The Climate Change Storm

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 9:14 PM GMT on April 06, 2007

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Significant climate change is already occurring, will grow dramatically, and will cause serious disruptions to natural ecosystems and the lives of billions of people world-wide over the coming century. We need to better prepare for the inevitable changes--and attempt to lessen the magnitude of the these changes by reducing greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. That's the take-home message from today's latest report from the United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Every six years, the IPCC releases a huge, influential study detailing the state of Earth's climate. Part 1 of the 2007 report, summarizing the science of climate change, was released in February. Today's summary, titled "Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability" addressed the likely impacts of climate change on Earth's ecosystems and people. Not all of the expected changes will be harmful--the IPCC emphasizes that "impacts of future climate change will be mixed across regions" for temperature rises of 1 to 3 �C above 1990 levels, with the big losers being the poor developing countries. However, if global warming exceeds 2 to 3 �C, the IPCC states it is very likely that all regions of the globe will suffer increased costs or declining benefits. I believe it is the responsibility of every citizen of the planet to take the 30 minutes needed to read the IPCC summary and familiarize themselves with what the world's top scientists say about the likely impacts of climate change. The scope and severity of the Earth-shaking changes that lie ahead present a breathtakingly formidable challenge for humanity.


Figure 1. Locations of significant changes in physical systems (snow, ice and frozen ground, hydrology, coastal processes) and biological systems (land, ocean, and freshwater) from 1970 to 2004. Between 90% and 100% of these changes are consistent with warming global temperatures, due in large part to human-emitted greenhouse gases. White areas are where not enough data existed to determine a temperature change. Figure 1 is a simplified form of Figure SPM-1 of the 2007 IPCC document, "Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability--Summary for Policy Makers."

Observed impacts of climate change to date
The IPCC report begins by summarizing observed changes in physical systems (snow, ice and frozen ground, hydrology, coastal processes) and biological systems (land, ocean, and freshwater) reported in 577 papers in the scientific literature between 1990 and 2004 (Figure 1). They conclude, "Observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases." Examples for which they are highly (80% chance) or very highly confident (>90% chance) of include:

Earlier bird migrations and leaf unfolding
Poleward shifts in the ranges of various plant and animal species
Shifts in the ranges and numbers of ocean species near the poles
Earlier migrations of fish in rivers
Earlier and increased peaks in spring run-off from glacier- and snow-fed rivers
Warming of lakes and rivers
More and bigger glacial lakes
Melting permafrost

Medium confidence effects (50% chance of being true) observed in the Northern Hemisphere include:

Earlier spring planting of crops
Increases in forest fires and pest damage to forests
Heat-related deaths in Europe, spread of disease in some areas, and changes in allergenic pollen
Hunting and travel by humans over Arctic snow and ice

Future impacts
This is where the IPCC report gets very sobering. Keep in mind that the predicted future impacts may be understated, given the cautious nature of scientists--and the fact that the final version was edited by government officials, who changed the original conclusions of the scientists. I'll present just of few of the more mind-boggling impacts (in blue, with my comments in black), and leave the rest for the interested reader to discover:

The resilience of many ecosystems is likely to be exceeded this century by an unprecedented combination of climate change, associated disturbances (e.g., flooding, drought, wildfire, insects, ocean acidification), and other global change drivers (e.g., land use change, pollution, over-exploitation of resources) (high confidence).
In other words, some ecosystems will collapse, putting the people who depend on these ecosystems in grave peril.
Many millions more people are projected to be flooded every year due to sea-level rise by the 2080s. Those densely-populated and low-lying areas where adaptive capacity is relatively low, and which already face other challenges such as tropical storms or local coastal subsidence, are especially at risk. The numbers affected will be largest in the mega-deltas of Asia and Africa while small islands are especially vulnerable (very high confidence).
Expect damage and human suffering from hurricanes to greatly increase in coming decades, thanks to higher seas levels.
There is medium confidence that at least partial deglaciation of the Greenland ice sheet, and possibly the West Antarctic ice sheet, would occur over a period of time ranging from centuries to millennia for a global average temperature increase of 1-4 �C (relative to 1990-2000), causing a contribution to sea level rise of 4-6 m or more.
Along with drought and ecosystem collapse, sea level rise is my big concern. Sea level before the most recent ice age was about 4-6 meters (13-20 feet) higher than today, at global temperatures that we expect to match by 2100. The IPCC states that a sea level rise of 0.6-1.9 feet (0.18-0.58 meters) is expected by 2100, and a 4-6 meter rise is not likely for centuries. However, our understanding of the response of glaciers to climate warming is poor. An unexpected rapid partial disintegration of the Greenland or West Antarctic ice sheets later this century raising sea levels by 2 meters (6 feet) has at least a 1% chance of occurring, in my opinion.

Conclusion
The language of the 2007 IPCC climate report is couched in uncertainly, but the broad picture is clear: future climate change may rival or exceed a World War in its effect on society. Steps to lessen its impact and adapt to it need to be made as soon as possible. The cost in lives, dollars, and human suffering will be far greater if we do not.

In his 2006 book, The Revenge of Gaia, philosopher-scientist James Lovelock writes, "I am old enough to notice a remarkable similarity between attitudes over sixty years ago towards the threat of war and those now towards the threat of global heating. Most of us think that something unpleasant may soon happen, but we are as confused as we were in 1938 over what form it will take and what to do about it. Our response so far is just like that before the Second World War, and attempt to appease. The Kyoto agreement was uncannily like that of Munich, with politicians out to show they do respond but in reality playing for time...Battle will soon be joined, and what we face now is far more deadly than any blitzkrieg."

The climate change storm is coming, and the wind is already starting to rise.

Next blog
My next blog will be Monday afternoon or Tuesday. I've got several topics in mind--tornadoes in Chicago, Greenland glaciers, or hurricane model improvements.

Jeff Masters

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241. sullivanweather
3:09 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Posted By: StoryOfTheCane at 3:08 AM GMT on April 07, 2007.

the ice age occurred when there were far less people on Earth. I dont think its possible for that to happen again due to the extreme population

You are naive to actually think that. What scientific basis did you use to come to that conclusion??
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238. snowboy
3:01 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
StoryOfTheCane, if you're going to ask pointed questions like that, be prepared for the answer: more than any other country, the destruction of the planet is the responsibility of the USA.
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237. Dyce
11:08 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
Never said an ice age is coming just pointing out the past.
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236. StoryOfTheCane
3:06 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
the ice age occurred when there were far less people on Earth. I dont think its possible for that to happen again due to the extreme population.
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232. Dyce
11:06 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
I'm just pointing out something that i've never heard mentioned on this blog before.
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231. Tazmanian
8:05 PM PDT on April 06, 2007
STL come to my blog and ask me this ?

dont you think Africa been had moist air for some time now?
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115080
230. StoryOfTheCane
3:03 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
yeah me and Al Gore grew up studying the climate together..no snowboy im just making conversation, if you want to prove me wrong then do it, dont criticize me for stating my opinion
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228. Dyce
11:02 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
Someone just answer my question of why this couldn't be the beginning of another ice age period. Not saying it is but could be.
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227. StoryOfTheCane
3:01 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
the population grew by 6 billion people in only 250 years, that cant be good
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226. Tazmanian
8:01 PM PDT on April 06, 2007
dont you think Africa been had moist air for some time now?
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115080
225. snowboy
2:56 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Dyce and StoryOfTheCane - do you have any knowledge of atmospheric science, because if you do then I can't understand the inane questions and comments..
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224. Dyce
10:58 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
I'm pretty sure during the ice age it was hotter than it is now and I don't think we could of caused that.
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223. StoryOfTheCane
2:56 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
i mean look at China, there are over 2 billion people there. How can anyone deny that this is the sole reason for the destruction of our planet?

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221. Oreodog
9:56 PM CDT on April 06, 2007
Cane - wrong. Everyone can do something. The tyranny of the common resource. You have to start somewhere.
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220. sullivanweather
2:53 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Posted By: StoryOfTheCane at 10:17 PM GMT on April 06, 2007.

If you want to know what is happening to our planet just look at Venus with a 96% carbon dioxide count in the air.


Has it ever occured to you that Veenus is 100 atmospheres the air pressure of the earth? That means you can take that 96% and times it by 100...

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219. StoryOfTheCane
2:54 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
i dont think we can fix global warming by just haulting the use of pollutants, it has way more to do with the amount of people that are consuming air on this planet
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218. Oreodog
9:53 PM CDT on April 06, 2007
Amazing how many of those leading scientists have been on the dole with big oil and big coal -- hmmm, must have been coincidence, just like the greenhouse gas increase rise tie to fossil fuel consumption. Oh, I'm just trying to panic everyone.

C'mon ostriches.
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217. StoryOfTheCane
2:53 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
yeah but when i say population i just mean the pollutants we put out of our bodies, and pollutants i mean things like our cars and power plants that are potentially fixable.
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216. StoryOfTheCane
2:51 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
well I mean that could very well be just the evolutionary process of our planet. Texas is bound to become a full-blown Sahara-like desert sometime.
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214. Oreodog
9:51 PM CDT on April 06, 2007
Michael -- In fact my wife and I are contemplating selling the ranch because it won't be of any use without water.
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213. Dyce
10:50 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
We have gone through stages of warming before after a while it cools back down. People are just creating this problem. Many leading scientists have come out and said there is no global warming.
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212. StoryOfTheCane
2:49 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
thats true. but think about the spectrum of things, mankind has only fairly recently been able to even record climatic changes in the atmosphere, how do we know this isnt part of one big climatic cycle?
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210. StoryOfTheCane
2:47 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
and what do you guys think the breakdown of cause of warming is? like for instance my opinion i believe:
population - 70%
pollutants - 15%
natural - 15%
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207. bbreaker
2:45 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Is it a possibility that with each season change the weather will get harder to predict because of climatic changes due to the Greenhouse effect
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206. StoryOfTheCane
2:46 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
forecasts are seldom correct, ask Dr. Gray
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205. StoryOfTheCane
2:44 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
id be willing to bet money that mankind sees its end by asteroid, super volcano or nuclear holocaust long before we ever see dramatic effects of global warming (other than the obvious increase in natural disaster)
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203. hurricanetrak6671
2:41 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
So whats up with the weather?
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202. hornfan
2:41 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
dont understand how people can be so worried about something that will only affect generations thousands of years from now, when and if something does happen to fix this issue it will definitely not be in any of our lifetimes

B/c people worry on how things may affect their kids, grandkids and great-grandkids
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201. StoryOfTheCane
2:37 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
i dont understand how people can be so worried about something that will only affect generations thousands of years from now, when and if something does happen to fix this issue it will definitely not be in any of our lifetimes
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200. Dyce
10:34 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
I know everyone is off the topic, but for all the global warming supporters: Have you ever heard of the ice age?
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199. StoryOfTheCane
2:32 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
look at the video Patrap posted, it shows how the fronts start to weaken causing headroom for Atlantic development and US landfalls, i like that video a lot, its pretty cool seeing the season all sped up like that
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198. Tazmanian
7:30 PM PDT on April 06, 2007
STL come to my blog
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115080
197. StoryOfTheCane
2:29 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
the Azores High will definitely be strengthening while the cold fronts slow down, look at the 1010mb high forming above that low
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195. StoryOfTheCane
2:28 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
hurricanes are gonna happen whether you want them to or not, no harm in recording the splendor of nature
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193. Tazmanian
7:26 PM PDT on April 06, 2007
and good news for me i get to rec hurricane this year from TWC and from cnn


NOT WISHING A HURRICANE ON ANY ONE
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115080
192. hurricanetrak6671
2:24 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Thats bad new for us floridians
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191. Tazmanian
7:22 PM PDT on April 06, 2007
Posted By: hurricanetrak6671 at 7:21 PM PDT on April 06, 2007.

That SUCKS, did it look like that last year?


NO
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 115080

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.