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Global Warming Faster Than Predicted?


Dr. Tina Tin recently published an article entitled: “An Overview of the Climate Science published Since the UN IPCC Fourth Assessment Report” for the World Wildlife Fund (worldwildlife.org). An article discussing the release is available on panda.org, and I have placed a pdf copy of the article on one of our servers (their download was excessively slow) that you may download to print as I provide a synopsis of the article for you.

Synopsis of Dr. Tin’s Article
I will briefly outline relevant sections of Dr. Tin’s work for you. While reading, keep in mind that her work was intended for an audience based in the European Union. However, since the concept of global warming is indeed a global issue, all works must be given due consideration.

Foreward & Introduction
Dr. Tin begins by stating that since the IPCC forecasts were released in 2007, new research is revealing that global warming is accelerating far beyond what was predicted. For those unaware, the IPCC report involves over 3,800 scientists worldwide from over 150 countries, with work spanning six years. As Dr. Tin contends, the IPCC report stated in clear terms that human-induced climate change is indeed a reality. The IPCC (and Al Gore) received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

Dr. Tin continues in her introduction that while the IPCC forecasts are a significant stepping stone to grasping the innate complexities and urgency of global warming, the less than 1°C of global warming we have experienced thus far may have already triggered the first obviously observable Earth response to global warming: decreasing summer Arctic Ice coverage. She contends that the process of dramatic reduction in the north could lead to a more rapid change in Earth’s climate system as opposed to a more gradual progression.

In her forward Dr. Tin states that the WWF (worldwildlife.org) calls on the European Union to implement two basic strategies:

1. Immediately adopt an emission reduction target of at least 30% below 1990 levels by 2020 – to be delivered within the boundaries of the EU; and

2. Commit – on top of its own reduction target – to provide additional substantial support and funding for investment in socially and environmentally robust adaptation and mitigation activities in developing countries

Dr. Tin concludes her introduction by stating that because recent research is indicating the IPCC forecasts of global warming were slower than what recent research indicates, the EU (and in essence all countries) need to initiate mitigation and adaptation responses to global warming in a more rapid and ambitious manner.

Tin’s Evidence
Climate Change Today: Stronger Than Expected, Sooner Than Forecast

Dr. Tin begins the evidence section of her article by outlining research conducted since the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report. Her first concern is feedback mechanisms related to the Arctic Ocean.

Tip: For those unaware, the basic concept of feedback mechanisms is that they may be ‘positive’ or ‘negative.’ With global warming, positive feedback is where a change in the environment might lead to additional changes (or enhanced changes) within the climate system. Negative feedback is if a change is introduced and instead of enhancing a process, it leads to what are called ‘compensating factors’ or processes that mitigate the change. In this section of the article Dr. Tin is discussing a process called the ‘ice-albedo’ mechanism that is a positive feedback mechanism. An example of a negative feedback mechanism (not actually addressed as fully as it should have been in the IPCC report) in the process of global warming is that as more CO2 is introduced into the atmosphere, plant growth is enhanced allowing a larger uptake of the atmospheric gas. However, the ability for Earth’s flora and fauna to filter out carbon dioxide was exceeded years ago, and deforestation/urbanization has dramatically decreased this process.

To continue, Dr. Tin states that because less sea ice allows more warming of Arctic waters (positive feedback) the ability for refreeze is reduced each year, and that we have reached a ‘tipping point’ in the Arctic Ice system. New forecasts state that the Arctic Ocean could be completely ice-free somewhere between 2013-2040 (I’m confident it will be on the early side of that time spectrum), a condition that has not occurred in over a million years.

In the Antarctic Peninsula, tide-water glaciers are losing ice faster, increasing the rate at which sealevel is rising that is faster than predicted in the Fourth Assessment Report. Dr. Tin continues by showing that more recent research is indicating that globally, since 1990, mean sea level has risen 1 1/2 times faster than predicted in the third assessment report, and new studies have more than doubled the maximum estimated increase in the fourth assessment report.

Tip: Recall my earlier post about the concept of phase change, and that the amount of water that exists on our planet (in its various forms) is essentially constant. With global warming, when dealing with ice loss what is occurring is simply a redistribution of water from frozen form on land, to liquid form in our oceans. Example: take an ice cube from your freezer and place it in a cup of water, the water level will rise due to the introduction of additional mass.

Global carbon dioxide emissions have grown 3% per year between 2000-2004, a rate greater than any scenario used by the IPCC for either their third, or fourth assessment report (as an FYI China is now the largest emitter globally, as can be viewed in this article or via a simple google search). About half of the CO2 emissions have been absorbed by carbon sinks over the last 15 years, however their capability to do so is declining, and as previously stated is far below current emission levels.

Tip: What Dr. Tin was referring to above is known as carbon sequestration. Essentially a process where carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and stored. The most common carbon sinks for our atmosphere are flora and fauna (photosynthesis) and Earth’s oceans.

As Dr. Tin continues, she states that a re-examination of the climate impacts shows that an 80% cut in global greenhouse gas emissions are needed by 2050 to keep the global average temperature rise below 2°C, and to limit climate impacts to what are deemed ‘acceptable’ levels.

Climate Change Tomorrow? A snapshot of a Future Warmer World
Dr. Tin continues by outlining a few of the many impacts that will occur as a result of global warming.

Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries
Since 1981, global warming has lead to a reduction in global yields of wheat, corn, and barley and resulted in annual yield losses of roughly $5 billion dollars. South Asia and southern Africa will suffer significant production reductions as a result of global warming in an area with already large, and increasing populations.

Health
Children in the poorest nations will be affected the hardest and first, due to increased disease, air pollution, and thermal stress on their bodies as they are in their developing stages. This does not account for the decreased availability of food and water as already hunger prone regions become more so.

Ecosystems
Dr. Tin lists a few of the obvious changes in our ecosystem associated with global warming such as:

1. Shrinking glaciers on every continent
2. Lake and river warming
3. Increased coastal erosion
4. Shifts in spring events for living organisms (leaf unfolding, blooming date, migration, time of reproduction)
5. Replacement of cold-adapted species by warm-adapted species (especially in oceans)

Dr. Tin further discusses the approaching extinction of certain climatic conditions and the affects of those changes to various species. Such as the tropics and subtropics will see dramatically warmer conditions which is critical, as many species do not have the ability to adapt to climatic fluctuations, while polar climates are likely to disappear altogether. These concepts add increased stress to the IPCC’s fourth assessment report which stated that up to 30% of plant and animal species will be at high risk of extinction (simply from climate changes and not direct human influence from urbanization and overfishing / hunting).

Wrap it up
The balance of Dr. Tin’s report deals with localized impacts of climate change to the European Union which echo some of the sentiments above. As previously stated you are certainly welcome to read her article. While it does not nearly contain all the issues that need to be considered in regard to global warming, it does provide some important points to think about. It is important for everyone to read relevant articles on the issue to become informed, instead of simply hearing snippets from various sources that are sometimes used to form an opinion. For example, you might wish to view the full IPCC fourth assessment report here in PDF format (the document is 200 pages long and 7.1meg in size.. I have placed it on one of our servers to allow you a faster download), or online. With the upcoming election you may wish to view an interesting article by the New York Times about the candidates’ position on global warming, in addition to feedback by U.S. industry.

On current weather issues, NAM and GFS are arguing over snowfall in the Great Plains on Tuesday and Wednesday. I’m going to override NAM on this one and say we will see some snow =) The northeastern United States will also see some snow, especially in higher elevations but large accumulations are not expected. The Pacific Northwest through Idaho and the northern Rockies will see some snow the next couple days, and will then warm up later in the week as a strongly amplified trough digs and moves into the great plains by midweek, bringing some of the coldest temperatures yet this season. As the system moves out of the great plains a slight possibility of flooding will follow, especially in central Iowa. Keep an eye on our HWwarnings and HAMrad II products as the system moves through, it’s fun!

As always stay tuned to your favorite weather outlet, stay informed, and stay safe!

cheers,

–patrick

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