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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91. weatherboykris
1:07 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
So, how does the AMO cause global temperatures to change?


SST's affect air temperatures.That's why the globe is warmer during El Ninos and cooler during La Ninas,all else being equal.
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90. sp34n119w
6:06 PM PDT on April 06, 2007
weatherguy03~ I have a question about your question, if that's okay. I see that the graph of temps shows about 50 years where the average was cooler but not cooling. Not the way it shows the warming in the last 30 years. So, do you mean the 50 years right before the last 30 years? Or, are you seeing something else?
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89. weatherguy03
9:06 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
The point is, in about 20 years your GW will be over. Then we will complain about the snow in Florida..LOL Your ice caps will come back Michael, dont worry buddy!
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88. weatherboykris
1:04 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Posted By: weatherguy03 at 12:42 AM GMT on April 07, 2007.

Well since Michael didnt answer the question I will. I see 50 years of cooling and right now about 30 years of warming. Given the current AMO cycle, that will give us about another 20 years of warming followed by another trend downward towards the cold end. Its called a cycle.



Right Bob!Finally,someone who agrees with me.
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86. weatherguy03
9:04 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
And I should of rephrased that, the AMO is aiding in the current cycle of warmer temps.
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85. weatherguy03
9:00 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
No. Here is the question I posed to you before that. Thats the graph I have been looking for my Michael. Now lets look at that graph. What do you see?? Now go back down to that big graph you posted at 8:29 and give me your answer.
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84. Tazmanian
6:01 PM PDT on April 06, 2007
STL come to my blog
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83. Bgoney
8:33 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
I have know problem with people saying earth is in a global warming CYCLE. But when Master Master's or whoever says GW is NO DOUBT man's fault and we can change the climate it makes me fume (which causes even more CO2)
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81. weatherguy03
8:54 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
Michael, I am not talking about Hurricanes!..LOL Look at my previous question to you. Can you answer that?
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78. weatherguy03
8:51 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
More graphs..LOL I have seen that one already. I guess you dont want to answer my previous question. Oh well.
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76. Tazmanian
5:46 PM PDT on April 06, 2007
thanks aron
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71. weatherguy03
8:40 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
Well since Michael didnt answer the question I will. I see 50 years of cooling and right now about 30 years of warming. Given the current AMO cycle, that will give us about another 20 years of warming followed by another trend downward towards the cold end. Its called a cycle.
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70. Caffinehog
12:40 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
CB, please take a few minutes to think about the science behind the issue. Even if you assume that your tunnels work perfectly, and you can build as many as you want, they will STILL have no effect on global warming.

Pop quiz time: Why?

You've got to show me that you understand the science before I entertain any more of your ideas.
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69. Tazmanian
5:38 PM PDT on April 06, 2007
oh well you shut up about the TUNNELS and take the TUNNELS to your own blog Please
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65. Caffinehog
12:29 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Basically, I've been hearing all this stuff on global warming, and it sounds like a prosecuting lawyer making his case! Now I want to hear from the defense counsel!

There's a lot more to this decision on what actions to take than, "Like oh my god, the earth is warming! We've got to do something!"
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64. weatherguy03
8:29 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
Thats the graph I have been looking for my Michael. Now lets look at that graph. What do you see??
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60. Caffinehog
12:06 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Jeff, if you're reading this, I'd like you to compare the impacts of gloabal warming over the next century to the impacts of HAVING to switch away from coal and petroleum over the next 10-20 years. Which would be worse? And what kind of a timetable is realistic for a switch away from fossil fuels?

I know a call to action is necessary, but we need to know the consequences of that action before we can take an informed approach.

Also, I would love to see a discussion of some of the new technologies that could help.
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52. Oreodog
7:10 PM CDT on April 06, 2007
Keep looking at the averages, folks. Not the specific day's readings.

Dr. M, I agree with most of what you say. I am glad you can accomodate the virulent attacks of the ostriches with such dignity and scientific reasoning.

I think the naysayers have a spot waiting for them in the current White House -- they need more people there to tell them all is well.
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51. Tazmanian
5:12 PM PDT on April 06, 2007
any one got a hurrican to talk about?


we been talking about global warming on dr m blog all winter what have some in new talk about


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50. EvPv
12:10 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
The reason for my post is taking action is a personal choice. No law, ordinance or treaty is needed to choose to make a personal decision and act on it.
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49. hurricane23
8:13 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
plywoodstatenative did you get the articles i sent you?
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48. plywoodstatenative
12:08 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
what winter, we never have winter in South Florida. Hot all year round
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47. EvPv
12:09 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Using less oil/gasoline in the U.S. saves lives in the near future. It removes motivation for the next war over an energy source.

Support the military
Save your Children
Save your Grandchildren
Help the environment
...use less gas

I used to drive 25,000 miles a year getting 17 mpg. Now I drive 3,000 miles a year with a car getting close to 40 mpg. I bicycle to work 99% of the time. I did not start out with the goal of this much of a reduction. Just one challange at a time and in 6 years I'm at this point. Gas price jumps do not have a noticeable effect on my wallet.
Now my challenge is how brutal can the weather conditions be...and still bike in. Coldest windchill is 40 below. truth is, it hurt.
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44. Patrap
6:58 PM CDT on April 06, 2007
Quikscat..Link
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43. Inyo
11:55 PM GMT on April 06, 2007
Perhaps he can also talk about what caused the worst freeze in more than half a century:

perhaps a global warming of 1 degree (not enough to stop a freeze!) intensified the fluxuations of the jet stream and drove cold air much further south than it normally goes this time of year?

or maybe it is just a stochastic event. We had a similar freeze in California.. the week before the freeze it was 85 degrees, then temperatures dropped below 20 at night in many parts of southern California, even near the coast. I think the cold in CA is associated with the dry year we are having, as dry and cold go together here. It could be aggravated by global warming, or maybe not. Conditions in southern California right now are actually similar to the conditions of the late 1800s - another period of extreme fluxuations, drought, floods, and frost.
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42. Patrap
6:56 PM CDT on April 06, 2007
The spacecraft was designed with a 5 year life requirement but has performed 2 years past that. A great testament to the Builders and operators of the spacecraft too.
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41. weatherboykris
11:57 PM GMT on April 06, 2007
we can hope Patrap.
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About JeffMasters

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

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