The chart below shows a big dip in 2012 when the floods in Pakistan and Australia held water on land for a while but of course it made it's way to the sea in the end.
A recent report on research by J. T. Reager using NASA's GRACE satellite shows that increased heavy rainfall, caused by the atmosphere being able to hold more water in a warmer planet, has resulted in more water being stored on land and has reduced the effects of sea level rise.
The chart below shows a big dip in 2012 when the floods in Pakistan and Australia held water on land for a while but of course it made it's way to the sea in the end.
As can be seen in the chart, sea level has recently been rising at a much faster rate and must be approaching 5 mm a year. There are more reports from Greenland that the rate of melting ice is accelerating and the combination this and other related factors is making sea level rise something that is becoming an urgent problem.
The chart below shows the coastal regions that are at risk from sea level rise and recent events are making the critical one metre rise closer and closer in time.
Looking at Europe in closer detail you can see the catastrophic loss of land and infrastructure. The East coast of the USA from New Orleans to New York will also suffer dramatic losses, as well as China.
The economic losses of such a huge amount of infrastructure will bankrupt even the richest economies and the displacement of many millions of people will cause civil strife that will make Syria look like a Sunday school outing.
A recent report highlights the problems the big CO2 emitting nations are causing the poorer and developing nations by changing the climate.
The difference between the USA, China and India is quite stark as this World Bank chart shows. The USA has a per capita output of CO2 of around 18 tonnes, China, New Zealand and also the European Union are around 6.5 tonnes and India is down at 1.5 tonnes.
If China reaches the per capita CO2 tonnes.missions of the USA it will be all over so lets hope that they are sincere and successful in their declared intention of changing their energy source.
Global warming or climate change implies higher temperatures and a warmer climate but in fact the real problem is getting weather that we are not accustomed to whether it be hotter or cooler or wetter or dryer.
There are major temperature regions that have always been fixed and they influence the flow of atmosphere around the planet but some of these are now changing. Just to name a few of the big ones, there is the loss of arctic ice, the cold patch in the North Atlantic, the warm patch in the North Pacific, the lowering of the salinity of the North Atlantic and of course the increase in Arctic temperatures that is three times the global average. This has nothing to do with El Nino which may just accentuate the whole situation.
The problem here is not so much the science that gives cause and effect, but the results that have been experienced. One result that has been noticed is the change in the Jet stream and whether it was caused by the reduced Arctic sea ice, as Jennifer Francis believes, or the extra heat in the Pacific Ocean, as Kevin Trenberth believes, is open to debate but the result is that the jet stream is making much deeper waves and is slowing down.
The slower jet stream gets stuck and has caused a heat wave in Europe that killed 60,000 people, a drought in Russia that destroyed the grain harvest, drought in California and really cold winters and floods on the USA East coast.
Fast melting of the ice on Greenland has caused a lowering of salinity in the North Atlantic and the cold patch of ocean in the same place. This combination has resulted in a slowing of the Gulf Stream with the resulting increased heat on the American East coast and a bending of the North East air flow across the Atlantic to change the course of the weather streams. The result has been some very powerful storms on the American East coast such as Sandy and the recent heavy snow storm and also the major UK floods in 2012 and 2015.
The warm water, Blob in the North Pacific has caused the drought in California and probably the unseasonal floods in the Mississippi.
The increased acidity of the oceans as it absorbs the extra CO2 from the atmosphere is causing a reduction in phytoplankton of 30% to 40%and consequential reduction in the base of the food chain. The mass deaths of sea birds and whale stranding’s may or may not be linked to the loss of food but many people are drawing conclusions.
These long forecast outcomes are just starting to happen but we need to very aware that these are not isolated events and are all linked and caused by our changing planet.
With the 2015 sea levels now in we can see how the latest four year trend has a steep upwards gain.
This must be nearer 5 mm per year and shows that the whole situation is becoming unstable.
Now that 2015 is complete and the records of the climate are being made available, it gives us the opportunity to see where we are today and where we are heading. The above chart is from the Japan Meteorology Agency and shows how the surface temperature of the planet has taken a dramatic upward swing.
The second chart, from NASA, shows how the temperature has varied around the world with much greater heat in the Arctic, Russia and Canada. The big worry is the cold patch in the North Atlantic, reportedly caused by Greenland melting. This is exactly what was forecast by Al Gore in 'An Inconvenient Truth' all those years ago and has been consistently ridiculed by deniers. The Gulf Stream is reported as slowing and weather patterns in the USA, the UK and Europe are far from normal.
The final chart, by a team of climate researchers from Switzerland, Australia and the UK led by Seneviratne, shows how a 2C average temperature increase is cooler on the oceans and much warmer on the land masses, especially as you get closer to the Arctic. In the colour scale the sea is 2C, most land masses are 3C, Canada and Russia are 4C and the Arctic 6C.
Those farmers in Texas who think that they are going to move to new lands in the North are going to be bitterly disappointed because the extreme temperature change will make farming impossible. There is not enough detail to show the drought around the Mediterranean which is already causing civil unrest in that region.
All in all its a very stark scenario of the worst outcome that has been predicted for years.
Oil is a diminishing resource with a volatile price and we need to be using much more of our abundant renewable energy for our transport system. The current price of $30 per barrel will not be good news in the long term as the world does not like volatility with the important resource.
As we live and farm on the land an average global temperature rise of 2 C can mean a local temperature of 3 C or more on the land. This would be the end of farming as we know it.
Colours on the chart indicate 2 C on the sea and most land is
3 C or 4 C and the Arctic is 6 C.
The warming of the planet is a slow moving event and it has taken one hundred years to gain 1 C but the loss of sea ice in the Arctic is happening very quickly and is accelerating and, importantly,for the man in the street in the Northern hemisphere, it is affecting the weather.
The summer ice has declined 40% so far and forecasters are looking at an ice free summer by 2030 but we will not need to wait that long for really marked climate changes to be seen.
The UK has seen massive flooding events in 2012/3 and again in 2015. The USA has had dramatic swings of weather from being exceptionally warm to very cold.
As the ice reaches 50% decline the strong link between violent extreme weather events and ice loss will become more apparent and it is these damaging weather events that disrupt people lives and the economy that make climate change real to the man in the street.
This NOAA report explains the current state of ice loss.
It is no longer something that hurts polar bears or flood some poor people in remote parts of the world but reaches right into big cities and wealthy economies.
Climate change is a very wide ranging subject and how it will affect our lives at a personal level is sometimes hard to deduce. To illustrate what might happen locally we could look at trees and see how they will fare and from that we can deduce other environmental changes.
To state the obvious, trees are not mobile, and because they have been growing in the same locality in a wood for thousands of years with a stable climate they are not very tolerant to change.
The evidence of this is easily observed from where you live. If you look at the trees in your locality and take note of the types and then travel North or South to where the temperature is 3C warmer or cooler, you will notice that the trees will be very different. This indicates that the trees grow where they have the climatic conditions to suit them and if you change the climate by 3C they will be under considerable stress even if moisture and nutrients remain the same.
Another way of observing trees natural temperature range is by changing the elevation. Temperature goes down by 7C for every 1000 meters of altitude and so if you go up a hill 500 meters the temperature will drop 3.5C and this might be easier than driving 1000 Kilometers North or South.
The green/blue patches on the temperature map roughly equate to the mountainous regions.
This paragraph from New Zealand research by D. O. BERGIN and M. O. KIMBERLEY. into improving the success of collecting and planting the seeds of trees and the value of getting the climatic conditions right for survival, including altitude.
Totara growth. http://newzealandecology.org/nzje/1911.pdf
“ It follows that large-scale planting for ecological purposes, such as re-vegetation of former Totara forest areas, should use seed of local origin and similar altitude in order to obtain trees with the same genetic integrity and which are suited to the local climatic conditions”.
The blue on the rainfall map shows how the rainfall in Northland varies in detail but roughly equates to more rainfall on high ground.
Humans have been burning fossil fuels in huge amounts over the last hundred years and have moved the CO2 content of the atmosphere from its normal range of 180 ppm in an ice age to 280 ppm in a warm period to over 400 ppm today. This increase in CO2, which is a major greenhouse gas, has already caused the global temperature to rise by 1C and there is debate about whether we can contain the rise below 2C or even 3C. This is affecting the normal circulation of atmospheric winds around the globe and means that in some areas there is increasing drought and in some areas increasing rain and you can be certain that where you live will not remain the same.
To get an idea of what the climate will be like in a world with 400 ppm of CO2 paleontologists have been researching the conditions when the world last had CO2 levels at that level, which was in the Pliocene era between 3 and 5 million years ago.
What they have found is that the temperature was 3C warmer and the sea levels were 12 meters higher. Sea level is not an issue here so we will concentrate on the 3C temperature rise.
The first thing that springs to mind is that the trees of the Pliocene period were not the trees we have today and even if some of them are very similar they would have been growing in a completely different region of the world.
For a tree to grow healthily it needs a number of elements to be kept constant. The tree needs the temperature to remain within its narrow range of tolerance, it needs the right amount of water and for it to be available at the right time of year, the right amount of sunshine and it needs the right soil conditions to suit its needs.
Trees like CO2 and so they can be expected to grow faster if they have more of it but it has been found that the other elements, particularly water are more important. Research at the University of Western Sidney, where they are conducting many experiments on the effects of Increased CO2 and also changing rainfall patterns on trees shows that water supplies are the dominant factor in growth.
Explanation of the many types of research here.
In this photograph of the UWS research facility the elevated part of the tree line is where the trees have been given extra water.
A danger with elevated CO2 in the atmosphere is that when it rains the natural ph of the water is slightly acidic and as our civilisation continues to burn fossil fuels we are increasing the acidity of the rain water.
A tree has a huge root system which is as important to it as its branches and it relies on microbes in the soil to be healthy. Additional acidity can be fatal and although acid rain is associated with sulphur from burning coal everything that affects the trees natural state can put it under stress and be detrimental to its health.
Most of the damage to our forests up to now have been caused by heat and drought and what appears to happen is that the tree becomes stressed by lack of water and then, in its weakened state, it becomes overwhelmed by pathogens, which could be beetles or a fungal disease and the tree dies. In addition to this, when a woodland has lots of dead trees, and then there is a forest fire, the fire that erupts is huge, as it has a lot of fuel, and this finishes the whole area off.
Prof Steve Running does an excellent talk on his work on the spruce trees in Montana. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLL7t3tF7z8
Modern satellites use cameras in the infra-red light sector to observe the health of forests around the globe in ways that cannot be done on the ground and the results are becoming increasingly alarming.
Forests are dying all round the world from the boreal forests in the North to the Amazon and Congo on the equator and there are a multiple of causes from drought, to infestation, to acidic soil, to introduced pests, to logging and land clearance and it is going to be a very different world for future generations without the trees and woodlands we are used to.
There is a conveyor belt of deep depressions heading for the UK and to make things worse a high pressure system sitting over Russia is going to block them so that they keep dumping rain and can't move away.
I dont think that this part of climate change was forecast.
The December 2015 floods in the North of England come only two years after the December 2013 floods which inundated the Somerset levels and the Thames Valley. A Northern Newspaper emphasised the Northern regional nature of the current floods and said that the South had money spent on floods defenses while the North was deprived.
While it is true that London has the Thames Barrier this will not be a lot of help in a rainfall flood as it is designed to keep out sea water from storm driven high tides and cannot help control a rainfall flood. It does highlight the danger and cost from these exceptional rain storms which are becoming more frequent and shows that the threat from climate change cannot be accurately forecast or budgeted for.
The Thames has a huge drainage area and although it has always had floods the new situation puts the whole conurbation at risk and the potential cost to London is huge. If in an exceptional series of rainstorms totaling a hundred millimeters or so of rain fell within the Thames catchment area, it would overwhelm the current defenses and flood massive amounts of infrastructure.
The known risks from rainstorms is very high and recent events now show that they are becoming a reality. With the current frequency of rainstorms, it must be a question of 'when' rather than 'if' and this risk is becoming a reality in every country in the world. Politicians are not good at dealing with long term strategic planning because of the short term costs and unrecognized benefit but one good thing from the Paris COP21 agreement is that all the countries in the world have now recognized that climate change is a real threat.
Politicians who try to deny climate change and then suffer a disaster cannot survive in power.
What could New Zealand do to cut Greenhouse gas emissions.
New Zealand's problem is that our emissions profile is different to almost every other country in the world. The first difference is that 50% of our emissions comes from cattle and they burp their methane here and we export their milk or meat product emission free, the complete reverse of exported coal where the CO2 is emitted in the country of purchase. The second difference is that we already use hydro, geothermal, wind and gas to produce electricity whereas most countries can reduce coal burning to make big savings.
Being realistic we are not going to cut our dairy herd, the drop in milk prices may make this self adjusting but I can’t see New Zealand farmers having a big future in broadacre arable farming.
All that is left, in the big numbers, is transport and here technology is on our side. Our fleet of cars is oldish and we currently make no distinction between efficient and gas guzzling cars and there is no assistance to encourage electric cars.
Putting a heavier import tax on inefficient.vehicles would not be difficult and electric cars could be given some help. In the UK there is no tax or GST on electric cars which, considering the small numbers, is not an expensive exercise. The government could buy electric cars for its vehicle fleet which would send a strong message to the market and save money at the same time..
We have a railway network that is going nowhere and unlike Europe and China there are no plans for modernization. Parts of the railway system could be offered to the electricity companies who are looking for a new market for their electricity and have the financial resources to make it happen. Mighty River Power has already stated that is wants to develop transport as a way of securing future markets for it electricity. In the UK model the government owns the track as a national asset and private companies run the system and it works well. It needs a lot of capital but interest rates are very low and the savings on reducing our oil import bill would pay for the improvements.
New Zealand thrives on its point of difference with the rest of the world so how would it look if all our tourists drove electric cars? Its that sort of bold move that shows New Zealand is serious about its clean image and is doing something about it.
A report by James Renwick about the AGU Fall Meeting posted on Hot Topic highlighted the possible end to the temperature hiatus. As you can see from the above chart we have had two previous pauses in the temperature increase, one in 1900 and one 1940. If we are indeed coming out of the third pause and heading for a rise such as was experienced after 1940 then as James said “ if we are now heading back into a more El Niño-dominated period (as in the 1980s and 90s). A period of rapid warming such as we saw in the late 20th century would blow global temperatures right through the 1.5°C warming “guardrail”, given we are already at one degree of warming since pre-industrial times.”
This would indeed be a really bad outcome and bring every dire climate change prediction a lot closer than anyone thinks.
Living in New Zealand we only see a jet contrail once a week or so whereas when in the UK there would be thousands each day and especially in the early morning when all the trans-Atlantic flights come in from the USA. By 10.00 AM the sky would be a milky blue white and this would be normal. Industrial soot and dust add to the story.
In the UK sunbathing is common and it takes a long time to get sunburn. While part of this is due to the higher latitude, a big proportion is due to the cloud cover caused by the jet contrails. In New Zealand you will burn after 15 minutes in the sun and although the lack of ozone protection is part of the story the very clear air gives the Sun direct access to the surface and projects more heat.
Evidence of this comes from the 9/11 disaster in the USA as, when the jets were grounded for three days the temperature of the whole country rose by 1.8 C and the then settled back to normal.
The contrail cloud cover has two effects where firstly it reflects incoming heat back into space during the day and secondly it also stops heat that is nearer the ground escaping and therefore raises the temperature, which is most noticeable at night.
The combined effect is a flattening of the temperature range.
The worry here is that if we eventually get to the point where we really do start to recognize that climate change is ruining the planet and cut back hard on the big polluting industries we have locked in a nearly 2 C temperature hike across the Northern hemisphere which would be instantaneous.
With all the civil unrest and wars in the Middle East there has been considerable debate as to whether climate change has played a part and in particular the drought in Syria. The illustration shows the prediction for the whole of the Mediterranean region for the end of the century and there is a huge reduction in rainfall.
With sea levels already rising faster than predicted, a 50% reduction in Arctic sea ice, a 30% increase in ocean acidity and many weather patterns already changing and noted climate change has already started.
Why would we not see the start of the Middle East drying and land that was productive no longer able to support farming?
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