal, dolphins, dugongs and manatees will slowly disappear; whales, salmon, cod, penguins and kittiwakes are being affected by shifts in distribution and abundance of krill and plankton, which has declined in places to a hundredth or thousandth of former numbers because of warmer sea-surface temperatures; and fewer chiffchaffs, blackbirds, robins and song thrushes are migrating from the UK due to warmer winters while egg- laying is also getting two to three weeks earlier than 30 years ago, showing a change in the birds' biological clocks.
John Keogak, 47, an Inuvialuit from Canada's North-West Territories, hunts polar bears, seals, caribou and musk ox. "The polar bear is part of our culture," he said. "They use the ice as a hunting ground for the seals. If there is no ice there is no way the bears will be able to catch the seals." He said the number of bears was decreasing and feared his children might not be able to hunt them. He said: "There is an earlier break-up of ice, a later freeze-up. Now it's more rapid. Something is happening."
Stranded polar bears are drowning in large numbers as they try to swim hundreds of miles to find increasingly scarce ice floes. Local hunters find their corpses floating on seas once coated in a thick skin of ice.
It is a phenomenon that frightens the native people that live around the Arctic. Many fear their children will never know the polar bear. "The ice is moving further and further north," said Charlie Johnson, 64, an Alaskan Nupiak from Nome, in the state's far west. "In the Bering Sea the ice leaves earlier and earlier. On the north slope, the ice is retreating as far as 300 or 400 miles offshore."
Last year, hunters found half a dozen bears that had drowned about 200 miles north of Barrow, on Alaska's northern coast. "It seems they had tried to swim for shore ... A polar bear might be able to swim 100 miles but not 400."
"Global warming is a reality for the Inuit. They see major changes affecting their lifestyle, with earlier springs, warmer summers and later falls", says Arctic explorer Will Steger. "They used to dry their meat and fish in the summer, but now it gets so warm that the meat rots. There also is the migration of southern species -animals, fish, even insects.
And now there is evidence that polar bears are facing an unusual competitor -- the grizzly bear. As the sub-Arctic tundra and wastelands thaw, the grizzly is moving north, colonizing areas where they were previously unable to survive. Life for Alaska's polar bears is rapidly becoming very precarious.
Already listed as "critically endangered." only about 700 mountain gorillas, including the distinctively marked adult male silverbacks, migrate within the cloud forests of the volcanic Virunga mountains of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. After a century of human persecution it faced extinction. Now its unique but marginal mountain forests -- already heavily reduced by forestry -- are shrinking, because of climate change. It will be forced to climb higher for cooler climates, but will effectively run out of mountain.
Across Africa, habitats are shifting as temperatures rise, or disappearing in droughts, affecting the migrations of millions of wildebeest, and savannah elephant and Thomson's gazelle.
The number of male green turtles is falling because of rising temperatures, threatening their survival. Turtle nests need a temperature of precisely 28.8C to hatch even numbers of males and females.
The migration of the sperm whale, one of the earth's largest mammals, made famous by Herman Melville's epic Moby-Dick, is closely linked to the squid, its main food source. Squid numbers are affected by warmer water and weather phenomena such as El Ni–o. Adult male sperm whales up to 20 m long like cold water in the disappearing ice-packs. Warm water cuts sperm whale reproduction because food supplies fall. Around the Galapagos Islands, a fall in births is linked to higher sea surface temperatures. Plankton and krill, key foods for many cetaceans such as the pilot whale, have in some regions declined 100- fold in warmer water.
Europe's most senior ecologists and conservationists are meeting in Aviemore, in the Scottish Highlands for a conference on the impact of climate change on migratory species, an event organized by the British government as part of its presidency of the European Union. Aviemore's major winter employer - skiing - is a victim of warmer winters. Ski slopes in the Cairngorms, which once had snow caps year round on the highest peaks, have recently been closed down when the winter snow failed. The snow bunting, ptarmigan and dotterel - some of Scotland's rarest birds - are also given little chance of survival as their harsh and marginal winter environments disappear.
The report being presented in Aviemore reveals this is a pattern being repeated around the world. In the sub-Arctic tundra, caribou are threatened by "multiple climate change impacts." Deeper snow at higher latitudes makes it harder for caribou herds to travel. Faster and more regular "freeze-thaw" cycles make it harder to dig out food under thick crusts of ice-covered snow. Wetter and warmer winters are cutting calving success, and increasing insect attacks and disease.
The same holds true for migratory wading birds such as the red knot and the northern seal. The endangered spoon-billed sandpiper, too, faces extinction, the report says. They are of "key concern". It says that species "cannot shift further north as their climates become warmer. They have nowhere left to go ... We can see, very clearly, that most migratory species are drifting towards the poles."
"The habitats of migratory species most vulnerable to climate change were found to be tundra, cloud forest, sea ice and low-lying coastal areas", the report states. "Increased droughts and lowered water tables, particularly in key areas used as 'staging posts' on migration, were also identified as key threats stemming from climate change."
In many areas, it is the increase in extreme weather events that has posed the greatest environmental as well as economic threat. Scientists nationwide have recently compiled evidence suggesting the intensity and frequency of hurricanes are related to global warming. Several studies recently published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgia Tech's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences show that there is a significant statistical relationship between the number of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes in the past few decades and the overall rising temperature of the ocean.
The decimation Hurricane Katrina has brought to Louisiana, Mississippi and parts of Alabama has sparked increasing scientific concerns about the threat of global warming to the United States. According to the National Climate Data System, Hurricane Katrina was one of the strongest storms to impact the coast of the United States during the last 100 years. Katrina's losses, in terms of human lives and social-economic property loss, have yet to be fully tabulated. As of Monday, the death toll in Louisiana alone stood at 964.
Yet many people in the US remain uninformed or misinformed about the threat of global warming and the urgency of dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sources in the US, which emits fully one-quarter of the world's greenhouse gases from human activity.
The American corporation-funded media and government at all levels in the US have abdicated their responsibilities to properly inform citizens of the United States of the growing crisis of global warming and the need for swift and magnanimous action to slow it before the grave threats associated with it become reality. Corporate controlled media and government in the US have become overly influenced by lobbyists for the oil, coal and fossil fuel dependent industries who have a vested interest in not slowing down fuel burning. As a result, many Americans have been misled into believing the severity of the global warming problem is less than what the scientific community has been predicting since 1995 when the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its first report that recognizes the problem.
"Unless we change direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed."
- Chinese proverb
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