Thursday, December 14, 2017

Two More Dire Warnings on Climate Change

It seems 2017 has been a year filled with dire warnings about the future of our planet and the impact climate change will have on our lives. This week, two different reports were released indicating that things are changing more rapidly than we imagined and we could be on the brink of catastrophe.

On Tuesday, the 2017 Arctic Report Card was released and amidst the various messages about the loss of pack ice in the Arctic was a clear warning. The 85 scientists from 12 different countries who compile the report on an annual basis say that the Arctic shows no signs of returning to the reliably frozen region of past decades. In other words, there is less and less ice in this part of the world, and that doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.

The report goes on to say that that warming of ocean's surface and retreat of the sea ice extent is unprecedented in the past 1500 years. The researchers can determine this by examining such variables as tree rings, sediment cores, and air bubbles trapped in ice samples recovered from the arctic.

Data indicates that the Arctic had its second-warmest year on record in 2017 with an average air temperature that was nearly 3ºF above what it was on average between 1981 and 2010. The scientists are able to compare that data to temperatures recorded as far back as 1900 when measuring these trends.

As a result of this warm year, the sea ice extent didn't recover as it has in the past, leaving much of the Arctic free from ice altogether. Fortunately, a cooler than normal summer prevented more of it from melting off, or the situation might be drastically worse. Either way, things don't look great in the far north of our planet.

On Wednesday another report was released on the scholarly journal Earth's Future that calls into question our estimates of the increase in sea level across the planet as a result of melting ice sheets in the Antarctic. Data indicates that as those ice sheets continue to collapse – something we saw several times in 2017 – the rise in ocean levels will be faster and more severe than imagined. Just how fast and how severe? According to the report, we could see a major shift in water levels as soon as 2050, with oceans rising as much as 8 feet (2.4 meters). If that happens, it would have an impact on more than 236 million people across the globe.

But the same report says that it is not too late to avert this potential disaster. The researchers behind the paper say that we can still cut the emission of greenhouse gases like CO2 to try to turn things around. They do warn that time is running out however, with major changes needed in the next few years.

For me, climate change is the biggest challenge we currently face as a species. All of the indicators are there that things are happening around us, but whether or not we can still do anything about it remains to be seen. I remain optimistic, although I do think we need to get more serious about the situation. Hopefully this last report is right and that there is still time to change things for the better.

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