Will Global Warming Ruin Christmas?

With a scientifically proven warming trend on the rise, Christmas might become a backyard barbecue party in a few decades.

But wait, why is there snow in certain places on Earth where cold weather was not a particular feature to begin with? No, global warming is not a hoax. Here is some info that might debunk some myths and clear things up for you.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has been analyzing data running back 200.000 years using ice core information and weather data from the 19th and 20th century. As the greenhouse gas release for the most of our history was rather low, the temperature has fluctuated, but essentially remained the same for the fist period considered. In what concerns the period from 1971 to 2020, their data suggests that it is getting warmer at an unprecedented rate.

global warming statistics

[Source: Nature.com]

2016  is the hottest year on record, beating the last year record which was held by 2015 and being the 40th year in a row with abnormally high global temperatures. Each of the first six months of 2016 set a record as the warmest respective month globally in the modern temperature record, which dates to 1880, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York.

The six-month period from January to June was also the planet’s warmest half-year on record, with an average temperature 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the late nineteenth century. To place the findings in a historical context, scientists usually compare temperatures with “normal” temperatures averaged over a 30-year stretch, usually 1961 to 1990.

According to the US National Climatic Data Center, part of NOAA, if you are under 30 years old, you never lived through a year where the average surface temperature of our planet was below average. People who are 60 years old had a completely different Earth in terms of climate.

So we need to face it. The climate has already changed.

key factor in temperature rises is the severely increased CO2 level in the atmosphere. And we all know where that comes from – in a nutshell, pollution. There has been a 142 percent increase in CO2 levels compared to those at the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. The greenhouse gases form a layer in the atmosphere that acts like a thermal blanket, absorbing the heat reflected from the earth. Afterwards, it radiates back, further increasing the Earth’s surface even more. Warmer climate will probably lead to more evaporation and precipitation overall, but in individual regions it will vary, some becoming wetter and others dryer.

thermal blanket global warming

[Source: NASA]

Of course there is also a CO2 cycle that has been going on for millions of years. The CO2 is taken out of the air by mixing with the water in the atmosphere and forming carbonic acid. That accounts for the rather acid pH of the rain, which doesn’t exactly have a neutral value of 7, but a rather 5.5 value. Further on, it reacts with rocks, breaking them down and helping soil formation. There have been high and low peaks in the level of CO2 with extremely large variations, but speaking on a large geological scale.

That means that there have been rises of 5 to 8 degrees Celsius in the past, but over the course of millions of years, meaning that the ecosystems had time to adapt, and managed to do so, as only few species have gone extinct in those periods. So even if the course of the geological cycle is kept, as in the increase of CO2 is cyclical, its speed has, for a long while now, reached pathological values and the issue needs to be seriously addressed.

The consequences are pretty clear: the water cycle gets damaged. And that happens in time. As the oceans absorb heat, the water molecules expand and thus the sea levels rise. On land, the heat waves generated droughts in South Africa, China and Brazil and some parts of the United States and increased rainfalls in parts of Russia, United States, Japan, Argentina and many others. India, alongside with New Zealand and Western Europe received fewer rainfalls.

Some notable mentions are also that the United States have gone through rather harsh winters and Antarctica gained ice, 560,000 square kilometers of it, to be precise, setting a new record, compared to the previous years. So there’s more sea ice now than the 1981 to 2010 average levels.

But still, Antarctica is losing ice at an unprecedented rate across most of the continent. Ice has increased in East Antarctica and the interior of West Antarctica, but other parts of it are still melting.

A lot of them.

A study made by NASA explains that the melting glaciers have been depositing  freshwater, that once with the melting of the glacier got released. Summoning one’s basic knowledge of middle-school physics, one deduces that freshwater has a higher freezing point than the salt water of the Southern Ocean.

So the paper concludes that the top layer of water surrounding Antarctica has been diluted by the massive quantity of freshwater released, that freezes more easily today. That accounts for the ice accumulation that has been reported to increase each decade from around 1975.

Now let’s get some facts straight. According to the dictionary, the word ’weather’ refers to the state of the atmosphere at a given time and place, whereas ’climate’ is weather over time and thus climate change is about long-term weather changes of the planet, such as evolution of the ice caps, sea levels, changes in rainfall pattern and so on.

A study conducted by the Yale University helps to better discern between the two terms, global warming and climate change.  Although they are often used synonymously, it appears that the term ’climate change’ is 20 years older than ’global warming’.

As it turns out, the two terms generate different interpretations among the general public, ’global warming’ having a bigger impact upon people, as it strongly increases one’s concerns, worries and emotions towards potential harmful effects. The study revealed that the term ’climate change’ was more closely linked with weather phenomena such as storms and felt less emotional and less of a treat. So by choosing to specifically use one of these terms, it can virtually change the outlook of the audience over this huge issue.

google books global warming

Next on the list are some geographical phenomena that normally occur and need to be acknowledged to further understand the warming trend. El Niño and La Niña are complex weather patterns resulting from variations in ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. La Niña is the cold phase and El Niño the cold warm.

The oceans have a great capacity to store heat, providing inertia against temperature fluctuations. This basically means that it takes longer for great spans of water to warm or cool over time. And as it gets carried by the winds, a year with a stronger El Niño will impact the weather for a longer period of time than that needed for the phenomenon to actually take place.

The video below helps to better understand the big picture:

[Source: National Ocean Service]

The next phenomenon is the Polar Vortex, that is basically a large mass of extremely cold air that is trapped near the polar caps by the so called polar night jet. The low height, low pressure characteristics determine a counterclockwise circulation and that’s why it’s called a vortex. polar vortex

It is present throughout the air but because in winter the temperature drops, the air becomes colder, thus denser and it shrinks. And depending on the conditions, these „Vortex slips” upon the northern American continent can occur, causing bitterly cold winters.

But harsh conditions in winter do not disprove global warming, such as the existence of night does not disprove sunlight. Global warming refers to the planet as a whole. For example, in the past decade, Europe and Russia were much hotter than average. India was cooler than average. Australia was way warmer and so on.

The global temperatures will vary over long-term periods, thus the consequences will become more and more visible only after certain time spans.

And there are a couple of radical consequences that need to be seriously addressed. Apart from the mainstream aspects that I already mentioned, climate change has already lead to some particular anomalies, some of which were unexpected:

I. Increase in volcano eruptions. As the sea level rises, the distribution of weight on Earth’s crust shifts from land to sea and might lead to unexpected cataclysms. Volcanoes are known to have a great impact on climate. Millions of years ago, volcanoes used to be the biggest source of CO2 release in the atmosphere, so an increase in the number of eruptions in our times that already experience a great deal of CO2 emissions would not exactly be something desirable.

II. Suffocation of sea water. With the ice melting that occurs at the poles earlier and earlier in the summer, more sunlight will get to certain seafloor areas that were accustomed to dark conditions of living and thus irrevocably transform and potentially damage the ecosystems, that consist of various seaweed, worms, sponges, invertebrates. Over the years, this longer exposure to light might push ecosystems from invertebrate-dominated to algae-dominated.

III. Awakening deadly diseases. Climate change is thought to revive frozen microbes caught in the Siberian permafrost and other areas of the Arctic circle. Rising temperatures defrost the soil in the summer and unleash the spores that subsequently get carried by the wind and are capable of infecting people and animals anew.

This could also happen for life-threatening bacteria like the bubonic plague or smallpox, or for the type of microbes that are enhanced by warmer media. In August 2016, there was an anthrax outbreak in Siberia that resulted in 20 people who contracted it. This is cause by the Bacillus anthracis that occurs naturally and infects an estimated 2.000 people each year. It was concluded that the microbe strain from 2016 was exactly the one that killed 1 million reindeers back in the 20th century when these kind of outbreaks were a rather commonplace thing in Siberia. This was possible due to the extremely resistant spores of the microbe and the low temperatures that basically refrigerated it over the decades. The animals were buried by the local population in approximately 7000 burial zones and since then, there were no notable outbreaks, the last one happening in 1941.

climate 2013 global warming

[Source: Washington Post]

IV. Damaging biocrusts. Ubiquitous organisms like microbes, lichens and mosses form biocrusts that anchor the soil, especially in desert regions, preventing it from erosion. They also have a critical role in cycling carbon and providing nitrogen in the soil, helping desert plants thrive.The distribution of these microbes is likely to be altered due to climate change, resulting in bigger deserted fields, exposing other areas to drought and food shortage.

V. Climate refugee crisis. In 2015 alone, we lost 5 islands in the Pacific Ocean due to rising sea levels. Islands like Tuvalu and Kiribati suffered  and a significant part of the population was forced to move to other islands. It is estimated that 414 US cities  and many others around the globe might have the same fate in the foreseeable future.

VI. Last, but not least, though definitely relevant, climate change is making it harder to breathe. According to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Association, more frequent, intense and longer-lasting extreme weather events could exacerbate many of the conditions that trigger asthma. This disease is the third cause of hospitalization in children and the past year reports show a 30% increase in child cases of this sort.Obama also addressed the issue when he debated the link between his daughter’s preschool asthma attacks and climate change.Climate change has raised ground levels of ozone, a toxic compound of smog. When inhaled, it can cause chest pains, troubles when breathing and even increase asthma attacks. This also happens in big cities.

Intense traffic leads to bigger CO2 emissions and, when combined with other pollutants, can heavily irritate the lungs and cause predisposition to cardiovascular diseases. Bigger CO2 emissions also lead to shorter winters and thus a longer growing season for pollen producing plants and other strong allergens, largely affecting how allergies manifest. So no one gets left out.

Solutions?

Of course, there is no single solution to this.

No matter the number of causes or consequences, it is decisive to first acknowledge the problem and be aware of how it can affect you. There are people that already took action on large scales, constantly trying to combat the effects of global warming, but everything starts with a first change at an individual level. Many famous people including actors (Arnold Schwarzenegger, Leonardo DiCaprio) musicians like Bon Jovi or Incubus, basketball players (Steve Nash), skaters as Tony Hawk, supported charities and foundations that help the environment.

The Union of Concerned Scientists is helping advance science-based solutions for a healthy, safe and sustainable future and discussed some solutions.

Reusability Is The Key

Boosting energy efficiency to power our homes and cities could save a great deal of energy and money, if used in a more productive way. Also, one cannot emphasise enough how implementing renewable energy on a greater scale will help our environment. Being proven to reduce pollution, affordable and create new jobs, solar panels, geothermal and eolian energy are extremely competent means to harvest energy with the least damage to our Earth.

Low-Carbon and Zero-Carbon Technologies

Developing  low-carbon and zero-carbon technologies alongside with greening transportation and a drastic decrease in use of fossil fuel are essential to hinder the effects of climate change. Key action steps include: not building any new coal-burning power plants, initiating a phased shutdown of coal plants starting with the oldest and dirtiest, and capturing and storing carbon emissions from power plants. There have been major breakthroughs in developing such technologies but there is still an ongoing research to reach the best solution.

Sustainable Development

Ensuring sustainable development.  Each and every country plays a role to some extent in this matter, therefore each should bring their contributions to the problems of climate change and their responsibilities and capacities to confront it.

A variety of solutions are at hand, such as managing forests and agriculture so as to hinder illegal deforestation and agriculture emissions (that represent up to 30% percent of the world’s heat-trapping emissions), helping rural and urban zones to make the transition to low-carbon development pathways and aid the adaptations for further impacts of climate change. The further pursuit of this is worthwhile and will turn out highly beneficial for the population.

The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking – Albert Einstein

Anca

Anca

Science lover, stargazer, professional sleeper.
Anca

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  • Rick Kooi

    Google the National Snow & Ice Data Center
    look for the 2016 low ice levels.
    Both the Arctic and Antarctica have had record low ice levels.
    ***
    2016 U.S. temperatures compared to normal. (NOAA)
    Every single state and every single city in the Lower 48 states was warmer than normal in 2016. For the nation, the year ranked second-warmest in records that date back to 1895.
    The nation’s average temperature was 54.9 degrees, nearly 3 degrees above the long-term average, NOAA reported.
    Only 2012 was warmer in historical records, NOAA said, by less than half a degree.

    The U.S. has had 20 straight warmer-than-normal years and is warming at the rate of 0.15 degrees per decade.
    ****
    HEADLINES:
    “….Gravity—yes, gravity—is the latest victim of climate change in Antarctica. That’s the stunning conclusion announced Friday by the European Space Agency.
    “The loss of ice from West Antarctica … caused a dip in the gravity field over the region,” writes the ESA, whose GOCE satellite measured the change. Apparently,
    melting billions of tons of ice year after year has implications that would make even Isaac Newton blanch.
    ****
    Nasa
    “For the second time this month, the sun has appeared completely blank. Paul Dorian, a meteorologist at Vencore Weather posted an image from Nasa,
    taken last week, which shows the Sun’s visible surface completely devoid of the dark sunspots that usually dot its outer layers. Earlier this month the
    Sun went through a similar period of blankness, indicating it is approaching its next ‘solar minimum phase’.

    ((Listening to the Very Small Skeptical / Denial Wing in modern science, you would imagine that Snow would already be routine in New Orleans as we slide int to
    an Ice Age…long predicted to accompany THIS BLANK SOLAR Minimum….(we have had many solar minimums) THIS solar Minimum was accompanied
    by some of the HIGHEST RECORD WORLD TEMPERATURES…proving the Power of Fossil Fuel Generated Green House Gases))

    ” The Sun’s surface goes through eleven-year cycles that move between periods of increased and decreased sunspot production. Right now the Sun is heading towards
    its next solar minimum, where the Sun produces very few sunspots. Due in 2020,
    the Sun last reached the solar minimum point in 2009, Yet WORLD Temperatures continued to rise.

    ****
    ENCYCLOPEDIA
    The onset of the Little Ice Age also occurred * WELL BEFORE * the beginning of the Maunder minimum.

    (We had been sliding into the next real ice age for several thousand years.
    …the interglacial warming Peak ENDED approximately 7000 years ago)

    The correlation between low sunspot activity and cold winters in England has recently been analyzed using the longest existing surface temperature record, the Central England Temperature record.[15]
    They emphasize that this is a regional and seasonal effect relating to European winters, and not a global effect. A potential explanation of this has been offered by observations by NASA’s Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment, which suggest that solar UV output is more variable over the course of the solar cycle than scientists had previously thought
    In 2011, an article was published in the Nature Geoscience journal that uses a climate model with stratospheric layers and the SORCE data to tie low solar activity to jet stream behavior and mild winters in some places (southern Europe and Canada/Greenland) and colder winters in others (northern Europe and the United States).[17] In Europe, examples of very cold winters are 1683-84, 1694–95, and the winter of 1708–09.[18]
    Note that the term “Little Ice Age” applied to the Maunder minimum is something of a misnomer as it implies a period of unremitting cold (and on a global scale), which is not the case. For example, the coldest winter in the Central England Temperature record is 1683-84, but the winter just two years later (both in the middle of the Maunder minimum) was the fifth warmest in the whole 350-year CET record.
    Furthermore,
    summers during the Maunder minimum were NOT significantly different from those seen in subsequent years. The drop in global average temperatures in paleoclimate reconstructions at the start of the Little Ice Age was between about 1560 and 1600, whereas the Maunder minimum began almost 50-100 years later.[original research?]
    Extensive study indicates that the LOSS of Short Wave Radiation energy emitted from the sun will be less that 1 year of energy gain from Anthropogenic Global Warming.
    ***
    Based on a LONG AGO DISPROVEN idea that solar minimums will cause an ice age or mini ice age, Today’ Very Small SKEPTIC Segment of Science DENIES the need to deal realistically with Global Warming or its resulting CLIMATE CHANGES.