Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Global Warming
B. Windham(Editor), past member of federal advisory panel on Global Warming
Most scientists agree that the planet's climate has been growing warmer. The period Jan-August of 2010 has been the hottest such period in history(111). The year 2007 tied for second warmest in the period of instrumental data, behind the record warmth of 2005, in the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) analysis. 2007 tied 1998, which had leapt a remarkable 0.2°C above the prior record with the help of the "El Niño of the century". The unusual warmth in 2007 is noteworthy because it occurs at a time when solar irradiance is at a minimum and the equatorial Pacific Ocean is in the cool phase of its natural El Niño-La Niña cycle. (107) 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 were all in the top 5 warmest years in history, with 2000 and 2001 also among the warmest years in history (84,94,35). "There has been a strong warming trend over the past 30 years, a trend that has been shown to be due primarily to increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere," (35,66). The 7 warmest years in recorded history have occurred since 1997 and the 12 warmest have all been since 1990. The 1990s was the warmest decade in recorded history (19,29,67,78,83,84), with 1998 the warmest in recorded history and each month of 1998 setting all time highs(35,94). But the current decade appears it will surpass the 90s (72,35). The global average temperature has increased about 1.5 degree Celsius since 1880, and 0.7 degrees Celsius since 1975 (29,16,36,41,49,90,94,72). An even greater warming is seen in global average minimum temperatures which have increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius since 1950(76b). Northern hemisphere sea surface temperatures have increased over 0.5 degrees C since 1980(67). There is strong evidence that this warming trend is due to the greenhouse effect related to a buildup of carbon dioxide and similar greenhouse chemicals related to manmade increases in fossil fuel emissions and atmospheric release of other chemicals (16,29,22,84). And experts expect a much more rapid increase in the near future(100,29).
A dramatic warming of ground surface temperatures has occurred in areas such as the North slope of Alaska and areas of Canada(38,49,93,109). Stanford University researchers recently concluded in the journal Science, that the breakup of river ice on the Tanana River is occurring an average of 5.5 days earlier in recent years than it did in 1917(93). Over the decade between 1981 and 1991, areas between 45 and 70 degrees North had spring growth beginning 8 days earlier and remaining green 4 days longer(76). Evergreen trees are rapidly spreading north and encroaching into northern tundra areas(67,78). All studies of groups of boreholes measuring ground surface temperatures have found a warming trend in recent decades(37,49,90). There has also been a region-wide post-1970 warming trend in the sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska(19). The average annual temperature rose 3.4 degrees F, with 6.3 degrees F increase in winter(109). Permafrost melting has caused degradation since 1982, damaging highways, infrastructure, etc.
For the period 1979-1997 there was a trend in winter of warming by 1 degree Celsius per decade in the Eastern Arctic Ocean , but a trend of cooling by 1 degree C in the western Arctic Ocean. In the Spring there was a significant warming throughout the Arctic, with +2 degrees C per decade in the Eastern Arctic Ocean (11). The spring warming was associated with a lengthening of the melt season in the eastern Arctic. During the fall, the trends showed a significant warming of 2 degrees C per decade over the coasts of Greenland and in Siberia, but a cooling of 1 degree C per decade over the Beaufort Sea. Siberia saw an increase of 1 degree Celsius in average summer temperatures compared to the average for the period prior to 1980, and overall was more than 2 degrees warmer than in preindustrial times(83). The warming trend in most of the Arctic has accelerated since 1997(79,80)
"The Arctic sea ice has reached its four lowest summer extents (area covered) in the last four years," (112b). Since 2003, when the NASA satellite started taking measurements, Alaska has lost 400 billion tons of land ice. Together with Greenland and Antarctica, the amount of melted land ice is approx. 2 trillion tons. (108a) As sea ice melts, the Arctic waters absorb more heat in the summer, having lost the reflective powers of vast packs of white ice. That absorbed heat is released into the air in the fall. That has led to autumn temperatures in the last several years that are six to 10 degrees warmer than they were in the 1980s. Arctic thawing is releasing methane — the second most potent greenhouse gas. One study shows that the loss of sea ice warms the water, which warms the permafrost on nearby land in Alaska, thus producing methane. (108b) A second study suggests even larger amounts of frozen methane are trapped in lakebeds and sea bottoms around Siberia and they are starting to bubble to the surface in some spots in alarming amounts, said Igor Semiletov, a professor at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. In late summer, Semiletov found methane bubbling up from parts of the East Siberian Sea and Laptev Sea at levels that were 10 times higher than they were in the mid-1990s, he said based on a study this summer. The amounts of methane in the region could dramatically increase global warming if they get released, he said. (108c)
In Siberia an area of permafrost spanning a million square kilometres— the size of France and Germany combined— has started to melt for the first time since it formed 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age(79). Siberia’s peat bogs have been producing methane since they formed at the end of the last ice age, but most of the gas had been trapped in the permafrost. The area, which covers the entire sub-Arctic region of western Siberia, is the world’s largest frozen peat bog and scientists fear that as it thaws, it will release billions of tonnes of methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. The thaw has greatly accelerated in the past three or four years. Climate scientists warned that predictions of future global temperatures would have to be revised upwards. Western Siberia is heating up faster than anywhere else in the world, having experienced a rise of some 3C in the past 40 years. Scientists are particularly concerned about the permafrost, because as it thaws, it reveals bare ground which warms up more quickly than ice and snow, and so accelerates the rate at which the permafrost thaws. Projections of the release of methane is to effectively double atmospheric levels of the gas, leading to a 10% to 25% increase in global warming(79).
Katey Walter of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, told a meeting of the Arctic Research Consortium of the US that her team had found methane hotspots in eastern Siberia. At the hotspots, methane was bubbling to the surface of the permafrost so quickly that it was preventing the surface from freezing over. According to Larry Smith, a hydrologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, the west Siberian peat bog could hold some 70bn tonnes of methane, a quarter of all of the methane stored in the ground around the world(79). A widespread decline in lake abundance and area has occurred in Siberia since 1973, despite slight precipitation increases to the region. The spatial pattern of lake disappearance suggests that thaw and "breaching" of permafrost is driving the observed losses, by enabling rapid lake draining into the subsurface(80). Similar is occurring in other arctic permafrost and tundra areas(86).
There was a record low in the size of the northern ice pack and greatest retreat ever on record in 2005(30), following very large retreats each of the last 4 years(72). Submarine measurements also indicate that the central ice pack thinned by 40 percent from the 1960s to the 1990s. Researchers from NASA and the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) have warned that the arctic ice cap could completely disappear within a century, after a satellite survey this summer revealed ice cover was at its lowest level ever(77). Sea ice coverage was just 2.06m square miles, the scientists said, which is around 20 per cent below the average cover at this time of year in the 1970s. This is low enough to put many arctic species, including the polar bear, at risk. The polar bear -- that pinnacle of megafauna adulation -- could disappear from the planet this century as a result of global warming, according to top scientists(78). The Arctic-dwelling animal, which is the world's largest land predator, is thought to be particularly susceptible to climate change because it relies on floating sea ice to catch seals and hitch lifts from feeding grounds back to den areas. Arctic sea ice is melting at a rate as high as 9 percent per decade, meaning the summers there could be entirely ice-free by 2050(69). The increase in the eastern North American continent temperatures is over 1 degree Celsius, and the increase in far northern climate has been approx. 2 degrees Celsius since the 1880s, closely matching the pattern predicted by climate models of NASA, NOAA, and other climate research groups regarding impacts of greenhouse gas buildups and global warming (49,50,67,68,81,29). Measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide(CO2) in the northern hemisphere over the last century indicate that seasonal swings in concentration have increased 20 % to 40 % in the last 2 decades, and patterns indicate the growth season for trees is starting a full week earlier than the 1960s due to the atmospheric warming(29).
In the last 50 years, the Antarctic Peninsula has warmed even more, about 2.5 degrees Celsius(61,90), though increased snowfall caused by warmer temperatures and more water vapor has led to increased ice thickness in some areas of the Antarctic continent. Two new climate studies predict that global warming by the end of the century will be even more dramatic than a United Nations group has predicted. They both predict temperature increases of over 7 degrees F by 2100. But they predict more rapid increases than past studies, with an average predicted increase of 1.4 degrees F by 2030(100). One Antarctic ice shelf has completely disappeared and another has lost a chunk three times the size of Rhode Island, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey report (110).The USGS study focuses on Antarctica, the Earth's largest reservoir of glacial ice. It shows that Antarctica's glaciers are melting more rapidly than previously known because of climate change.
CLIMATE change researchers have detected the first signs of a slowdown in the Gulf Stream — the mighty ocean current that keeps Britain and Europe from freezing. They have found that one of the “engines” driving the Gulf Stream — the sinking of supercooled water in the Greenland Sea — has weakened to less than a quarter of its former strength. The weakening, apparently caused by global warming and the melting of the arctic icecap, could herald big changes in the current over the next few years or decades. Paradoxically, it could lead to Britain and northwestern and Europe undergoing a sharp drop in temperatures(39).
Ocean surface temperatures have also been found to be increasing(67). Ocean surface temperatures off California to British Columbia have increased between 1.2 to 1.6 degrees Celsius since the 1950s, resulting in a dramatic decrease of 80% in the population of zooplankton which is at the base of the food chain(43,23). Coastal ocean temperatures are 2 to 5 degrees F above normal, which may be related to a lack of updwelling, in which cold, nutrient-rich water is brought to the surface. This has resulted in large declines of other parts of the ecosystem including a drop in fishing tonnage of over 35%, and even higher decreases for some birds and fish heavily dependent on zooplankton. Warm water marine snails and mollusks off the U.S. Pacific coast have been found to be expanding their range north at a rapid rate over the last decade(67).
Gulf and Atlantic air and sea surface temperature off Florida increased significantly over the last 17 years (14 buoy sites analyzed(106)). The air and sea surface temperature was measured by buoys spread all along the Florida Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Locations included Sombrero Key and Venice. Sombrero Key showed an increase in average air and surface temperatures between 1988 and 2005 of 1.46o C and 1.33oC respectively(2.63 oF and 2.39oF). Venice showed a similar pattern with air temperature increase of 0.7oC or 1.26oF. The air and water temperatures were sampled every hour over this period and can be found at the following web page. Six other Florida buoy sites showed similar increases over the last 10 to 13 years (Cedar Key, Dry Tortugas, Sand Key, Long Key, Fowey Rocks, Molasses Key), ranging from air temperature increases of 0.51oC to 0.88oC (0.91oF to 1.58oF) and sea surface temperature increases of 0.18oC to 0.6oC (0.33oF to 1.07oF). (106)
Six more of the National Data Buoy Center buoys that had hourly data reported since 1988 showed a similar trend of increasing air and ocean surface temperatures, off the Atlantic Coast from Daytona Beach to Delaware. Buoys 41002, 41004, 41008, 42001, and 42002, 44004. The increase in average air temperature over the buoys from 1988 to 2005 was from 0.5 to 1.98 degrees Centigrade or 0.9 to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, while the increase in ocean surface temperature was 0.5 to 0.91 degrees Centigrade or 0.9 to 1.64 degrees Fahrenheit. (106)
The largest warming during the last century in the Southeast of the US has occurred along the Gulf Coast region. Much of the warming since the 1950s has occurred in winter. Many of the regional climate change findings over the past five to ten years can be summarized as follows: Temperatures are increasing; Regional temperature changes are several times larger than the global average; Daily minimum temperatures are increasing at twice the rate of maximum temperatures and several times the rate of global temperature increase; Increase for minimum is 1.5o F since 1950 (0.7o F for maximum); Northern hemisphere sea surface temperatures have increased 0.5 degrees C since 1980(67). There is evidence for an enhanced hydrologic cycle; decrease in daily temperature range; more atmospheric water vapor; more precipitation; more intense precipitation events; stronger extra tropical storms. (51,40)
A most serious consequence of climate change during the past Century to the Gulf Coast environments is sea-level rise in response to increased melting of glaciers and polar ice , especially in Greenland(32), and thermal expansion of warmer oceans.(52,46,33,26,29) The historical data suggested sea-level rise of about 12 cm (5 inches) over the last 100 years, and a much greater rise of at least 30 cm would be expected during the next 100 years based on the trend of 3 cm per decade of the last 10 years(103,33,26). 1992 satellite altimetry from TOPEX/Poseidon indicated a rate of about 3 mm/yr but this appears to be increasing(29). According to a 1995 EPA study that has not been updated by the current administration, global warming is most likely to raise sea level 15 cm by the year 2050 and 34 cm by
the year 2100(65). There is also a 10 percent chance that climate change will contribute 30 cm by 2050 and 65 cm by 2100. These estimates do not include sea level rise caused by factors other than greenhouse warming such as subsidence. (the extent and timing of warming has speeded up considerably since 1995, and estimates of sea level rise have generally been significantly increased) A major assessment study by the UN sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC) projects a sea level rise of from 9 cm to 88 cm with a best estimate of 48 cm.
Sea level rise is estimated to be a minimum of 12 inches(30 cm) during the current century(26), and is expected to swamp some coastal cities and villages, shrink islands, and make hurricanes and other extreme weather events more catastrophic. The current unprecedented sequence of extreme weather events of 2010 with fires, floods, huge icebergs, etc. "matches" scientific projections of more frequent and intense extreme weather events due to global warming(112)
It must be stressed that for the Gulf Coast region these are very conservative estimates of local sea level rise, as continued deltaic and coastal subsidence is likely to significantly enhance the apparent sea-level rise above global projections. Sea-level rise has already had significant impacts on coastal areas and these impacts are very likely to increase (60,42,33,26,32,65,29). Between 1985 and 1995, southeastern states lost more than 32,000 acres of coastal salt marsh due to a combination of human development activities, sea-level rise, natural subsidence, and erosion. About 35 square miles of coastal land were lost each year in Louisiana alone from 1978 to 1990. Flood and erosion damage stemming from sea-level rise coupled with storm surges are very likely to increase in coastal communities (33,29,65).
Along with the change and variability in temperature and precipitation, the Gulf Coast region has also experienced change and variability in extreme weather events. For the past 10–20 years, this region has experienced high frequency of weather related extreme events and disasters. The data of 1980–2000 (US Census Bureau, Statistical Abstracts 2001) indicated that of total 46 weather related extreme events and disasters occurred in US, 16 of them (34%) occurred in the Gulf Coast region, with 6 hurricanes, 4 flooding, 3 drought/heat wave, 2 tornado, and 1 tropical storm (Fig. 5 a and b). Hurricanes have become more frequent and energetic (40) with increased water temperatures warmed by global warming providing increased energy. Researchers found a sharp increase during the past 35 years in the number of category 4 and 5 tropical cyclones, the most intense storms that cause most of the damage on landfall. Globally, category 4 and 5 storms climbed 57% from the first half of the period to the second(40bc). As global warming trends continue, the hurricanes that occur later in the 21st century are expected to be stronger and have significantly more intense rainfall than under present day climate conditions. This expectation is based on an anticipated enhancement of energy available to the storms due to higher tropical and coastal U.S. sea surface temperatures(40cd).
The average temperature in the area of the Southern Ocean which includes the Larsen Ice Shelf in Antarctica has increased 2.5 degrees Celsius since the 1940s, resulting in collapse and disintegration of 5 of the 9 Antarctic ice shelves which are now melting at a rapid rate(47,61). The shelf designated as Larsen B, 650 feet thick and with a surface area of 1,250 square miles, has collapsed into small icebergs and fragments, the British Antarctic Survey said. Before breaking apart, the ice shelf was about the size of Rhode Island. However there are different effects and different trends in the various regions of antarctica. Due to increased snowfall on eastern Antarctica, the thickness of sheet ice is increasing and thus offsetting some of the rise in world ocean levels by approx. 0.12 millimeters per year. The increased snowfall appears to be due to global warming with increased water and air temperatures allowing more water vapor and snow(3). And while temperatures have been increasing significantly in some areas such as the Antarctic Peninsular extending toward South America(74), in other dry inland areas it has been decreasing(75). There has also been a reduction in solar irradiance in some areas, perhaps due to increased haze.
In early 1995, an iceberg with an area of over 2000 square kilometers broke away(65,67),and there have been even larger losses in 1998(61). Other Antarctic ice sheets including the Wordie and Prince Gustav Sheets have been similarly affected, retreating as much as 15 kilometers per year. The Ross Ice Sheet is melting at 17 cm/year(65). Due to the temperature increase, the ecosystem and food chain in the Southern Ocean is also changing rapidly with salb which thrive in warmer waters replacing krill as the predominant form of zooplankton. Antarctica and Greenland ice sheets have major impacts on sea level rise since they contain the majority of the world's land based ice. Because winter air temperatures are well below freezing, warming of summer air temperatures or ocean temperatures around ice sheets have the largest impacts on ice melt. However increased warming could also produce increased snowfall which could partially offset melting(65). Greenland ice sheets have been found to be melting at increasing rates(32). The amount of freshwater ice dumped into the Atlantic Ocean has almost tripled in a decade(32c). Since 1991, the average winter temperature has risen almost 10 degrees. Last year, the annual melt zone reached farther inland and up to higher elevations than ever before. Since 2002, Greenland's three largest outlet glaciers have started moving faster. The Kangerlussuaq Glacier, like the Jakobshavn, has doubled its pace. The Helheim Glacier appears to be moving about half a football field every day. Twelve major outlet glaciers drain the ice sheet. If they all slide too quickly, there is a possibility that they could collapse and release the entire ice sheet into the ocean. The accelerating ice flow has been accompanied by an increase in seismic activity, as the three immense streams of ice shake the Earth. Last year, researchers detected as many ice quakes as the total recorded from 1993 through 1996. Should all of the ice sheet ever thaw, the meltwater could raise sea level 21 feet.
The temperature of the layer of water at 200 to 400 meters in the Arctic Ocean increased 0.5 degrees Celsius between 1991 and 1995(56). The temperature of the Atlantic water layer over the Arctic Lomonosov Ridge warmed by 1.0 degrees C from 1949 to 1998(81), and the sea ice in that area has thinned and shrunk “dramatically” in recent years- thinning as much as 1 foot per year, by 15% between 1976 and 1987, and similarly since then. The total area covered by sea ice in the arctic declined by 5% from 1978 to 1996 and at a rate of 4.3% per decade in the 1990s(48,81). Scientists studying the polar regions conclude that the pace of global warming and climate change are increasing rapidly, based on the rapid changes in the polar areas, which strongly affect many global climate patterns.
Based on recorded ocean temperature at widespread locations, researchers have recorded an increase in the temperature over a vast ocean area of one‑third of one degree Fahrenheit in the past half‑century(99,etc.)
If ocean temperatures continue this warming trend now being observed, this could produce "devastating biological impacts"(44,67,33) as well as rapid sea level rise. Current effects of climate change, from sea level rise, infectious diseases such as malaria and West Nile virus to extreme weather events such as heat waves and floods were evaluated in a study funded by a large international insurance company(33,85). Changes to forests, agriculture, marine habitat and water were also considered.
The average of current projections of sea level rise over the next century is about 50 centimeters(19") (29,57,16b), of which 34 cm is due to global warming(65). This level of rise would inundate over 5000 square miles of dry coastal and riverbank areas including serious effects on many major cities, as well as an additional 4000 square miles of wetlands in the U.S.
The following is taken from the summary of an EPA study of the cost of protecting coastal property from projected levels of sea level rise, done in 1991(101). Since the study has not been updated by the current Administration, it represents the best estimate available from the federal government on such costs.
Government studies suggest that the expected global warming from the greenhouse
effect could raise sea level 30 to 200 centimeters (1 to 7 feet) in the 21st
century. This article presents the first nationwide assessment of the primary
impacts of such a rise on the United States: (1) the cost of protecting ocean
resort communities by pumping sand onto beaches and gradually raising barrier
islands in place; (2) the cost of protecting developed areas along sheltered
waters through the use of levees (dikes) and bulkheads; and (3) the loss of
coastal wetlands and undeveloped lowlands. The total cost of protective
measures for a 50 cm rise would be $235-485 billion, ignoring future
development. (1991 dollars) (Table 9)
We estimate that if no measures are taken to hold back the sea, a one meter rise in sea level would inundate 14,000 square miles, with wet and dry land each accounting for about half the loss. The 1500 square kilometers (600-700 square miles) of densely developed coastal lowlands could be protected for approximately one to two thousand dollars per year for a typical coastal lot of ¼ acre. Given high coastal property values, extensive efforts for holding back the sea would probably be cost-effective.
The environmental consequences of doing so, however, may not be acceptable. Although the most common engineering solution for protecting the ocean coast--pumping sand--would allow us to keep our beaches, levees and bulkheads along sheltered waters would gradually eliminate most of the nation's wetland shorelines. For a rise of 1 meter, the Florida Panhandle coastal areas are projected to lose 85% of estuary areas, while other coastal areas will lose 44% of estuary area. The value of these estuaries to the fishing and tourism industries is huge. There would also be a large increase in aquifer salt water intrusion. The South Florida Water Management District already spends millions of dollars per year to prevent Miami's Biscayne aquifer from becoming salty (Miller et al., 1989) and this will increase over time. For a 50 cm sea level rise, the projected losses of estuaries is 45% along the Panhandle/Gulf coast and 20% elsewhere.
ensure the long-term survival of coastal wetlands, federal and state
environmental agencies should begin to lay the groundwork for a gradual
abandonment of coastal lowlands as sea level rises.
Previous studies suggest that a one meter rise in sea level would generally cause beaches to erode 100-1000 meters along the Florida coast.. Because most U.S. recreational beaches are less than 30 meters (100 feet) wide at high tide, even a thirty-centimeter (one foot) rise in sea level would require a response. A similar or larger area than this would be affected by flooding/storm surge of a major hurricane under the scenario of a 30 cm rise in sea level.(102) For states with extensively developed barrier islands, the economic effects on such areas will be higher.
Flooding. Coastal areas would become more vulnerable to flooding for four reasons:
(1) A higher sea level provides a higher base for storm surges to build upon; a one meter rise in sea level would thus enable a 15-year storm to flood many areas that today are only flooded by a 100-year storm (Kana et al., 1984). (2) Beach erosion would leave particular properties more vulnerable to storm waves. (3) Higher water levels would increase flooding due to rainstorms by reducing coastal drainage (Titus et al., 1987). (4) Finally, a rise in sea level would raise water tables and increase saltwater intrusion.
Our estimates are optimistically low because we assume that it will only be necessary to protect areas that are developed today, that is, about 15% of U.S. coastal lowlands (1991). If development continues and we protect those areas as well, the economic impact could be far greater because more dikes would be necessary and wetland loss would be greater.” (101)
During the Middle Pliocene Period(3 to 4 million years ago), which had a temperature about the same as that predicted sometime next century, the sea level was at least 25 meters higher than that of today. This level would produce catastrophic effects in most coastal areas and river basins all over the world. Millions face loss of homes and businesses due to climate change related sea level rise and flooding in the UK and over half the countries farmland is endangered. Flooding in Europe has been extensive and increasing. The cost over the next few decades could be over $ 340 billion(97).
In addition to the adverse biological effects previously discussed such as declining zooplankton and inundated coastal wetlands and estuaries, serious impacts on coral reef ecosystems are already being seen (49,59,63,78,96,23). Coral reef ecosystems, which are the most productive systems, are very susceptible to rising temperatures, rising sea levels, and increased UV-B radiation brought on by global warming and damage to the ozone layer. Coral reef ecosystems have been showing the results of increasing stress with major bleaching events at all major reefs worldwide over the last decade. Some of these reefs are dead or dying(59,63), with major effects on these productive ecosystems(78,96). "We haven't seen an event of the magnitude of this 2005 event in the Caribbean before," said Mark Eakin, coordinator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch(63). A Pew Center report on reef systems concludes that recent global increases in reef ecosystem degradation and mortality (the “coral reef crisis”) are exceeding the adaptive capacity of coral reef organisms and communities(59). The severity of this crisis will only intensify with future changes in the global climate. “Coral reefs are striking, complex, and important features of the marine environment,” said Eileen Claussen, President of the Pew Center. “If we fail to act, the destruction of these rare and important ecosystems will continue unabated, threatening one of our world’s most precious natural resources.”
The warming of oceans is also causing major climatic changes: including more extremes of temperature and rainfall; increased rainfall over oceans and droughts in land areas; more and stronger hurricanes(40); increased water vapor in the stratosphere which augments ozone layer decline; etc.(41,49,58,89,90,98). The increased level of temperature and rainfall extremes is consistent with the predictions of the global warming computer models, and has resulted in global weather related claims averaging 6 times more per year between 1990 and 1995 compared to the previous decade(40,41,67) and has continued in this pattern(85,33). A study by insurance companies commissioned by the U.N. found insurance claims are escalating due to the increased weather related problems, and predicts the resulting pattern will cost insurers over $300 billion annually given current trends(85,33). "The number of really big weather disasters has increased four-fold if we compare the last decade to the 1960s," Munich Re's Thomas Loster said. "The economic losses have leaped seven-fold and the insured losses are 11 times greater." Climate change appears to be a major factor in these increases.
A broad survey of ecosystems throughout the world found that large number of species are more adversely affected by normal factors when global temperature increases(96,78). The increased temperatures are resulting in drier summers and increased heat-stress health problems and increased infectious diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, dengue fever, west nile fever, and viral encephalitis from mosquitoes and other carriers in more northern areas of the northern hemisphere, for which there is currently no viable control(57,66,96,33). A report by a WHO committee on climate change said that global warming is killing at least 150,000 people a year and adversely affecting the health of millions(70). The report said that global warming was responsible for a significant portion of global diarrhea and malaria, as well as increased lyme disease spread by ticks, and other mosquito born diseases which kill millions annually worldwide. Additionally global warming is causing drought, heat waves, and increased storms and storm damage world wide. This year’s European heat wave alone killed over 20,000 and caused losses of over $10 billion to insurance agencies alone(33,85). Studies project a 10 fold increase in such diseases in temperate areas over the next few decades(73,67,66,Note 37). The U.N. panel of scientists predict this trend to become much more serious(16b,84,96). After an initial increase in growth rate in northern forests over the last decade, growth rates are no longer increasing and forests have been found to be suffering increased forest fire and stress damage as well as increased insect pest and disease problems in forests and crops that have not been seriously affected historically by pests and diseases found normally in warmer areas(50). The predicted increased cooling load will also require large amounts of fossil fuel energy unless other cooling options are found.
At study sites in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, the team found that from 40 to 80 percent of the pinyon trees died between 2002 and 2003. The researchers confirmed the massive regional dieback of vegetation through both aerial surveys and analysis of satellite images of those states’ pinyon-juniper woodlands. The high heat that accompanied the recent drought was the underlying cause of death for millions of pinyon pines throughout the Southwest, according to new research. The resulting landscape change will affect the ecosystem for decades. Hotter temperatures coupled with drought are the type of event predicted by global climate change models. The new finding suggests big, fast changes in ecosystems may result from global climate change(37).
Asthma rates are rising throughout the Western world, and increasing pollution in inner cities has greatly damaged the health of preschool-aged children, whose rate of asthma rose by 160 per cent between 1980 and 1994(71,33). "Plants are flowering significantly earlier over time and advancing the growing season by approximately 0.8 days per year," (33) A measure of the impact is that a quarter of the children living in Harlem are asthmatic, and they are concentrated along bus routes. The highest incidence of asthma in the U.S. is among African-American toddlers and low-income toddlers. The health effects of indoor and particulate pollution are being made worse by heat domes over cities caused by buildup of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases.
The average regional temperature west of the international dateline in the Pacific Ocean climbed considerably between the 1950s and 1970s, and appears to be currently increasing as well(15). The increase in ocean temperatures, especially the Pacific, is causing increased rainfall in tropical ocean areas(31,49). This appears to be a major factor in the increase in atmospheric temperatures. The average temperatures in Central Asia have also been higher in recent decades than at any time in the last 10,000 years(33). Ice core boring projects by scientists in Greenland, Antarctica, China, and Tibet have all confirmed that historically there has been a clear and significant association between the level of greenhouse gases and global temperature over the last 40,000 years (45,49). These studies also found that there have been large changes in global temperature in relatively short time intervals. The Greenland ice sheet was found to be melting away at a rate of about 50 cubic kilometers per year, mostly at the southeast margin, which is enough to raise world ocean levels about 0.13 mm each year(45).
All over the world glaciers and ice packs are melting at unusually fast rates(7,8,9,45,49,54,88). Glaciologists estimate that glaciers in the Alps have lost over 50% and worldwide at least 15% in the last 100 years, with glaciers retreating at an average of 9.3 meters per year. A research group for the Soviet Geophysical Group found over 85% of 408 Asian glaciers monitored retreated in the last 40 years, with retreat averaging 13.3 meters per year. Mauri Pelto, Director, North Cascade Glacier Project, indicates that 91 of 114 glaciers monitored for the last decade in the Northwest U.S. have retreated(7,9), and 24 glaciers in the Rocky Mountains are retreating by an average of 13.7 meters per year. Since 1963, over 43% of the ice on Tanzania's Mount Kenya has disappeared, and glaciers such as Kilimanjora are now thinning at an unprecedented rate and so rapidly that they will disappear soon for the first time in known history(88). Similar for ice in the Andes Mountains(45). Glaciers in the Andes of Peru melted and retreated 3 times faster between 1983 and 1991, compared to the period 1963 to 1978(49), and much faster than this in the 1990s. Within the next 15 years, all of the South American continent's small glaciers -- about 80 percent of the total -- will disappear, eliminating the main water supply for many cities such as Quito, the capital of Ecuador and many other areas without reasonable options to replace it. Between 1996 and 1998, the Antizana glacier lost 8 percent of its area. Smaller glaciers are melting even faster; the Chacaltaya glacier in Bolivia lost nearly half of its area and two-thirds of its volume during the mid-1990s alone(49). Similar findings were observed in Kazakhstan, Kenya, New Guinea, New Zealand, Scandinavia, the Canadian Rockies, and the Gulf of Alaska. The average retreat of these glaciers is 6.7 to 14.9 meters per year(7). The average temperature increase in these glacial areas for the last century was found to be 0.7 degrees Celsius(7). Mountain plant communities were found to be unable to migrate upward fast enough to adapt to the changing climate(8). The decline in overall worldwide snow cover of over 10 % in the last 2 decades has resulted in a further warming of surface air temperatures(55). From historic core bore data, glacial retreat such as is currently occurring at a rapid rate can result in fairly abrupt and dramatic climate shifts over a short time period.
Gases having a greenhouse effect include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, CFCs, and water vapor. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased over 30% in the last century(13), and is increasing exponentially by about 3.5 billion metric tons or 0.5% per year(1.5 ppmv/yr)(29,41,13). EIA predicts that given current trends CO2 emissions will increase by 33-39% between 1994 and 2015(13). Methane in the atmosphere has increased over 140% in the last 100 years and is increasing exponentially at over 1% per year; methane has 3.7 times the warming potential of CO2(29,22,66). Chlorofluorocarbons(CFCs) were increasing at 5% per year in the early 1990s, and have 25,000 times more warming potential than CO2. Hydrofluorocarbons are the fastest increasing greenhouse gases for the period 1990 to 1996 in the U.S. and have increased 64% during that period. Nitrous oxide has 180 times more warming potential than CO2, and is increasing in the atmosphere at approx. 0.3% per year(82), contributing about 25% as much heat trapping as CO2. Conversion of tropical forests to farm or ranch land can reduce CO2 sequestering and can increase nitrous oxide emissions by as much as a factor of 3 (53). Carbon sinks in the U.S. such as forests declined 30% in the 1990s (82). In the coming century, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and CFCs are projected to be responsible respectively for 50%, 18%, 13%, and 12% of future greenhouse warming(29,22,82). Based on core bore studies and evaluation of tree rings and fossils, historical CO2 level trends match and correlate very closely with historical temperature trends(49).
The Scientific Advisory Panel to the U.S. Dept. of Energy considers the greenhouse effect/global warming to be the number one energy problem in the U.S. Reports by the National Academy of Sciences and the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, as well as U.N. committee (IPCC) made up of over 1000 atmospheric scientists from all over the world support the position that global warming is a serious problem and action should be taken to reduce emissions(16). Several largescale studies make a strong case that the buildup of greenhouse gases have initiated a significant global warming over recent decades (29,36,41,49,57,64,16b), as also predicted by numerous atmospheric temperature computer models using greenhouse gas emissions along with effects of aerosol pollutants which exert a cooling influence(16,21,29). Since 1850, sulfate and other aerosols are estimated to have offset about 1/3 of the radiative forcing from greenhouse gases, but should have a lesser effect in the future(65,29). The United Nations-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2001 that the average temperature is likely to increase by between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees Celsius (2.5 and 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit) by the year 2100 (29).
The computer models used for predicting temperature and precipitation patterns have proven so accurate in recent years that they are now being used by the U.S. weather service to issue long range predictions over 1 year in the future(49,68). Reports by the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change indicates that additional major reductions in CO2 emissions beyond 1992 agreements would be needed to stabilize atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions(29,16b,34). No plans have been implemented that would reduce CO2 increases to levels agreed upon in 1992 by industrial countries like the U.S. and there are no restrictions on developing countries where the largest increase is expected and where emissions are expected to double over the next 100 years.
While industrial countries have in the past released the majority of carbon dioxide and the U.S. is the world's largest emitter, if the current trends continue Third World countries will release 4 times as much carbon dioxide by 2025 as developed countries do now (16,29). Large rapidly developing countries such as China, India, Brazil, and S. Korea have had the largest recent increases with an increase of between 13% to 40% over the last 10 years (67,13). China is the world's most coal dependent country and the largest producer of coal(25% of world supply). China had a 65% increase in carbon dioxide emissions in the 1980s. China also has vast supplies of natural gas and renewable resources that have not been widely developed. Some scientists believe the results on temperature increases, weather pattern changes, regional climate changes impacting plants and crops, and rising sea levels could be catastrophic in the next 50 years if the present pattern continues(67,73).
Dept. of Energy EIA reference case projections of world energy use between 2005 and 2025 are for an increase of 2% per year or a total of 47% over that period (13). U.S. energy use growth is projected as 1.3% per year and a total of 27%. World coal consumption is projected to increase by 2% per year for a total of 45%, while U.S. coal consumption is projected to increase by 1.5% for a total of 35% over the next 20 years. World carbon dioxide emissions based on this reference case are projected to increase by 2% per year with a total increase of 48% (13). The goal of the Kyoto Accord on global warming which has been adopted by the majority of nations is to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions over this period. The primary policies that have been implemented for this purpose are carbon emission caps, carbon emission allowance trading, and emission reduction incentives.
The U.S. produces over 20% of world greenhouse gas emissions(carbon dioxide, methane,nitrogen oxide,CFCs,etc.). Carbon dioxide is responsible for approx. 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. Burning fuel releases approx. 6 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere each year, with the largest amount coming from coal combustion(28,62,13). Projections based on current trends estimate CO2 from burning fossil fuels to increase 49% to 9 billion tons per year by 2010(13). Oceans, tropical rain forests, and temperate forests provide a sink for some of the carbon emissions(62); however global deforestation adds an additional amount of CO2 about 1/3 that of combustion to the atmosphere (62,13). Coal plants are responsible for over 80% of utility CO2 emissions in the U.S., with oil producing 80% as much CO2 per BTU of power produced as coal and natural gas producing 60% as much CO2 per BTU(29). Electric power plants are responsible for approximately 35% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions(13), while the transportation system is responsible for 30%, the industrial sector for 24%, and residential/commercial users 11%. Pulverized coal plants produce approx. 2 pounds of CO2 per kwh of generated electricity.
A comprehensive analysis of greenhouse gas trends and impacts, as well as a detailed analysis of alternative policies and options for stabilizing global warming are given in recent reports (58,18) and an IPCC report(34). There are other factors that cause "positive feedbacks" which augment the greenhouse effect, as well as factors that have the opposite effect of cooling. Soot, sulfuric acid haze, and haze from burning tropical forests are factors that tend to promote cooling by blocking penetration of sunlight(21,49,55). Several largescale studies have documented the cooling effect of these atmospheric pollutant aerosols(36,40,49,55); computer models predict that the cooling effect has been at least 0.5 degrees C and has offset the global warming caused by greenhouse gas buildup by this amount. However a positive feedback of carbon soot in areas of intense sunlight has also been noted that tends to increase global temperatures by aiding the burnoff of the flat tops of cumulous clouds, thus allowing more radiant penetration(92). The computer models modeling global temperatures have been found to predict temperature patterns relatively accurately compared to observed global temperature patterns when both green house gas increases and pollutant aerosol patterns are taken into account (36,41,49,68,29). Although there is direct global cooling due to global ozone layer loss(27), it has been found that the decline in ozone and the buildup of greenhouse gases also have significant mutually reinforcing mechanisms which make both more problematic(44). Global warming increases ice clouds in the stratosphere which increases ozone layer decline, while ozone layer decline increases ultraviolet radiation which causes decline in ocean phytoplankton which then causes reduction in ocean sequester of CO2 from the atmosphere. The increased level of water vapor and methane being documented in the stratosphere also amplifies global warming by trapping heat(44). The increasing level of world deforestation (2,29) and changes in the earth's albedo and cloud cover due to these other factors also have feedback effects which have been modeled in models to assess global warming. Another positive feedback involves microbes in the soil which release CO2. Some studies indicate that as global warming occurs, microbial action in soils and rice paddies will substantially boost CO2 in the atmosphere over the next 50 years(24,29). Studies indicate considerable levels of CO2 and methane are already being released in the tundra areas of Alaska and Siberia, which was not occurring in the 1970s (24,54,79). The amount of carbon in such tundra areas make this a significant feedback system for global atmospheric carbon.
Estimates of the future cost of greenhouse emissions vary widely, with most in the range 0.5 to 2.4 cents per kwh for power plants(6,12a,12b,29), but some are extremely high. A study by economist William Cline estimated the total cost at $60 billion per year to the U.S., including: $18 billion for agriculture impact of heat stress and drought; $11 billion for addition cooling cost, and $7 billion for damage from sea level rise(17). An Urban Institute study assessing the infrastructure damage or needs to prevent damage from sea level rise to the city of Miami, estimated the cost over the next century at over $1 billion(4b).
Global population growth and global warming are combining to cause current water shortages that affect over 1/3 of the world's population, adversely affecting agricultural output, economic development, and drinking water supplies(84). Some 450 million people in the world are now confronting serious water-shortage problems and much larger numbers affected. But experts meeting in Stockholm to discuss water scarcity say the number with serious shortages will likely grow to 2.7 billion within 25 years. North Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, and parts of India and China, as well as areas in southern Europe, are most hurt by current shortages (84,85,89,90). Parts of the U.S., however, aren't far behind. Warmer temperatures, the loss of wetlands to sprawl, and the growing demands of agriculture are accelerating shortages across the U.S. Major U.S. cities and agricultural areas are already having serious problems and could go dry in 10 to 20 years(84). This in combination with weather extremes, declining grasslands, and desertification have resulted in a rapid drawdown of global grain reserves and increased rapidly increasing prices(72,73). Around the world, groundwater aquifers are being depleted faster than they are naturally replenished, tens of millions of people have been forced to move from their homes to make way for reservoirs behind dams, many rivers run dry at least part of the year, and over 20 percent of freshwater fish species are threatened or endangered because their free‑flowing river ecosystems have been destroyed(87).
U.N. Secretary‑General Kofi Annan said recently that drought and devastation were threatening the livelihoods of more than a billion people in 110 countries. The U.N. Environment Programme blamed humans as the main cause of desertification- citing population growth, agriculture, grazing, and climate change as big‑time contributors to the problem. Half of Africa's arable land has been lost to desertification. China's government promised to step up its efforts to fight desertification, which has claimed more than a quarter of the country's land. It said that 27.3 percent of China's territory was desert, a mass that was increasing each year by 2,460 square km (950 square miles), or the size of an average county. 1,500 square miles of land, roughly the size of Rhode Island, is buried each year. "Because of this, natural disasters are increasing in frequency, the threat is getting ever bigger and the losses are mounting," the newspaper said. Desertification in China cost 54 billion yuan ($6.52 billion) in annual economic losses, it said.(95).
The relative cost damage due to carbon dioxide emissions from different electric power sources are proportional to the CO2 produced per unit of energy production. This is also affected by energy efficiency levels of energy processes. While most coal power plants are only 33 % efficient, some combined cycle gas plants are more than 50 % efficient and some equipment such as cogeneration plants and fuel cells that also utilize waste heat are more efficient still(67). Internal combustion engines in cars and trucks are the biggest wasters of energy, with efficiency about 15% on average. The total carbon dioxide produced by different technologies(21b) in metric tons per Giga‑Watt Hour(GWH) are:
conventional coal plant 964
conventional coal with wet scrubber 1030
fluidized bed coal plant 980
IGCC(Coal gasification combined cycle) 751
oil fired plant 726
natural gas fired plant 484
solar thermal 4
Countries reached an agreement in 1987 to phase out CFCs over the next 10 to 15 years(113). The decline of the ozone layer has been stabilized since 2005 at a little over 3% less than the 1964-1980 average, and the magnitude of the loss is no longer increasing. According to new studies(114) based on monitoring data,the winter ozone hole is expected to gradually decline and repair over the next 60 years. The hole in the Earth's ozone layer has shielded Antarctica from the worst effects of global warming until now, according to the most comprehensive review to date of the state of the Antarctic climate. But scientists warned that as the hole closes up in the next few decades, temperatures on the continent could rise by around 3C on average, with melting ice contributing to a global sea-level increases of up to 1.4m. The western Antarctic peninsula has seen rapid ice loss as the world has warmed, but other parts of the continent have paradoxically been cooling, with a 10% increase in ice in the seas around the region in recent decades. Many climate change sceptics have used the Antarctic cooling as evidence against global warming.
But John Turner of the British Antarctic Survey said scientists are now "very confident" that the anomaly had caused by the ozone hole above Antarctica. "We knew that, when we took away this blanket of ozone, we would have more ultra-violet radiation. But we didn't realise the extent to which it would change the atmospheric circulation of the Antarctic."
These changes in weather have increased winds in the Southern Ocean region and meant that a large part of the continent has remained relatively cool compared with the western peninsula. But because the the CFC gasses that caused the ozone hole now been banned, scientists expect the damage to repair itself within the next 50-60 years. By then the cooling effect will have faded out and Turner said the Antarctic would face the full effects of global warming. This means an increase in average air temperatures of around 3C and a reduction in sea ice by around a third.
The biggest threat to the continent comes from warming seas. Robert Binschadler, a glaciologist at Nasa who monitors Antarctic ice sheets, said: "The heat in the ocean is getting underneath the floating ice shelves, these floating fringes of the ice sheet that are hundreds of metres thick. That warm water is melting the underside of the ice shelf, reducing the buttressing effect." Thinning of the ice shelf at the fringes leads to glaciers moving more quickly. Average sea-level rise will be closer to 1.4m by the end of the century- more than the IPCC estimate which not take changes in the ozone layer over Antarctica into effect.
Methods to control global warming
The most cost effective measures for controlling carbon dioxide growth
appear to be conservation programs/standards and energy efficiency improvements(18,58,20,111). Many studies have documented that large decreases in greenhouse gas emissions(10 to 30 percent) are possible through such measures with no net economic cost due to savings on energy cost(18,16b,20,58,111). Additional large savings are possible at little net cost. Another innovative approach being investigated is carbon sequestering by ocean calcareous algae stimulated by addition of iron-rich materials(49) or by halophyte plants that grow in saline or desert soils(2). Recent studies that assess cost effectiveness of methods to reduce greenhouse emissions include (21b,16,18,20,29,58). A U.S. Dept. of Energy study(21b) ranked CO2 reduction strategies as follows:
Reduction Strategy Cost Maximum Percent
($/ton removed) CO2 Reduction
High < 0 * 18%
Very High 280 28%
Reforestation Offsets 88 10%
Sequestering by Algae or
Halophyte plants 100 to 200 30%
Flue gas scrubbing 230 (coal power plant)
Carbon Tax $100 /ton 565 31%
$250 /ton 710 51%
* increased cost fully recovered by reduced energy use over time.
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