Society for the Advancement of Animal Wellbeing

- Protecting Animals and Conserving the Environment

Other Effects of Climate Change

Over 110 years ago in April 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius attempted to measure the effect of atmospheric CO2 concentrations on the Earth’s surface temperatures, his work inspired the current research efforts and understanding of human-induced global warming due to the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

In 1997 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) discovered that the world’s temperature was a full 1 degree Fahrenheit above the international agreed normal temperature for the planet which is 61.7 degrees Fahrenheit. More recently the NOAA reported the 2007 global temperature was 0.72 degrees Celsius higher than the previous 2004 record high. These temperature differences may seem miniscule but on this planet with its intricate and delicate ecosystems and biomes, such changes have a dramatic effect on the weather and natural systems.

In a report written by the Tearfund entitled “Climate of Disaster” it states that in the last 10 years 2.5 billion people that’s a third of the planet’s population have been affected by extreme weather occurrences whilst 443,000 people have died, a large majority of these people are the poor living in developing countries. Climate change is having a huge impact on the world and human civilization, here are some of these climate related events within the context of global warming.

 Hurricanes and Typhoons

The most devastating and immediate weather systems that have the ability to cause massive damage are cyclones also known as hurricanes and typhoons depending on where they originate from.

Research from Kerry Emanuel professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) showed that although there hasn’t been an increased number of cyclones but the intensity or power of hurricanes has almost doubled since the 1950’s, the strength of these cyclones took a major upturn in the last 30 years which mirrors trends in global temperatures.

A Georgia Tech/NCAR study has shown that since the 1970s the number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes have increased from 20% to 35% of the total number. Category 5 hurricanes also known by as super-typhoons have wind speeds greater than 249 km per hour.

The energy dynamics of a typhoon are complicated but their formation is basically effected by 2 main conditions: (1) the surface temperature of the oceans and (2) vertical sheer which is the angle of the prevailing winds, both these factors have been known to be affected by global warming. The sea surface temperature (SST) critical point to form a typhoon is about 80 degrees Celsius and research has shown that there has been a 0.25 to 0.5 degree Celsius SST increase over the last 50 years which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says is caused by global warming.

Al Gore recently commented that “Nevertheless, the trend toward more Category 5 storms – the larger ones and trend toward stronger and more destructive storms appears to be linked to global warming and specifically to the impact of global warming on higher ocean temperatures in the top couple of hundred feet of the ocean, which drives convection energy and moisture into these storms and makes them more powerful”. And so increases in SST and a decrease in vertical sheer will lead to cyclones that last longer and are more powerful.

Thus in the last few years the Earth has witnessed some of the most destructive storms in recorded history including Hurricane Katrina which effected the US Gulf Coast, Super-cyclone Gonu which hit the Arabian peninsula, cyclone Sidr which effected Bangladesh and more recently Cyclone Nargis which pushed a wall of water 12 feet high 25 miles in to Myanmar completely flooding the Irrawady Delta region.

Global Warming Effects in Europe

Global warming is also having a massive impact on Europe both in terms of the ecology and the health of the people. Climatologist and IPCC official Giorgi Filippo commented at the National Climate Change Conference that “Europe and the Mediterranean are warming up faster than the rest of the world”.

He noted that in the coming decades temperatures on the continent could be 40-50% higher than elsewhere. This could result in heat waves similar to those seen in 2003 which caused mortality rates in the tens of thousands as the elderly and vulnerable suffered from dehydration and heat stroke. These increased temperatures also cause the forests to become dryer increasing the likelihood of fires.

Mr. Vincenzo Ferrara an Italian advisor on climate change is particularly concerned with the state of the Mediterranean because as the sea gets warmer there is increased evaporation of water, this results in a sea that is saltier. The increased salinity could cause the flow of water in to the Mediterranean from the Atlantic to be reversed, this effect coupled with a disruption of the sea’s currents due to temperature rises of lower cold water could wipe-out up to 50% of the marine animals living in this sea.

The reason is that water flow from the Atlantic brings in nutrients to the Mediterranean and the water currents due to the temperature difference of cold water at the bottom of the sea and the surface temperature helps stir up nutrients that lie on the sea bed, this delicate balance may be disrupted and so effect the food chain of the marine animals. The World Health Organization has warned that apart from heat waves Europe could face an increase in annual floods and there is already evidence of an increased incidence of encephalitis and salmonella due to warmer weather. Longer summers also mean that hay fever sufferers will be sneezing and itching for longer.        

The African Continent

 

The African continent has been the most severely affected by global warming even though the entire continent only produces 5% of the world’s green house gases, the results of climate change in this part of the world has caused mass malnutrition and other heart rendering events including flooding in the Sahel region.

Dr James Hurrell of the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research and Dr. Martin Hoerling from the NOAA has conducted research that shows that temperature changes of the Indian and Atlantic oceans due to global warming are having ripple effects on the weather patterns in Africa. Hoerling and Hurrell analyzed data using 60 advanced computer models that simulate and predict global climate patterns. The results from the study indicate that the warming of the Indian Ocean is responsible for current droughts in southern Africa, the models also showed that by 2050 monsoon winds that bring rain in to sub-Saharan Africa could be 10-20% drier.

A professor in the department of Atmospheric Science at the University of Nairobi Kenya, Dr John Ng’ang’a has said “the effect of climate change on farming communities will be severe.” Since 2001 continuous dry spells left communities in the region with serious food shortages. The drought of 2002 and 2003 left 14.4 million people in need of food assistance due to a 3.3 million ton deficit in food.

The research of doctors Hoerling and Hurrell also showed that as a result of higher temperatures in the northern Atlantic as compared to the southern Atlantic, an increasing amount of rain bearing monsoon winds is being drawn in to the Sahel region; the researchers say this is due to an increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The hard soil conditions as well as the lack of adequate drainage and the increase in rain fall is causing massive flooding and landslides.

In 2007 twenty-two African nations experienced the worst wet seasons and consequently flash floods witnessed in many decades. The flooding affected 1.5 million people and washed away many crops in countries such Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia and Ghana. As extreme weather conditions are expected to increase in-line with global temperature rises, so too will the incidence of diseases such as typhoid, cholera and malaria.   


Melting Ice Caps and Sea Level Rises

The two most important climatic regulators for the planet are the polar ice caps. The North Pole and South Pole regulate temperature by acting like a global thermostat. The ice sheets reflect the sun’s rays keeping the Earth cool. Also as the ice cold salty water surrounding the poles drops in to the deep oceans, this mechanism then drives ocean currents that carry heat around the world.

The Southern Ocean that surrounds Antarctica also has the natural ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the air. But according to research from NASA scientists both the poles are melting, using satellite data to map the thickness and area of ice cover, the results showed significant thinning driven by warmer waters that melt the ice from the bottom and warmer air which melts the glaciers from on top.

In another study using Canadian and European satellites, joint research conducted by Dr Eric Rignot from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Dr Panir Kanagaratnam from the University of Kansas showed by using computer modeling that the rate of melting in Greenland’s glacial ice is much faster than expected, in fact over the last 10 years the rate of melting had doubled. This increase may well be due to massive lakes and rivers of flowing water that have formed under the ice surface, these sub-glacial lakes greatly destabilize the ice sheets causing large pieces of ice to break off and melt.

Robert Bindschadler from NASA’s Goddard Space flight Center has been measuring the surface elevation differences of the ice sheets in attempt to measure the size of these glacial river systems, the size of which were much bigger than expected.

So what does the melting of the ice sheets mean, well it means more water in the oceans which in turn means that the water levels will rise. When you add to this scenario the fact the warm water expands and thus raises sea levels even further this becomes a serious problem for low lying islands as well as coastal communities.

If  the Greenland ice sheet was to completely melt the oceans would rise by 23 feet which would submerge low lying cities like London and Los Angeles, however even just a 3 foot rise would submerge large parts of densely populated Bangladesh and the Maldives would sink completely creating tens of millions of environmental refugees. Already the effect of seal level rises has taken its toll on two islands in the South Pacific which have now totally disappeared. The rising sea levels have completely covered Tebua Tarawa and Abanuea Islands which belong to the Island state of Kiribati. Also the Tuvalu islands, which is a group of 9 atolls located near Fiji, the largest of which has already lost 1 meter of land around its circumference.

Climate Change and Earthquakes

Another consequence of melting sheets due to global warming is an increase in seismic activity in other words earthquakes. An increasing amount of research is giving credence to this relationship.

Professor of Geophysical Hazards at University College, Bill McGuire explained the phenomena in a New Scientist article entitled “Climate change: Tearing the Earth apart”. In the article he wrote “It shouldn't come as a surprise that the loading and unloading of the Earth's crust by ice or water can trigger seismic and volcanic activity and even landslides. Dumping the weight of a kilometer-thick ice sheet onto a continent or removing a deep column of water from the ocean floor will inevitably affect the stresses and strains on the underlying rock”.

This means that when massive amounts of ice melt, weight is lifted off the Earth’s crust, this allows the tectonic plates to move and shift creating Earthquakes. The amounts of ice being melted amounts to 100 billion tons annually in Greenland alone, that’s a huge weight. Allen Glazner a geoscientist from the University of North Carolina has analyzed an 800,000 year record of seismic activity in eastern California; he observed that peaks in volcanic activity occurred when ice around the globe was retreating.

Although no single earthquake can be proven to be associated with a specific melt in ice, the patterns are clear, especially as there has been an increase in particularly destructive earthquakes recently one most notably is the Sichuan earthquake in China which measured 7.8 on the Richter scale.

Conclusion

The effects of global warming on the earth and consequently on its inhabitants are huge and varied. We have only mentioned a few of the most urgent scenarios. Warming of the seas has already killed 27% of the world’s coral reefs, never to be seen again. The Indian monsoon has also been affected thus disrupting agriculture. All of this and more has occurred because of a 1 degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperatures over the last century due to human activities creating greenhouse gases. If nothing is done to reduce CO2 emission the IPCC estimates that global temperature could rise by a further 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century this would radically change the Earth’s living environment which is already under so much strain.     

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