Friday, July 30, 2010

Climate Change is Happening Now

Climate change is real and it's happening now. In the early decade, climate change was presented as a phenomenon that was underway, but whose real effects wouldn't be noticeable by the general public for decades, perhaps even for a century or more. Predictions were often forecast for "2100" or "by the end of the century." It's nearly impossible for humans to imagine time on that scale. It's common to think in terms of generations, "my children, my grandchildren," but beyond that, humans care little about what might happen a century from now.

But not to worry, we will no longer have to strain to imagine a future world with an inhospitable climate. Climate change is already well underway and it's noticeable effects are happening now. Two recent stories from the world press highlight the immediate catastrophic effects of global climate change.

(1) The first report, that global average temperatures have gone up every decade since the 1980s, is a searing set of facts that counteracts a recent notion, propagated by some climate change skeptics, that there has been no additional warming since 1998. The report on global average temperature rise over the last 40 years is not a prediction, its a fact. It has already happened. And it's not based on climate change prediction models, it's based on direct observation. From CBC News:

A new report by 300 scientists has flagged the past decade as the hottest on record and compiled 10 "unmistakable" indicators that the world is getting warmer.

But the scientists mostly stayed away from discussions about the cause.

The 2009 State of the Climate report released Wednesday by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration combines data on temperatures, humidity, sea levels, sea ice, glaciers and spring snow cover going back to 1940 or 1850, depending on the type of data.

Results of the study

The study found recent decades have seen increases in:

Air temperature over land.
Sea-surface temperature.
Air temperature over oceans.
Sea level.
Ocean heat.
Temperature in the troposphere, the "active-weather" layer of the atmosphere closest to the Earth's surface

At the same time, there has been a decrease in:
Arctic sea ice.
Spring snow cover in the northern hemisphere.

In addition, the calendar decade of 2000-09 was the warmest of the last five decades, and that each of the last three decades was warmer than the one before. Overall, the temperature has gone up a little over 0.5 C over the past 50 years.

Deke Arnt, co-editor of the report and chief of the NOAA Climatic Data Centre's Climate Monitoring Branch said that while this doesn't seem like a lot, it has "already altered our planet."

The report cites recent extreme weather events in different parts of the world, including heavy rains and flooding, record heat waves and severe droughts, along with melting glaciers and sea ice.

"When we follow decade-to-decade trends using multiple data sets and independent analyses from around the world, we see clear and unmistakable signs of a warming world," said Peter Stott, one of the report's 300 contributors, in a statement.

Stott is head of Climate Monitoring and Attribution for the Met Office Hadley Centre in the U.K., one 160 research groups in 48 countries, including Canada, that contributed to the report. CBC News was unable to reach any of the Canadian co-authors.

The report, published annually in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society since 1990, does not include climate model projections.

(2) The second report Is even more chilling: that 40% of the phytoplankton of the ocean has disappeared over the past century, especially since the 1950s, and can be directly attributed to warming ocean surface temperatures and ocean acidification. From the Independent, UK:

By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Thursday, 29 July 2010S

The dead sea: Global warming blamed for 40 per cent decline in the ocean's phytoplankton
Microscopic life crucial to the marine food chain is dying out. The consequences could be catastrophic

The microscopic plants that support all life in the oceans are dying off at a dramatic rate, according to a study that has documented for the first time a disturbing and unprecedented change at the base of the marine food web.

Scientists have discovered that the phytoplankton of the oceans has declined by about 40 per cent over the past century, with much of the loss occurring since the 1950s. They believe the change is linked with rising sea temperatures and global warming.

If the findings are confirmed by further studies it will represent the single biggest change to the global biosphere in modern times, even bigger than the destruction of the tropical rainforests and coral reefs, the scientists said yesterday.

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