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Thursday, 2 August 2012

Human-made climate change causes extreme weather

Human-made climate change causes extreme weather



Climate change researchers have been able to attribute recent examples of extreme weather to the effects of human activity on the planet’s climate systems for the first time, marking a major step forward in climate research.

The findings make it much more likely that within the next few years it will be possible to discern whether weather events such as the extremely wet and cold summer and spring so far experienced in the UK are attributable to human causes rather than luck, according to the researchers.

Last year’s record warm November in the UK, the second hottest since records began in 1659, was at least 60 times more likely to happen because of climate change than owing to natural variations in the earth’s weather systems.

The research comes in peer-reviewed studies by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States, and the Met Office in the UK.

The devastating heatwave that blighted farmers in Texas in the US last year, destroying crop yields in another record “extreme weather event”, was about 20 times more likely to have happened owing to climate change than to natural variation.

Attributing individual weather events, such as floods, droughts and heatwaves, to human-induced climate change, rather than natural variation in the planet’s complex weather systems, has long been a goal of climate change scientists.

But the difficulty of separating the causation of events from the background “noise” of the variability in the earth’s climate systems has until now made such attribution an elusive goal.

To attribute recent extreme weather events, rather than events 10 years ago or more, to human-caused climate change is a big advance, and will help researchers to provide better warnings of the likely effects of climate change in the near future.

This is likely to have major repercussions on climate change policy and the ongoing efforts to adapt to the probable effects of global warming.

Dr Peter Stott, of the UK’s Met Office, said: “We are much more confident about attributing weather effects to climate change.

“This is all adding up to a stronger and stronger picture of human influence on the climate.”

But the researchers also said that not every extreme weather event could be attributed to climate change.

For instance, the extremely cold British winter of 2010-11 was owing to variations in the systems of ocean and air circulation.

Although such cold winters are now only half as likely as they were several decades ago, owing to a generally warming climate across the world, extremely low temperatures of this type are still possible depending on circulation effects, in this case, a negative North Atlantic Oscillation, the circulation system that is a key determinant of European weather.

Floods in Thailand last year, another example studied in the research, were also not judged to be due to climate change but to other factors such as changes in the management of local river systems.

Following and predicting temperature rises tends to be much less complex than predicting, and attributing the causes of, changes in precipitation patterns.

This year’s weather in the UK is an example.

The Met Office has said the record wet conditions, which have brought serious flooding to regions from Yorkshire to the southwest, were owing to “a particularly disturbed jet stream”.

That is the weather system across the north Atlantic that normally lies at higher latitudes during the British summer, but has been lower in latitude than usual for several years running, bringing wet and sometimes-cold conditions.

Some research has suggested that the massive melting of Arctic ice has been responsible for this effect, by changing the patterns of warmer and colder winds in the upper atmosphere.

But the key question, of whether man-made global warming is putting a dampener on British summers, will take several years to solve, according to Dr Stott.

“This is an open question in terms of research, it is too early days to be able to say,” he said.

From eco news @ http://econews.com.au/news-to-sustain-our-world/man-made-climate-change-causes-extreme-weather/

Scientists Say Ongoing Weather Extremes Offer Proof of Climate Change

Record-shattering heatwaves, wildfires and freak storms are a sampling of what is to come in 2012 and a window to the future.

Photo Credit: ChameleonsEye/ Shutterstock.com

The bizarre weather of early summer in the US – from heatwave, wildfires, drought to freak storms – is just a sampling of what is to come for 2012 and a window to the future under climate change, scientists have said.

Scientists are wary of linking specific weather events to climate change, and this year's punishing heat and deadly thunder storms have been confined to the Americas. Europe, Asia and Africa haven't experienced severe weather this year – though they have in past years.

But the run of extreme weather offers real-time proof of the consequences of climate change, said Kevin Trenberth, who heads climate research at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Colorado – itself the scene of devastating wildfires.

"We are certainly seeing climate change in action," he said. "This year has been exceptionally unusual throughout the United States."

Jeff Masters director of meteorology at the Weather Underground website, told Democracy Now: "What we're seeing now is the future. We're going to be seeing a lot more weather like this, a lot more impacts like we're seeing from this series of heat waves, fires and storms."

He added: "This is just the beginning."

The prime exhibit for the bizarre turn of weather is the current heat wave.

The month of June alone shattered some 3,215 records for daily maximum heat. Cities like St Louis were sweltering under five consecutive days of triple digit temperatures on Tuesday. Last Thursday the city registered 108 degrees fahrenheit, the highest temperature in nearly 60 years.

"Historically this is going to end up being one of the hottest Junes of all time," said Harold Brooks, a research meteorologist at the National Severe Storm Laboratory in Oklahoma.

The high temperatures were also hitting earlier this summer, he said. Heat waves ordinarily do not build up until July.

But this has been a year for record-breaking heat. Since the start of the year, the United States set more than 40,000 hot temperature records and fewer than 6,000 cold temperature records, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Ordinarily, scientists would expect those numbers to be about the same, but the hot temperature records were falling at a ratio of about 7-1.

Such volatile temperatures, early in the year, helped contribute to the conditions for the deadly derecho thunder storm which blew through the Washington DC area with hurricane-force winds, killing some 22 people. Brooks said it was one of the most powerful such storms in recent history.

On the other side of the country, meanwhile, extreme drought conditions across a vast swathe of the American west led to an outbreak of mega-fires in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.

Colorado's fires, outside the cities of Colorado Springs and Boulder, have between them destroyed more than 650 houses.

And there was no relief in sight. Aside from pockets such as northern Minnesota, Washington state, and New England, temperatures across a vast swathe of the United States were heading to record hot temperatures, Brooks said.

The season has already raised public health concerns. At least three people, all in their 70s and 80s, have died in St Louis since last week because of heat-related illness, medical officials said.

In the greater Washington DC area, where power outages due to the furious thunderstorm deepened the effects of a heat wave, the authorities have opened cooling centres in schools and community centres for those without access to air conditioning.

"Watch out for a long hot summer," said Trenberth.

From AlterNet @ http://www.alternet.org/environment/156163/scientists_say_ongoing_weather_extremes_offer_proof_of_climate_change

Australia’s hot 60 years outstrips previous 1000

A new scientific study indicates the rise in temperatures in and around Australia since 1950 has been unprecedented for 1000 years.

 In the first study of its type in the region a team led by scientists at the University of Melbourne has found no period during the past 1000 years matches the warming experienced in Australasia in the past 60 years.

The research, published in the Journal of Climate, used 27 different natural indicators like tree rings and ice cores to come to the conclusion.

It will be a part of the next United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

The findings show that no other period in the past 1000 years matches the temperature rises Australia and the region has experienced in the past 60 years.

Report co-author Dr Joelle Gergis said the findings were significant.

“It does show that the post-1950 warming is unusual in the Australasian region,” she said.

“A lot of these sorts of studies have come out of the northern hemisphere and for the first time we have been able to say ‘well we have collected all of our natural records from our region and this is what it shows and the warming is real and it is in the Australian region, not in some far away place’,” she said.

Dr Gergis says the study used decades of work from 30 scientists who had been collecting natural data to reconstruct temperatures before human records started in 1910.

“So really what these are are climate proxies. They are not direct temperature records but we use them as stand-ins or surrogates for temperature records,” she said.

“What we do is compare these natural records with the observed temperature records and then develop a statistical relationship and take that relationship back centuries into the past.”

Co-author Professor David Karoly said the strength of the study was that it relied more on direct observations and measurements than climate modelling.

“Nothing is absolutely certain in science, but we say with very high confidence because we have repeated the analysis alone for the uncertainties that the warming in the last 50 years is very unusual and very likely cannot be explained by natural climate variability alone,” he said.

Dr Gergis said the scientists had minimised the variability in their model by crunching the data 3000 different ways.

“What we were able to see is that in 95 per cent of the reconstructions, we actually see that the post-1950 warming observed in the region is unprecedented in the context of the last millennium so it is not dependent on a loss of records back in time or the different combination of record,” she said.

The government-funded study will be Australia’s contribution to the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report due in 2014, and is part of an international collaboration that aims to reconstruct the past 2000 years of climate in every part of the world.

From eco news @ http://econews.com.au/news-to-sustain-our-world/australia%E2%80%99s-hot-60-years-outstrips-previous-1000/


Global carbon emissions rise is far bigger than previous estimates


A hazy day in Wuhan, Hubei province in China
A hazy day in Wuhan, China, the country that has experienced a 240% increase in carbon emissions between 1992 and 2010. Photograph: Darley Shen/Reuters

Carbon dioxide emissions have risen by even more than previously thought, according to new data analysed by the Guardian, casting doubt on whether the world can avoid dangerous climate change.

The data has emerged as governments met in Rio de Janeiro to finalise the outcome of the Rio+20 conference, aimed at ensuring that economic growth does not come at the expense of irreparable environmental degradation, but which activists say has not achieved enough to stave off severe environmental problems.

Global carbon emissions from energy are up 48% on 1992, when the original Earth summit took place in Rio – a historic summit at which governments agreed to limit emissions in order to prevent dangerous climate change.

In 2010, the latest year for which figures have been compiled, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) said the world emitted 31.8bn tonnes of carbon from energy consumption. That represents a climb of 6.7% on the year before and is significantly higher than the previous best estimate, made by the International Energy Agency last year, that in 2010 a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide were released from burning fossil fuel.

Increases in fossil fuel use of this magnitude are likely to carry the world far beyond the temperature rise of 2C by 2050 that scientists have estimated is the limit of safety, beyond which climate change is likely to become catastrophic and irreversible.

According to the new EIA data, carbon dioxide emissions from the US have resumed their rise, after a brief blip caused by the financial crisis and recession in 2008. That increase came despite the much-vaunted switch from coal to shale gas – with its lower emissions than coal when burned for energy – that has dominated the US's energy economy in recent years.

China, which in 2006 took over the US's historical position as the world's biggest emitter, raced ahead in 2010, emitting 8.3bn tonnes – up 15.5% on the previous year, and a 240% increase since 1992. That makes China alone responsible for about one-quarter of global carbon emissions from energy, emitting about 48% more than the US.

This data also backs up recent evidence that China may be emitting more carbon dioxide than had previously been thought.

At this year's Rio+20 conference, according to observers, China has not played a leading role in forcing countries to raise their ambitions on reducing environmental impact.

hot-weather-US-graphicThe UK's emissions in 2010 fell by 8% from 1992 and the first Rio conference, which laid the foundation for the Kyoto protocol of 1997 – still the only comprehensive global treaty demanding cuts in emissions from governments. That puts the UK in 10th place in overall emissions from energy consumption, down from 7th place in 1992. Gibraltar, the UK dependency, has the doubtful distinction of the highest per capita emissions in the world, at 135.5 tonnes per year, compared with 8.5 tonnes per person in the UK and 6.3 tonnes in China.

From The Guardian @ http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jun/21/global-carbon-emissions-record


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