The Climate Change Storm

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

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.

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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141. weatherboykris
1:41 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Thanks alot trak,we do our best,LOL.
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139. hurricanetrak6671
1:39 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Pretty good i'm onlt 13 but u'll be surprised on how much i know on weather i love it and i've read ur guys comments, and i've really leared a lot !! u guys r awsome!!
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138. weatherboykris
1:40 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
I don't put my filter on because wether you like them or not,everyone is contributing to the discussion,and if you can't see what they're saying,you miss some.
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137. StoryOfTheCane
1:39 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
whats the entrants count JP?
136. StoryOfTheCane
1:38 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
just wait til StormTop starts posting on here, youll be glad your filter is on
135. weatherboykris
1:37 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Hey's it going?
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133. hurricanetrak6671
1:36 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Hey guys i'm new here, i love weather and i love disscussing it it so i hope i've come to the right place, u guys can call me trak :0)
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131. StoryOfTheCane
1:35 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
ok heres a valid question, if global warming was being caused by us, why isn't the hole in the ozone above where most of the pollutants are coming from? Why is it over empty Antarctica?
129. weatherboykris
1:35 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Why would you set your filter on?You lose part of the conversation.
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128. weatherboykris
1:35 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
It was more milding.
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126. weatherboykris
1:34 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
And besides...that period wasn't global cooling.It was in between the periods of cooling and warming.
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125. weatherboykris
1:33 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Open your eyes!

Posted By: cyclonebuster at 1:23 AM GMT on April 07, 2007.

The period between 1945 and 1980 is where the world was testing nukes and causing global cooling.

Actually,I was wrong.I was replying to CB.
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121. weatherboykris
1:30 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Was talking to Jp,STL.
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118. weatherboykris
1:28 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
April African tropical waves aren't unusual.Waves start to come off in April
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116. weatherboykris
1:26 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Nuclear testing didn't cause global cooling.Nukes were tested underground,usually.
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115. philliesrock
9:26 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
Yeah, 8-2 vs. the Marlins.
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112. weatherboykris
1:25 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Don't bet on it pillies.
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110. weatherboykris
1:24 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
The graph is misleading both ways STL,not just the way that supports your opinion.
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109. philliesrock
9:24 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
90L forming soon?

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108. weatherguy03
9:23 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
Yep. In the end, the sun comes up and then goes down. Or, we hope it does. Thanks Michael for the friendly exchange.
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107. weatherboykris
1:22 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
No,STL,the averaging period was from 1901 to 2000.This means the period prior was cool even by the standards of that time.Also,because the average doesn't account for the years after 2000,post 2000 years have a warm bias on the graph.
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104. weatherguy03
9:18 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
Well at least you finally answered the question Michael!! It only took you almost an hour..LOL Fair enough, its your opinion.
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103. weatherguy03
9:17 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
Very true JP. But, the GW alarmists need a reality check sometimes. I dont think they are looking at the entire picture. Anyway, just my two cents on the subject.
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100. weatherboykris
1:14 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
Nevermind,it posted.
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98. weatherboykris
1:13 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
STL,you're map didn't post.
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97. weatherguy03
9:12 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
So Michael, you discount the cooler temps from 1880-1930. And you can never see that happening again??
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94. DocBen
1:09 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
This explains the government's efforts to gag the scientists. They hate us because we call it like it is.

Interesting blob off Africa about 16W 6N
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93. weatherguy03
9:08 PM EDT on April 06, 2007
Cooling between 1880-1930. Warming from 1970-present.
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92. weatherboykris
1:08 AM GMT on April 07, 2007
And besides...even if it isn't AMO,there is some sort of cycle at work here.The whole atmosphere-environment interaction and behavior is so complex we will never entirely understand it.
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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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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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