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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791. HurricaneSurvivor
12:30 AM GMT on April 10, 2007
Wow, I use to come to this site for good information about the weather. Now Dr. Masters has become a global warming alarmist. What a pity.

I think I"ll go exercise but then again, I might create more C02. ;)

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790. taco2me61
12:28 AM GMT on April 10, 2007
Never Fear Taco is here again this year....LOL

Hi everybody are we ready for this new Season of blonders and Blobs....
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789. TheCaneWhisperer
12:28 AM GMT on April 10, 2007
I was looking at that JF! I am in the "I'll Believe It When I See It" mode now, lol. Too many false hopes this year so far! We really need an early Sub Tropical or Depression to kick this drought.
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788. Skyepony (Mod)
12:12 AM GMT on April 10, 2007
I've had .08" all day in Melbourne. 1/2 that in the last hour. I's just checking out the MLB WRF model. Looks like Central FL maybe getting the bulk in the next 24.
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787. Skyepony (Mod)
12:04 AM GMT on April 10, 2007
The MJO
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785. TheCaneWhisperer
12:04 AM GMT on April 10, 2007
If we don't get some rain this week, Martin will be back in the pink! Palm Beach and several other counties will join the club also.
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784. Skyepony (Mod)
12:02 AM GMT on April 10, 2007
For the 1st time all year we have more invests in the Northern Hemisphere than Southern Hemishpere. 2:1
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783. TheCaneWhisperer
12:02 AM GMT on April 10, 2007
That's what I say Plywood! Bring the Depression! It is free rain! Drought Buster! We need it bad, numbers are on the climb again!
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782. plywoodstatenative
11:57 PM GMT on April 09, 2007
I say this, it hopefully means rain for south florida. thats all I am hoping it does for us.
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781. hurricane23
7:52 PM EDT on April 09, 2007
LOL...

Windshear according to the GFS will drop pretty significantly in a small area in the caribbean during the next couple of days.Still dont think nothing will develope and will wait till mid june or early july.

(GFS on the 13th)

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779. hurricanic
11:41 PM GMT on April 09, 2007
Is it National Blob Awareness Week?

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775. OFAJ
10:43 PM GMT on April 09, 2007
JP
I am still working on my 07 predictions should finalize by Wed. Just have Sept - Oct Landfalls to figure. Hope you get enough interest to continue.
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774. StoryOfTheCane
3:38 PM PDT on April 09, 2007
i gotta head to the studio, ill be back later
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773. StoryOfTheCane
3:36 PM PDT on April 09, 2007
the individual storm contest will be the best one, I think everybody's just too lazy to do all that work, but its not too hard if you just correlate everything to your yearly predictions
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772. StoryOfTheCane
3:35 PM PDT on April 09, 2007
dont call them off, hell if its just me and you it will still be fun, we can keep track of our predictions every year, it will be pretty cool to see how good we get
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770. StoryOfTheCane
3:34 PM PDT on April 09, 2007
there is a little problem because a lot of the people who do a lot of predicting with us don't start talking on the blog until the first storm strikes
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769. StoryOfTheCane
3:33 PM PDT on April 09, 2007
how many entrants so far?
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767. StoryOfTheCane
3:28 PM PDT on April 09, 2007
im definitely not putting that in my predictions though lol
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766. StoryOfTheCane
3:24 PM PDT on April 09, 2007
I think we can see a Caribbean/Gulf disturbance as early as early-mid May if not sooner, given shear drops enough before then
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764. kmanislander
10:18 PM GMT on April 09, 2007
gotta go for now
bbl
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763. StoryOfTheCane
3:18 PM PDT on April 09, 2007
is the screen still stretched? for some reason that shear map does that
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762. kmanislander
10:14 PM GMT on April 09, 2007
story

you r right, it can happen in April but only rarely so

Link
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761. StoryOfTheCane
3:13 PM PDT on April 09, 2007
in 1908 there was a formation on March 6th, and in 1992 there was one on April 21st, so although rare, not impossible
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758. ryang
6:08 PM AST on April 09, 2007
Hey Storm!!
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757. StoryOfTheCane
3:09 PM PDT on April 09, 2007
yeah thats what I figured, April is never too early, kman, as long as its happened in the past it can happen in the future..once the shear goes down a bit more we will definitely start seeing activity
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756. kmanislander
10:03 PM GMT on April 09, 2007
Story

IMO it is way too early to even think of the blob developing into anything.
The loop current is only worth looking at if there is a system ( a TS or Hurricane ) to pass over it or an eddy breaks off and hangs around in the GOM.

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755. StoryOfTheCane
3:05 PM PDT on April 09, 2007
here is a shear forecast, we might be quiet, at least for the next 72 hours
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754. StormJunkie
10:04 PM GMT on April 09, 2007
Good to see, ya GG. Congrats on the National titles!
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752. kmanislander
10:01 PM GMT on April 09, 2007
well hi there stormw

the blog is like reunion week today !
All the regulars from last season showing up lol
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751. StoryOfTheCane
3:01 PM PDT on April 09, 2007
ahh interesting, you think it will have any effect on the the S Caribbean blob?
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749. kmanislander
9:53 PM GMT on April 09, 2007
The loop current becomes is important during the season because a storm passing over either the current itself or an eddy that has seperated from it can intensify quite rapidly. You will see from the link I posted that the reason for this is that the current or the eddy provides very warm water deep below the surface which not only neutralises the effect of "upwelling" and allows a system to continue strenghtening but provides a boost to the system by supplying very water for it to pass over
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748. GainesvilleGator
9:58 PM GMT on April 09, 2007
It looks like Dr. Masters touched on a nerve with Global Warming. What if fossil fuels don't contribute to Global Warming. Wouldn't it be a good idea to try & ween ourselves off of fossil fuels because it pollutes the air? Besides that, we are too dependent on foreign oil. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to bomb Iran & not have to worry about the price of Crude going through the roof?

There will probably be sharp differences in opinion during the next 20-30 years until the data becomes more clear. You know, with fluctuations in natural cycles etc.

I am glad for the GW hype whether or not it is true because it is forcing our hand to produce cleaner ways to produce energy. I would like to see automobiles run on electricity produced by nuclear, solar, & wind as opposed to burning gasoline & coal.

The GW hype will make us energy independent with cleaner air as a by-product. This won't happen overnight. There is a lot of research funds going towards renewable energy & this is great. We are heading in the right direction but it is taking a lot longer than what we want it to.
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746. StoryOfTheCane
2:55 PM PDT on April 09, 2007
yeah, the shear to the north is going to make it so that blob stays dormant
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745. ryang
5:54 PM AST on April 09, 2007
It's looks really good though...Link
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744. StoryOfTheCane
2:54 PM PDT on April 09, 2007
hey if theres a will theres a way lol
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743. ryang
5:53 PM AST on April 09, 2007
The southern caribbean blob has a 0.2 chance of developing...Link
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742. StoryOfTheCane
2:52 PM PDT on April 09, 2007
so if something was on the verge of development a loopu current/eddie would set it over the top? Doesnt cause development or anything like that? Thx for the link.
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741. kmanislander
9:48 PM GMT on April 09, 2007
story

here is a good discussion on the loop current

Link
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About

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