Report 1: How real is global warming?
The Physical Evidence
a.Is the Earth's perennial ice coverage shrinking?
Yes. In 1930 Glacier National Park had 150 glaciers; today only 30 remain.
Perennial arctic sea ice is currently melting at a rate of 9 percent each decade.
National Geographic, in a recent (Feb 2006) article, reports that Switzerland has lost 20% of its glacier ice in the last 15 years. Overall, Europe has lost 50% of its alpine glacier ice in the last century.
b. Has atmospheric carbon dioxide already risen?
Yes. The carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has increased by 35% since the early 1800s and continues to increase at an even greater rate today.
Most of the greenhouse gases that we emit today will stay in the atmosphere for 100 years or more.
c. Have global temperatures already risen?
Yes. 2005 was the hottest year ever in the 100 years of recording the earth’s surface temperature, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Worse, 2005 was a year without the El Nino effect, which usually contributes to warmer years. The temperature has risen 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last 30 years alone.
A mere 3-degree increase in Earth’s prevailing temperature would make the planet warmer than at any time in the last 125,000 years.
As bad as the average global temperature rise looks in the chart to the right, it seriously misrepresents and understates the temperature impact of global warming. Temperature increases 2 to 4 times greater are occurring in the far northern latitudes (north of 75 degrees) where the two primary reinforcing feedback loops operate (ice melt and tundra thaw).
See Report 3.
d. Is global warming contributing to extreme weather patterns?
Yes. Global warming is altering the climate system, increasing its variability and changing local weather patterns.
In 2003, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) made a connection between a dramatic increase in extreme weather and global warming. The WMO is a science-based UN organization without an environmental agenda.
On December 30 of last year, the combined US National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine released a headline article summarizing the 2005 weather records and the record damage and casualties that occurred around the globe as a consequence.
e. Are sea levels already rising?
Yes. Scientists believe that the average sea level has already risen between 4 and 10 inches over the last 100 years.
The IPCC projects that from 1990 to 2100, the mean sea level will rise between 3 and 35 inches.
At current projections, several mid-oceanic nations, including the Maldives in the Indian Ocean and Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean, could completely disappear.
f.As the climate changes, are animal habitats and spring thaw being altered?
Yes. In the Northern Hemisphere the first freeze occurs 10 days later than it did 150 years ago, and spring thaw begins 9 days earlier.
Research done recently at the University of Amsterdam indicates that as sea temperatures rise, plankton can be expected to die off, thus starving out the very bottom of the food chain.
a.Is the Earth's perennial ice coverage shrinking?
Yes. In 1930 Glacier National Park had 150 glaciers; today only 30 remain. National Geographic, in a recent (Feb 2006) article, reports that Switzerland has lost 20% of its glacier ice in the last 15 years. Overall, Europe has lost 50% of its alpine glacier ice in the last century. The lead picture caption in the article (of a resort trying to prevent snow loss by using ice blankets on slopes) states in bold print, "If current temperature trends hold, 50 to 80 percent of the remaining Alpine glacier ice could vanish by 2100."
According to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, perennial arctic sea ice is currently melting at a rate of 9 percent each decade. The loss of polar ice caps and other large perennial ice sheets (Greenland and Antarctica) are critical elements in climate change, since the perennial ice serves to reflect significant amounts of sunlight from the Earth's surface back into space. Loss of this reflectivity is an early and critical contributor to reinforcing feedback loops that can accelerate global climate change. Moreover, as the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica shrink, the resultant run-off directly raises sea level.
The chart to the right depicts shrinkage of the Polar Ice Cap extent as tracked by the National Snow and Ice Data Center of the US. The September dates shown here represent late (though not August minimum) summer ice extent. If we had shown data from the first year available, the ice shrinkage would have been more severe.
New York Times:
New York Times on Arctic Ice
Examining The Arctic Melt - Andrew C. Revkin (video)
Greenland at the Ice's Edge
Andrew C. Revkin (video)
Postcards From The Arctic
Andrew C. Revkin
b.Has atmospheric carbon dioxide already risen?
Yes. To determine the level of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere from hundreds or thousands of years ago, scientists use ice core samples. The Industrial Revolution substantially altered the near-static level of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. Primarily as a result of burning fossil fuels, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is near 378 p.p.m. and climbing -- an increase of 35% since the early 1800s. Because carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for around 100 years, even if we stopped burning fossil fuels today the effects of global warming would continue well into the future. In fact, our emissions today will still be in the atmosphere of our great-grandchildren and beyond.
c.Have global temperatures already risen?
Yes. 2005 was the hottest year ever in the 100 years of recording the earth’s surface temperature, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The temperature has risen 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last 30 years alone. In addition, some measurements of oceanic surface temperatures suggest that they have risen, at least in certain areas, twice the amount that global atmospheric temperatures have risen. Although the absolute rise might seem small, the resulting underlying effects (including accelerating and reinforcing feedback loops) are extremely troubling. It can be helpful to view global temperature more as a significantly lagging symptom of global climate change than as the present source of a global problem. Moreover, apparently small changes in atmospheric temperature can contribute to other visible climate changes. (See Question d. below.) Current and continued greenhouse gas production (and its attendant results) is projected to result in a rise in global temperatures of between 3 and 9 degrees Fahrenheit over the next 100 years. A mere 3-degree increase in Earth’s prevailing temperature would make the planet warmer than at any time in the last 125 thousand years. Human evolution, as we think of it, occurred in a temperature range much more like recent temperatures. As Elizabeth Kolbert states in the initial global warming New Yorker article, the last time the temperature was this warm, dinosaurs roamed Wyoming. Furthermore, the modern human race and culture have no experience on earth with that higher level of prevailing temperature.
As bad as the global average temperature rise looks in the chart to the right, it is seriously misrepresents and understates the temperature impact of global warming. Temperature increases two to four times greater are occurring in the far northern latitudes (north of 75 degrees) where the two primary reinforcing feedback loops are triggered (ice melt and tundra thaw). See Report 3.
World Temperatures Keep Rising With a Hot 2005
d.Is global warming contributing to extreme weather patterns?
Yes. A heat wave in France kills 15,000 people. On October 24, 2005 southern Italy had a torrential rainstorm drop more rain in three hours than the region normally sees in an entire year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists have attributed the severe drought conditions persisting in the western US to unprecedented sea surface temperature patterns in the Pacific. The projected global climate change is expected to drive vast changes in local weather patterns resulting in, among other things, growing and persistent drought where natural moisture (including ground water) has been used to support large agricultural producing regions. Much of the radiant energy trapped by global warming is absorbed by oceans, and dissipated through mechanisms not yet fully understood. During this year’s hurricane season, when numerous hurricanes passed over the Gulf of Mexico they gained strength from the warmer water, some areas being 5 degrees above normal. While individual storms cannot be directly linked to global warming, warmer oceans can be linked to global warming, and with warmer oceans come stronger hurricanes. In the October 3, 2005 Time Magazine, editors subtitled their cover story "Evidence Mounts that human activity is helping fuel these monster hurricanes." Even before the recent devastating hurricane season, the August 4, 2005 issue of National Geographic cited MIT professor Kerry Emanuel's projections that every 1 degree C rise in sea surface temperatures should result in a 5% increase in storm intensity, but added, "What we've seen is larger than that, and we don't really know why."
On December 30 of last year, the combined US National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine released a headline article that summarizes weather records from the year 2005 and the record damage and casualties that occurred around the globe as a consequence. It includes these specific observations:
Severe long-term drought affected parts of Africa, and Europe received less than half its normal rainfall between October 2004 and June 2005. In India, unprecedented heavy rain and widespread flooding killed 18,200 people and affected more than 22 million. Warmer-than-average Arctic temperatures brought the extent of sea ice to an all-time low.
The 2005 Atlantic hurricane season tallied the largest number of storms and hurricanes in documented history. Hurricane Wilma was the most intense storm ever recorded. In the United States, a June heat wave broke more than 200 daily records in six Western states and logged the most consecutive days at or above 125 degrees Fahrenheit at Death Valley, Calif. Drier than average conditions led to the most active wildfire season that burned more than 8.5 million acres. Yet, nine states in the Northeast had their wettest Octobers, and Massachusetts had a record amount of snowfall.
e.Are sea levels already rising?
Yes. Scientists believe that the average sea level has already risen between 4 and 10 inches over the last 100 years. The IPCC projects that from 1990 to 2100 the mean sea level will rise between 3 and 35 inches. Two of the most grave and obvious results of rising sea levels are (1) the loss of coastal habitats for perhaps as many as 100 million people and (2) the loss of significant aqua-cultural and agricultural producing areas. Two additional serious results that are not as obvious include (a) saltwater intrusion into ground and drinking water sources and (b) increased coastal flooding resulting from the sea level rise coupled with storm surges. The rise in sea level results from both the ice melting from glaciers and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and the thermal expansion of sea water. Should climate change continue on its expected path with the further ice melting anticipated by scientists, the rise in sea level could produce dramatic consequences. Unknown millions of these residents will have to be relocated. The vast majority of the global transport infrastructure will have to be rebuilt, perhaps more than once. It is estimated that seventy-five percent of the world's population lives within 60 miles of an ocean.
The poster child for the impact of rising sea levels is the Alaskan sea-side village of Shishmaref. This tiny town of 591 residents is literally being washed away by the rising sea level and waves. In response, the US government is preparing to spend $180 million to move these 591 people 13 miles inland. That is over $300,000 per person for the relocation. As the sea level continues to rise, this expensive relocation practice will likely be replayed for many thousands of similarly positioned sea-side dwellers.
A number of mid-oceanic nations are expected to completely disappear, perhaps within 50 years. The Maldives, a popular vacation destination in the mid-Indian Ocean, is a string of 26 atolls, the highest point of which is 8 feet above sea level. Current projections for continued rise in the sea level threaten the existence of the entire Republic of Maldives. Similarly, Kiribati, a mid-Pacific nation of 33 small atolls, is also expected to disappear. None of the atolls is more than 6.5 feet above sea level. Stanford University climatologist Stephen Schneider was recently quoted, “For Kiribati, the tipping point has already occurred. As far as they are concerned, it’s tipped.”
ABC News- Report: Global Warming May Harm NJ Coast
Debate on Climate Shifts to Issue of Irreparable Change
f.As the climate changes, are animal habitats and spring thaw being altered?
Yes. In the Northern Hemisphere the first freeze occurs 10 days later than it did 150 years ago, and spring thaw begins 9 days earlier. While this may seem like an advantage to farmers and people who dislike the winter, it threatens a large part of the Earth's ecosystem. Certain habitats are simply disappearing, like those of polar bears and seals, while other migratory species are being pushed from their habitats due to air and ocean temperature changes.
Research done recently at the University of Amsterdam indicates that as sea temperatures rise, plankton can be expected to die off, thus starving out the very bottom of the food chain. The sea is one of the earth’s great carbon sinks. The research showed that as temperatures rise, nutrients will fail to reach the surface layers where the plankton live, thus starving the plankton. As plankton die, the rest of the entire oceanic food chain will be threatened.
Whale Birth Decline Tied To Global Warming
National Geographic News
OUR COMFORTABLE WORLD
Editorial by Chris Weisbrot
Many view the proliferation of the air conditioner in the 20th century as the separation of humans from the environment (though–one might argue–the caveman had it pretty good also, and he still chased the woolly mammoth around). Each morning we awake in our air-conditioned homes, drive to work with dual-climate-controlled cars, and produce at the office under central air. We can even hunt for our food in an air-conditioned store or at the drive-thru on a summer’s day at a cool seventy-two degrees. Because of this, because we all tote around our own little utopias every day, Mother Nature seems slightly distant. This is why I love a good snowstorm, equalizing all commuters by snowing them in. Or the feeling of smallness at the pull of the ocean’s current. Perhaps this is why, I think, events like hurricanes and tornados surprise us all. We have become accustomed to the climate-controlled environment, accustomed to controlling our own little part of nature. The 21st century might just put us in our place. We know that carbon dioxide raises Earth’s temperature. We know that the temperature has already risen. We know that tomorrow we will emit more carbon dioxide than we did today. And finally we know that with even a slight increase in global temperatures, local weather patterns are altered. The ice is melting, the seas are rising, the temperature is increasing, and the storms are wreaking more and more havoc. It’s time to wake up and change more than the bubble around us.– Chris