Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises from the National Academies Press focuses on the possibility that climate change will not only be a drawn-out process, but that there will come a “tipping point” when sudden changes will have a significant effect on the environment. The report advocates the establishment of an Abrupt Climate Change Warning System (ACEWS) that would that would monitor certain natural processes, such as the growth of coral reefs, the Gulf Stream, the melting of ice caps, etc. and alert us when these detectors drastically change for the worse. (Chapter 4) The report ends thusly: “An ACEWS need not be overly expensive and need not be created from scratch, as many resources now exist that can contribute, but the time is here to be serious about the threat of tipping points so as to better anticipate and better prepare ourselves for the inevitable surprises.”(131) It is supplemented by a 47-page bibliography. Other sites of relevance: Abrupt Climate Change (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute); How Abrupt Can Climate Change Be? (USGS); and Abrupt Climate Change (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory). Reportage at: NPR; National Geographic; The New York Times; and Science Daily.
Archive for Climate Change
Towers Watson, a risk management company, has just issued its Extreme Risks 2013 report that lists “resource scarcity” (food/water/energy) as the most pressing problem of the day. As the report states: “At the top of our ranking is food/water/energy crisis (S2). This is primarily driven by our assessment that this is one of the most likely risks and that there is relatively little uncertainty attached to either the likelihood or the consequences.”(14) This category of “resource scarcity” jumped from tenth place on the previous list to the first.
According to this Rutgers report – The Impact of Superstorm Sandy on New Jersey Townships and Households - “…in the long term, New Jersey municipalities remain as vulnerable, if not more, to the next disaster due to the lack of investment in hazard mitigation and repair of aging infrastructure much of which was further impaired by Sandy; the total bill for these items is $25 billion.”(5-6) This report pinpoints what communities suffered the most (the Community Hardship Index, 73+) and which populations were most impacted (the Household Hardship Index, 67+). An interactive version of both these indexes is found here along with other socioeconomic data. The report does show that those families below, at, or just above the poverty level were harmed the most.(30+)This is a comprehensive report that should be used for future planning. Speaking of future planning, a coalition of environmental groups has issued report cards on the main players in the state’s response to Sandy; the Governor gets an “F”. And why are households still waiting for promised help? Please look at this report from WNYC. The Bergen Record’s Superstorm Sandy: One Year Later is must reading. Climate Central ‘s Surging Seas site shows the Jersey shore and points inland have a 1 in 6 chance of flooding by 2020.
This report – Explaining Extreme Events of 2012 From a Climate Perspective – examines twelve weather events, such as the Iberian drought, Hurricane Sandy, and the Australian heavy rainfall, to see what impact climate change may have played. International research teams, using differing methodologies, analyzed each event and came to the conclusion that ”…different events had very different causes. Approximately half the analyses found some evidence that anthropogenically caused climate change was a contributing factor to the extreme event examined, though the effects of natural fluctuations of weather and climate on the evolution of many of the extreme events played key roles as well.” (iv) How this report impacts our area can be read about at Climate Central.
More formally titled as Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Strategy, this document essentially tells us that more superstorms are on the way, and that a combination of federal, state, and local agencies is necessary to coordinate recovery, rebuilding, and reshaping of the landscape. A term repeatedly used is “resilience,” or the ability to bounce back from horrific damage to infrastructure, housing, and the environment. Recommendations are made in many areas, from strenghtening the electrical grids and internet connectivity to providing for a hold on foreclosure activities in devastated areas. Each recommendation is accompanied by background information, the lead agency/agencies, and current status. A valuable planning document. Analyses/reports can be found at: The Wall Street Journal, The Star-Ledger, Brookings Institution, Sierra Club – New Jersey Chapter, and New Jersey Future.
That’s according to the State of the Climate in 2012 report (37+MB) based on the work of hundreds of scientists from 52 countries. Some observations as culled from the abstract: “…frigid conditions in parts of northern Africa, eastern Europe, and western Asia. A lack of rain during the 2012 wet season led to the worst drought in at least the past three decades for northeastern Brazil. Central North America also experienced one of its most severe droughts on record….Overall, the 2012 average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces ranked among the 10 warmest years on record. The global land surface temperature alone was also among the 10 warmest on record. In the upper atmosphere, the average stratospheric temperature was record or near-record cold, depending on the dataset.” (Highlights of the report are available.) Many countries and areas of the globe have their own section, many with sidebars such as “billion dollar weather and climate disasters: 2012 in context” in the United States section.(151) Filled with graphs, charts, bibliography, and statistical analyses, this document makes a powerful case for validating anthropogenic climate change mechanisms.(31) Reportage is at: Earth Scientists Pin Climate Change Squarely on “Humanity”(NPR); and For U.S., 2012 Was Hottest Year on Record: NCDC (Weather Channel).
A combination of drought, less runoff from decreased amounts of snow, and a growing population have all resulted in the Middle East losing a tremendous amount of water over the past decade. This has been discovered by NASA’s GRACE satellites.(UPDATE: the full text of the study is available online.) This Yale site provides additional information as do these sites: Smithsonian, Utilities-me.com (read this article posted there – “UAE bans export of groundwater”), and Phys.org.
And that is going back over 100 years! For the contiguous United States, this past month has been exceedingly hot according to this report – State of the Climate, July 2012 – from NOAA. In New Jersey, July 2012 proved to be the 6th hottest July on record, while the Jan-July 2012 period is the hottest in New Jersey ever. As far as drought conditions in New Jersey go, 47% of the state is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, according to the U.S.Drought Monitor. Weather extremes for New Jersey monitoring stations are here, with some records going to the late 19th century.
This special issue of The Economist – The Melting North – makes for grim reading indeed. The northern polar cap is melting at an unprecedented rate and alien species are encroaching this territory. Graphs and charts supplement this section, and it is accompanied by a source list, some of which are directly accessible in full text online. The report ends with these words: “… the worst outcomes of a warmer Arctic can still be avoided. The shrinking ice cap may find a new equilibrium. Most of the permafrost may remain frozen. But the Arctic will nonetheless be radically changed, to the detriment of a unique polar biome. This much is already inevitable.” Some recent work on climate change include: A Brief History of Climate Change and Conflict (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists); Insights from past millennia into climatic impacts on human health and survival (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences); Sea level rise, storms, and global warming’s threat to the U.S. coast (Climate Central); and The Heat is On: U.S. Temperature Trends (Climate Central).
If you read these two research articles in conjunction with this interactive map, and if you consult various state reports ( here is New Jersey), you will see that selected lower parts of Jersey City have an “Over 1 in 6 chance sea level rise + storm surge + tide will overtop+1ft by 2020 at nearest flood risk indicator site: The Battery – New York Harbor, 2.8miles away. ” And by 2030, many cities face an increased risk of catastropic flooding. You can search for thousands of coastal cities to find the impact of rising seas. A very informative basics section takes you through the research and methodologies involved; the “links” take you to among other sites, a special issue on sea level from the June 2011 issue of Oceanography. This article from The New York Times provides a good overview.
In a entry more than three years ago, we wrote of the effects of climate change, especially in Africa, on national security. Our observations have now been reinforced by the release of Trends and Implications of Climate Change for National and International Security from the Defense Science Board. This report does not deal with stopping or combating climate change, but rather concentrates “on the need to manage consequences”(vii) The devastating results of climate change are readily apparent in Africa where the inability to secure adequate amounts of potable water have led to destabilizing conflicts.(47) Water, or more precisely, the lack of water, is highlighted on pages 51-57; a list of recommendations will be found on pages xvi-xxii. A sobering read. Suggested additional readings: Africa Water Atlas (United Nations, 2010); Africa’s Water Crisis and the U.S. Response (House Hearings, 2007); Africa (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007); Water Security for Development: Insights from African Partnerships in Action (Global Water Partnership, 2010); Conflict, Climate Change, and Water Security in Sub-Saharan Africa (Peace and Conflict Monitor, 2011); Climate Change and Africa (African Partnership Forum, 2007); “Water Sector Governance in Africa,” volume 1 and volume 2 (African Development Bank, 2010); and The Brewing Storm? Climate Change, Rainfall, and Social Conflict in Africa (Strauss center, 2011).
As floodwaters inundate Bangkok, with more than a third of the country underwater, and with basic water/sanitation facilities rapidly deteriorating, it would do us well to re-read this important document, Climate Risks and Adaptation in Asian Coastal Megacities: A Synthesis Report. A joint report from the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, and Japan International Cooperation Agency, it examines the climate-related risks and remediation projects which cities along the coast or at sea level need to undertake; three megacities are included in the analysis: Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Manila. Another coastal megacity, Shanghai, is already sinking, and islands in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean have already vanished. And these problems are not limited to foreign lands; please read the New York State Sea Level Rise Task Force: Report to the Legislature. (FYI, online maps of the flooding from various sources are available.)
This annual report - State of the Climate in 2010 – presents extensive reportings and observations from around the world and places them in historical context. This almost 300 page report is replete with maps, charts. and figures. A highlights document distills most of the major findings; the report itself can be searched by chapters – chapter 7 covers North America. Previous years are accessible here. For a more local flavor, visit the Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist (on the left side of the page look for the “NJ” section where climate information is found with some records going back to 1895.) For those wanting to peruse older volumes (1890 to 1905) from the New Jersey Weather Service, please visit here.
This NOAA site provides a great deal of information on this season’s devastating series of outbreaks. Did you know that the United States accounts for 3/4 of all tornadoes worldwide; that the Fujita Scale for measuring a tornado’s strength actually has an F6 designation for a storm of “inconceivable damage” with winds of 319-379 mph; or that New Jersey has experienced 146 tornadoes between 1950 and 2011? Other information can be found at: The New York Times, HowStuffWorks, NPR, PBS, USA Today, Joplin Globe, and The Oklahoman.
It’s not like climate change has disappeared, right? The United States recently submitted to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) the mandated fifth Climate Action Report that details what specific measures this country is undertaking to mitigate this major problem. Any country that is a member of the UNFCCC must submit reports every 3 to 5 years; these countries’ reports, almost all in English, can also be read (there are hundreds of them). In 2008, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) was directed by Congress to enter into climate change studies with the National Academy of Sciences and produce reports within two years. The first three are now available: Advancing the Science of Climate Change, Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change, and Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change. Other related books from the NAS are also available. A U.S.-centric Chronology of the International Climate Change Negotiations from CRS provides both a timeline as well as explanations of the various international protocols, accords, and action plans focused on climate change. For a more global perspective, look at The World Bank’s 2010 Development Report entitled Development and Climate Change.
The whole series of rather amazing photos are here. Click on each image for additional narrative information, hyperlinks, and references.
“Early in March there seemed to be a general upheaval of the earth in the whole central portion of the island….They split open at the top and vomited forth their burning contents upon the surface around them….Several hundred persons are also reported to have perished….To show the distance to which volcanic materials may be carried by the wind…the west coast of Norway…was found covered with a pretty thick blanket of dust….” Such are some of the observations contained in the book An American in Iceland: an acount of its scenery, people and history published in 1876(for those who like direct sources, the above quotes are found on pages 265-266). These words are verified by a London Times article reprinted in the August 23, 1875 issue of The New York Times entitled “Iceland; Woes of a Much-Tried Country” : “About 11 A.M. [Easter Monday, March 29, 1875]candles had to be lighted in houses; by noon the blackness was so close that out of doors a man could not distinguish the fingers of his hand at a few inches from the eye….” The article goes on to describe the ash coating everything up to a depth of eight inches. Both of these references are describing the Askja eruption, one of the largest in modern times. However, it pales in comparison to what is referred to as the Laki or Hecla or more properly the Grimsvotn eruption that produced the world’s largest known lava flow, devastated crops and animal herds and killed one-fifth of Iceland’s population. This explosion threw 122 megatons of sulfur dioxide into the lower atmosphere where steered by winds, it descended on England in the form of a “dry fog.” The writer William Cowper describes it this way: “A foggy summer is likely to be attended with a sickly autumn; such multitudes are indisposed by fevers in this country…the labourers having been almost every day carried out of the field incapable of work; and many die.” In another letter he observes that : “The epidemic begins to be more mortal as the autum comes on….In Bedfordshire it is reported, how truly however I cannot say, to be nearly as fatal as the plague.”(Works of William Cowper, volume 3. 1854, pp.38-40.) Even the American polymath Benjamin Franklin who was in Europe at the time observed that: “During several of the summer months of the year 1783, when the effect of the sun’s rays to heat the earth in these northern regions should have been greater, there existed a constant fog over all Europe, and great part of North America.” He went on to speculate over the origins of this “fog” and opined that it might be caused by”…the vast quantity of smoke, long continuing; to issue during the summer from Hecla in Iceland….” (“Meteorological Imaginations and Observations” from the Memoirs of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester) Estimated death tolls in England range from around 10,000 to well over 20,000; even France experienced a large increase in additional deaths, estimated at over 16,000. So while the current problems with air transportation are newsworthy, let’s keep a proper perspective on this current eruption. Some additional sources of information: Global Volcanism Program from the Smithsonian (you can search by region, date, or name along with other data); the very enlightening article The Summer of Acid Rain (Economist); Atmospheric and Environmental Effects of the 1783-1784 Laki Eruption: A Review and Assessment (Journal of Geophysical Research); Atmospheric Impact of the 1783-1784 Laki Eruotion: Part I Chemistry Modelling and Part II Climatic Effect of Sulphate Aerosol (both Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics); The Effects and Consequences of Very Large Explosive Volcanic Eruptions (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A); Volcanic Eruptions and Their Impact on the Earth’s Climate (University of North Dakota); New Evidence for Massive Pollution and Mortality in Europe in 1783-1784 May Have Bearing on Global Change and Mass Extinctions (Comptes rendus geosciences); Human Sickness and Mortality Rates in Relation to the Distant Eruption of Volcanic Gases: Rural England and the 1783 Eruption of the Laki Fissure, Iceland (Geology and Health: Closing the Gap); and Modelling the Distal Impacts of Past Volcanic Gas Emissions. Evidence of Europe-wide Environmental Impacts from Gases Emitted During the Eruption of Italian and Icelandic Volcanoes in 1783 (Quaternaire). That there is volcanic activity in Iceland should come as no surprise; Iceland has more than 200 volcanoes and has accounted for fully one-third of the world’s lava flow over the past 500 years.
Not everyone is convined that global warming is anthrogenic. For another side to this story, please consult: More Than 700 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims (minority report from the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works); Climate Change Reconsidered (Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change); An Experiment That Hints We Were Wrong on Climate Change (article from London Times); Earth’s Heat Source – The Sun (from Energy & Environment); Global Warming: Man-Made or Natural? (Buckeye Institute); and Climate Change: Sources of Warming in the Late 20th Century.
Flooded coastlines, destroyed cranberry crops, longer summers, shorter winters, the dread spectre of annual droughts: these are but some of the scenarios depicted in two recently released government reports. Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States examines how global warming will affect the various portions of the country; New Jersey is thoroughly examined in the chapter devoted to the Northeast. Another report, Coastal Sensitivity to Sea-Level Rise: A Focus on the Mid-Atlantic Region, shows the varying degrees of depredation which will occur along the coasts as sea-levels rise in different increments. The Union of Concerned Scientists presents its views in Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Northeast. Read a recent interview with New Jersey’s state climatologist David Robinson as he discusses the changes global warming will inflict on the Garden State.(A Garden State no longer?) Other relevant reads include: How NJ Rose to #2 in US Solar Power; Sustaining the Garden State(this deals with the Sustainable Jersey program); and U.S. Awards Four Leases to Explore Wind Energy Off Jersey Coast. And do not forget to check the State of New Jersey Global Warming page.
Two new reports on climate change, both eminently readable, have been produced: Potential Impact of Climate Change in the United States from the Congressional Budget Office reviews where we have been, and where we are now in terms of remediating climate change; and Solving the Puzzle: Researching the Impact of Climate Change Around the World details research sponsored by the National Science Foundation.