Tag Archives: global warming

In climate change, heat extremes tell a bigger story than average temps

News reports about climate change often focus on how the average global temperature is rising, but perhaps more attention should be paid to some alarming trends in extreme temperatures — the conditions that are more likely to kill people and push species toward extinction.

From 1986 to 2015, hottest-day-of-the-year readings climbed by 0.25 degrees Celsius per decade, the UCI study found. Some megacities saw a rise of 0.60 degrees Celsius per decade.
Map: Simon Michael Papalexiou, UCI

A new study published last week revealed that temperatures across the Earth’s surface went up an average of 0.19 degrees C (.34° F) each decade over the past 30 years, whereas the highest temperature recorded each year has gone up even more — an average of 0.25 degrees C (0.45° F) per decade.

The study, led by Simon Papalexiou of the University of California at Irvine, calls out even greater changes in the extreme temperatures in specific locations. Average change per decade of 0.33 degrees C (0.59° F) were measured in some parts of Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa. Download PowerPoint map (PPT 1.4 mb) from the report in the journal Earth’s Future.

Meanwhile, hottest temperatures recorded throughout the world grew even faster in some of the largest cities, according to the study. Of the cities for which reliable data are available, the increased temperature in the “megacities” rose an average of 0.33 degrees C (.59° F) per decade, and numerous cities exceeded 0.6 degrees C (1.08° F).

Over a 50-year time period, Paris had the fastest change, with the hottest temperature of the year growing by 0.96 degrees C (1.73° F) per decade. Over the past 30 years, Houston’s hottest temperatures grew even faster, rising 0.99 degrees C (1.8° F) per decade.

The urban heat island effect, which is caused by solar heat absorption in concrete, steel and glass structures, is “likely to have contributed to the observed alarming changes,” the report says, adding that a better understanding of the causes could help reduce the risks for people living in cities.

“More than just temperature readings on a map, these events have taken a severe human toll,” states a UCI news release on the paper. “A heat wave in Europe in 2003 caused roughly 70,000 deaths, and another in Russia in 2010 killed nearly 55,000 people. In the United States, an average of 658 deaths due to excessive heat were reported per year between 1999 and 2009.”

Amir AghaKouchak, a co-author of the study, said government officials will need to pay more attention in the megacities, where the risks are greatest.

“In France after that massive heatwave (in 2003), now all nursing homes or places where there are a lot of vulnerable people have to have at least a common room with air conditioning,” said AghaKouchak, quoted in a Reuters story by reporter Laurie Goering.

“That can be done and it’s already happening in some places,” he said. “But some countries don’t have the resources to do that.”

Architectural styles and green areas with trees and plants may help reduce the everyday risks to those who don’t have the resources to protect themselves.

The greatest problems surrounding climate change won’t be seen in the averages but in the new extremes — the temperatures, sea levels and rainy downpours never before experienced at a given location.

The website WX shift (pronounced “weather shift”) was designed to tell people about changing climate trends, including “The 10 hottest years.” For example, of the 10 hottest years on record, only two occurred before 1998 (1934 and 1990). The five hottest years on record have all occurred in the past 11 years.

WX shift also contains predictions for the number of days a given location will reach a high temperature. See “Future days above 95° F. This interactive graphic is said to be based on historical records and climate change models, as explained at the bottom of the page.

Another graphic on Climate Central’s website helps explain how a small change in average temperature can lead to an increasing number of record-breaking temperatures and more extreme conditions.

Weather extremes now surpassing the realm of natural possibilities

A new report from the American Meteorological Society makes a rather stunning statement about climate change. For the first time, researchers have concluded that specific weather-related events could not have happened without the influence of climate change caused by human activity.

Three events studied in 2016 were so extreme that they did not fit into the context of natural climate conditions, according to researchers working on separate projects. One involved the global heat record for 2016; another was focused on warmth across Asia; and the third was the “blob” of warm ocean water familiar to folks who follow weather in the Pacific Northwest.

A “blob” of warm water off the Northwest coast from 2013 to the end of 2016 could not have occurred without human-induced climate change, experts say.
Map: NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory

“This report marks a fundamental change,” said Jeff Rosenfeld, editor-in-chief of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, in a news release. “For years scientists have known humans are changing the risk of some extremes. But finding multiple extreme events that weren’t even possible without human influence makes clear that we’re experiencing new weather, because we’ve made a new climate.”

Personally, I did not expect to see this sort of demonstrable statement about man-made climate change anytime soon. In classes and seminars on the subject of climate change, I’ve often seen lecturers present frequency curves that show the number of times that certain weather-related phenomena — such as temperatures or rainfall — are observed over a given time.

We’re told by climatologists that many of these curves are steadily shifting, so that fairly extreme conditions occur more often and truly extreme conditions emerge for the very first time in certain locations.

Researchers are loathe to say that a given storm, drought or hurricane is the result of climate change. They would rather say climate change affects the likelihood of extreme weather events, plotted at the end of the frequency curve. In the realm of statistics, there is a tendency to hold onto the idea that almost any kind of weather could occur almost anytime, provided that a perfect storm of conditions line up together.

Against that backdrop, comes the new report titled “Explaining extreme events of 2016 from a climate perspective,” which examines extreme weather events throughout the world.

“First, it is important to note that climate scientists have been predicting that … the influence of human-caused climate change would at some point become sufficiently strong and emergent to push an extreme event beyond the bounds of natural variability alone,” state the six editors in an introduction to the report.

“It was also anticipated that we would likely first see this result for heat events where the human-caused influences are most strongly observed,” they continue. “It is striking how quickly we are now starting to see such results, though their dependence on model-based estimates of natural variability … will require ongoing validation …”

In other words, the conclusion comes from computer models that can analyze the probability of an extreme event taking place when greenhouse gases are found at different concentrations. Results using today’s observed conditions are compared with results using conditions before the industrial release of greenhouse gases.

In the three highlighted papers, the researchers calculated the “fraction of attributable risk,” or FAR, for the extreme event they were studying. FAR is a statistical approach used in epidemiology to measure the likelihood of an event under various conditions. For explanations, see Boston University School of Public Health and the 2007 IPCC report.

“All three papers concluded that the FAR was 1, meaning that the event was not possible in the ‘control’ planet and only possible in a world with human-emitted greenhouse gases,” the editors say.

Although this is the first time that researchers have concluded that extreme events could not have happened without human-induced climate change, the editors are quick to point out that the same phenomenon may have occurred unnoticed in the past on a smaller geographic scale.

These findings do not mean that the climate has reached any kind of tipping point. It simply adds to the evidence that mounting weather extremes are not the result of natural processes.

Reporters Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich of the New York Times do a nice job of delving into the concept of attribution science while mentioning five of the extreme events covered in the new report. They quoted Heidi Cullen, chief scientist at Climate Central, which produces news stories about climate issues.

“In 2011, people were still of the mind-set that you couldn’t attribute any individual event to climate change,” Cullen said. “But with each subsequent issue (of the BAMS report), people are able to say that climate change really is increasing the risk” that extremes will occur.

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Polls show support for state action on climate change — near and far

If the U.S. government fails to take action on climate change, a majority of Americans would like their states to pick up the ball and run with it.

Some 66 percent of those participating in a national survey agreed with the statement: “If the federal government fails to address the issue of global warming, it is my state’s responsibility to address the problem.”

Question: “Please identify your level of agreement with the following statement … If the federal government fails to address the issue of global warming, it is my state’s responsibility to address the problem.” (Click to enlarge)
Graphic: University of Michigan/Muhlenberg College

Residents of Washington state appear to feel even stronger about the need for state action, according to a survey by The Nature Conservancy, which is preparing for a statewide initiative to be placed on the 2018 general election ballot.

The national survey, by two University of Michigan researchers, demonstrates growing support among Americans for action on climate change, despite very little action by Congress. The last time the question was asked, in 2013, 48 percent of respondents wanted their states to take action. The latest results show an 18-percent increase in the number of people who support state action.

This and several other polls reveal growing concerns among Americans about the negative effects of climate change on human civilization as well as the environment.

Interestingly, the national survey was taken between April 17 and May 16 — before President Trump announced that he would withdraw U.S. support for the Paris climate agreement, which includes clear targets for greenhouse gas reductions. Respondents may have been aware of Trump’s executive order in March to dismantle former President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Americans are still somewhat divided along party lines, with Democrats more supportive of state action than Republicans. But the latest national survey reveals that more Republicans may support state action than not, at least within the survey’s margin of error. The survey shows that 51 percent of Republicans believe that states should step up to climate change, compared to 34 percent four years ago.

Support among Democrats for state action went from 57 percent in 2013 to 77 percent this year.

Another survey taken after Trump was elected showed that nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of the people who voted for him support taxing or regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and nearly half (47 percent) agreed that the U.S. should support the Paris climate agreement. See “Trump Voters and Global Warming.”

I will return to the national perspective in a moment, but first some almost-breaking news from Washington state, where The Nature Conservancy on Monday filed three petitions for possible ballot measures with the Secretary of State’s Office.

All three petitions deal with possible state actions on climate change, but none of them are intended to be used for signature gathering, according to Mo McBroom, government relations director for TNC. The idea, Mo told me, is to see how the Attorney General’s Office writes the ballot titles for the three measures, which is what a voter would read on the ballot.

Polling of Washington state voters after the defeat of a carbon-tax measure in last fall’s election showed that most voters knew little about the content of Initiative 732 when they cast their ballots. Also contributing to the confusion was the ballot title itself, which mentioned taxes but failed to explain that increased taxes on fossil fuels would be offset by reduced sales and business taxes plus a tax rebate for low-income residents.

I should point out that a fair number of environmental groups voiced opposition to the measure, in part because it failed to provide money for clean-energy initiatives. And some worried that the measure would add to state budget problems. More than anything, the mixed messages probably killed the measure.

Now, all the environmental groups as well as business and government supporters are hoping to come together around a single initiative with a high likelihood of success, Mo told me. The specifics of the real initiative are still under review, she said, and one should glean nothing from the three different proposals submitted this week. Once the details are worked out, a final petition will be submitted next January.

“The most important thing is that we are looking to build the broadest base of support for solutions to climate change.,” Mo told me. “Whether it is a carbon tax or fee or a regulatory structure, it is about how we, as a society, make the investments that the public wants.” For further discussion, read Mo’s blog entry posted yesterday in Washington Nature Field Notes.

Personally, I will be watching for the transportation aspects of the coming initiative, since more than half of the greenhouse gas emissions in Washington state involve the transportation sector — and Mo acknowledged that incentives to encourage cleaner fuels will be essential.

“We want to create an approach that is technology neutral,” she said. “we’re not picking winners and losers. We are creating innovate solutions.”

The Legislature has been struggling for months with Gov. Jay Inslee’s carbon tax proposal (PDF 801 kb). If something good comes out of that process, Mo said, the initiative may not be needed. Reporter Phuong Le reported on this issue for the Associated Press.

According to polling last fall (PDF 596 kb), 81 percent of Washington voters believe climate change is happening; 62 percent believe it is caused by human activities; and 69 percent support state action to reduce carbon pollution. Support may be even higher today. The survey was conducted by FM3 Research and Moore Information for The Nature Conservancy and Vulcan.

The national survey by University of Michigan researchers this spring showed that 70 percent of Americans across the country believe that global warming is happening. Barry Rabe, one of the researchers, told me that public opinion has ebbed and flowed somewhat on this issue since these surveys were started in 2008. See the graphic below, or check out the details on the Brookings blog.

Question: From what you’ve read and heard, is there solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past four decades?
Graphic: University of Michigan/Muhlenberg College

During the early years of former President Obama’s administration beginning around 2009, “there was a very aggressive effort by opposition groups that argued that climate change is a hoax,” Rabe said. “That probably had an impact (on people’s opinions).”

Now people seem to be returning to a stronger belief in climate change and tending to support the understanding that humans are responsible. Democrats and Republicans alike seem to feeling more urgency to take action.

“This may be a case where political figures are at variance with their base,” Rabe said, noting that most Republicans in Congress are showing no inclination to address the issue. But even in some conservative states, such as Texas and Kansas, state lawmakers are doing more than ever to address climate change, in part because of parallel economic interests involving renewable energy.

“Energy politics breaks down very differently depending on the state you are in,” Rabe said.

From a national perspective, all eyes will be on Washington state over the next year or two, as people throughout the country watch to see how people here address climate change, Rabe said. A lot of folks wondered about the rejection of the climate-change initiative in what many view as a pro-environment state, he added. People nationwide did not grasp the nuances of last fall’s vote, but they are interested in what comes next.

Gov. Jay Inslee joined with the governors of California and New York in signing onto a new U.S. Climate Alliance to help meet the goals of the Paris agreement in light of Trump’s efforts to withdraw from the pact. See Timothy Cama’s piece in The Hill.

California and New York have already passed climate-change-emissions legislation, Rave said, so people across the country are wondering how Washington plans to meet its commitment.

Mo McBroom of The Nature Conservancy said officials involved in the climate-change issue in Washington state embrace the leadership role that this state can play.

Amusing Monday: Ontario employs humor in climate discussion

Climate change is a serious issue for the government of Ontario, Canada, yet provincial officials have decided that there is some room for humor. Today, I’m sharing four videos designed to help average Canadians understand the profound effects of a warming world.

“We have so little time,” said Glen Murray, Ontario’s minister on the Environment and Climate Change, speaking with Anthony Leiserowitz of
Yale Climate Connections. “You’ve really got to throw everything at it — your wit, your humor and your sober, serious, heavy-duty conversations about the reality of what we’re facing.”

“Climate change affects everything,” comes the overall message for these four videos. “Climate change affects you and the world around you. This fight is personal.”

Continue reading

Amusing Monday: On location with music for a warming Arctic Ocean

As chunks of the Wahlenbergbreen glacier break off and crash into the sea next to him, Italian pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi plays on, performing a piece he wrote for this moment.

As seen in this video, Einaudi’s piano is situated on a floating platform surrounded by small pieces of floating ice. He came to Norway this past June on the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise to make a statement about the need to protect the Arctic Ocean. The composition, “Elegy for the Arctic,” fits the time and place.

“The ice is constantly moving and creating,” he told Sara Peach, a writer for Yale Climate Connections. “Every hour there is a different landscape. Walls of ice fall down into the water and they create big waves.”

Because of global warming, the Arctic is losing its ice, changing this remote ecosystem. Environmentalists are concerned about the increasing exploitation of minerals and fish in this fragile region. Greenpeace is among the groups pushing for international protections.

Supporting the cause, Einaudi performed with his grand piano on an artificial iceberg, 33 feet by 8.5 feet, made of 300 triangles of wood attached together.

“Being here has been a great experience,” he said in a Greenpeace news release issued at the time. “I could see the purity and fragility of this area with my own eyes and interpret a song I wrote to be played upon the best stage in the world. It is important that we understand the importance of the Arctic, stop the process of destruction and protect it.”

“If you haven’t heard the music of Ludovico Einaudi, then it’s probably because you don’t know it’s by Ludovico Einaudi,” writes Tim Jonze, music editor for The Guardian. “For years, his muted piano music has been stealthily soundtracking TV shows and adverts, seeping into our collective consciousness while the mild-mannered Italian behind it stayed out of the limelight.”

He has written songs for numerous soundtracks, including the trailer for “The Black Swan.” He has collaborated with other artists in theater, video and dance. Besides a long list of albums, his credits include multiple television commercials in Europe and the U.S.

In March, Einaudi released a music video, “Fly,” for Earth Hour (second video on this page). In my annual story about Earth Hour, I noted that the event may be losing its appeal in the U.S. but is still going strong in other countries. See Water Ways, March 16.

In the third video on this page, Einaudi discusses his latest project, an album titled “Elements.”

Northwest stayed warm in May; new graphics show long-term trends

After warmer-than-average temperatures for much of the past year, May suddenly turned cooler across the nation — except for the Northwest, which remained warmer than normal.

Temp anomaly

Although it seemed cool recently, at least compared to April, Western Washington had the greatest deviation with temperatures between 3 and 5 degrees higher than the 30-year average. See first map.

It seems ironic to write about cooler temperatures after last month’s teaser headline at the top of the Kitsap Sun’s front page: “Earth getting HOT, HOT, HOTTER!”

The big story earlier this month was that worldwide temperatures had broken all-time heat records for 12 months in a row, and April’s record-high temperature was a full half-degree higher than the previous record.

The average temperature hasn’t been below the 20th century average since December 1984, and the last time the Earth broke a monthly cold record was nearly a century ago, in December 1916, according to NOAA records.

“These kinds of records may not be that interesting, but so many in a row that break the previous records by so much indicates that we’re entering uncharted climatic territory (for modern human society),” Texas A&M University climate scientist Andrew Dessler wrote in an email to Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press.

Temp outlook

El Niño, which is now fading, was blamed in part for the unprecedented heat worldwide. But climatologists say the onward march of global warming lies in the background. Last year turned out to be the hottest year on record, easily beating 2014, which was also a record year.

The first four months of this year were so much hotter than 2015 that 2016 is still likely to set another record. NOOA’s Climate Prediction Center says La Niña conditions are on the way, with a 50 percent chance of La Niña by summer and a 75 percent chance by fall.

Summer temperatures are expected to be above average except in the Central U.S., while both coasts are expected to be the most likely to exceed normal temperatures. Check out the second map on this page.

Speaking of the onward march of climate change, computer graphics developers keep coming up with new ways to show how global temperatures are increasing in concert with rising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

New normal

Climate Central has combined data sets from NOAA to produce the orange graph,which shows the advance of a trailing 30-year temperature average from 1980 through 2015. To put it simply, we continue to adjust to a new normal.

Others have used animation to depict temperature change. One graphic (below) received a lot of attention this month. Temperature change is represented as the distance from a “zero” circle starting in 1850. Each month, a line moves one-twelfth of the way around the circle, completing 360 degrees each year. The line gets farther and farther from the center and really jumps outward in 2015.

Ed Hawkins, professor of meteorology at the University of Reading near London, created the animation. He credited an associate, Jan Fuglestvedt, with the idea of a spiral.

Jason Samenow, chief meteorologist for the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, called it “the most compelling global warming visualization ever made.” His blog post also includes some other visual depictions of climate change.

Another animated graph, by Tom Randall and Blacki Migliozzi of Bloomberg, show similar data depicted as a moving line graph.

NOAA Visualizations plotted temperature differences at various locations on a world map. Over time, it is easy to see how the Earth has gotten generally warmer, accelerating in recent years.

One of the most intriguing graphics, in my opinion, is one that purports to show the various factors that affect global temperature — from volcanic activity to man-made aerosols to greenhouse gases. The designers, Eric Roston and Blacki Migliozzi of Bloomberg, ask viewers to judge which factor they believe leads to global warming.

Since this is a blog about water issues, I would probably be remiss if I didn’t point out that the consequences of rising greenhouse gases is not just an increase in the Earth’s temperature. We can’t forget that a major portion of the carbon dioxide is being absorbed into the ocean, causing effects on marine life that are far from fully understood.

Children join forces to demand action
on climate change

I find it fascinating that children are making a strong legal argument that governments must take swift action to reduce climate change.

A series of lawsuits across the country are founded on the idea that many adults will be gone in 40 or 50 years when climate extremes become the new norm. It is the young people of today who will suffer the consequences of ongoing government inaction.

In a case filed by a group of children in King County Superior Court, Judge Hollis Hill took the Washington Department of Ecology and Gov. Jay Inslee to task for delaying action on new clean air regulations to help curb greenhouse gas emissions:

“Petitioners assert, the department does not dispute, and this court finds that current scientific evidence establishes that rapidly increasing global warming causes an unprecedented risk to the Earth, including land, sea, the atmosphere and all living plants and animals…

“In fact, as petitioners assert and this court finds, their very survival depends upon the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming by accelerating the reduction of emission of GHGs (greenhouse gases) before doing so becomes too costly and then too late.

“The scientific evidence is clear that the current rates of reduction mandated by Washington law cannot achieve the GHG reductions necessary to protect our environment and to ensure the survival of an environment in which petitioners can grow to adulthood safely.”

One can download Hill’s full opinion (PDF 2.6 mb) from Our Children’s Trust website. Also, reporter Jeannie Yandel of radio station KUOW interviewed the attorney and some of the children involved in the case.

Attorney Andrea Rogers (far right) poses with young plaintiffs outside a King County courtroom. Their legal victory requires state government to address climate change by the end of 2016. Photo: Our Children’s Trust
Attorney Andrea Rogers (far right) poses with young plaintiffs outside a King County courtroom. Their legal victory requires state government to address climate change by the end of 2016. // Photo: Our Children’s Trust

It is ironic that Gov. Inslee finds himself under attack for failure to act against greenhouse gas emissions, given that he is one of the nation’s leading advocates for action on climate change. Inslee literally wrote the book on this issue while serving in Congress: “Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy.”

Unable to get the Legislature to act on his specific program, the governor is now on a course to impose new regulations to force a reduction in greenhouse gases. Initially, the new standards would apply to large industrial sources. The governor says his authority stems from a 2008 law passed by the Legislature requiring a reduction to 1990 emission levels by 2020. We can expect the rule to be challenged by business interests.

Originally, the rule was to be completed this summer, but the proposal was withdrawn in February in light of an overwhelming number of comments and new ideas that needed to be addressed. The rule is scheduled to be re-released later this month and adopted by the end of the year.

Judge Hill’s latest ruling from the bench on April 29 requires Ecology to adopt the rule by the end of the year. That fits within Ecology’s current schedule, said Camille St. Onge, spokeswoman for Ecology. Whether the agency might appeal the ruling to preserve its options won’t be decided until after the judge’s written findings are issued, she said.

“We agree with Judge Hill,” St. Onge told me in an email. “Climate change is a global issue, and science is telling us that what was projected years ago is happening today, and we need to act now to protect our environment and economy for future generations. We’re working vigorously on Washington’s first-ever rule to cap and reduce carbon pollution and help slow climate change.”

Gov. Inslee said in a news release that he has no dispute with Judge Hill’s findings, which actually support his approach to combatting climate change:

“This case is a call to act on climate, and that call is one that has been a priority for me since taking office. Our state is helping lead the way on climate action in our country…

“In a way it is gratifying that the court has also affirmed our authority to act, contrary to the assertion of those who continue to reject action on climate change and ocean acidification. Hundreds of people have participated in the creation of our state's Clean Air Rule and the draft will be out in just a few weeks.”

For details about the proposed Clean Air Rule, visit Ecology’s website.

Meanwhile, Washington state is not the only state where youth have filed lawsuits to assert their rights to a healthy future. Cases also are pending in Oregon, Massachusetts, Colorado and North Carolina, according to Our Children’s Trust, which provides details about the state lawsuits on its website.

At the same time, another case is underway in U.S. District Court in Oregon, where Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin ruled that the young plaintiffs have standing and legitimate claims to be adjudicated. He allowed the case to move forward with additional evidence to be submitted. Read his April 8 ruling (PDF 3.2 mb) on the website of Our Children’s Trust.

The video below features reporter Bill Moyers discussing the legal issues in these cases, which include claims related to the Public Trust Doctrine, an ancient principle that asserts the public’s right to use and enjoy certain natural resources that cannot be ceded to private property owners.

Climate change to alter habitats in Puget Sound

In 50 years, Puget Sound residents will see mostly the same plants and animals they see today, but some changes can be expected. Our favorite species may disappear from places where they are now common.

Climate change is expected to bring higher temperatures, shifts in precipitation patterns, rising sea levels and ocean acidification. Some species will no doubt cope where they are. Some will not. Some could move to more hospitable locales, perhaps farther north or to higher elevations in the mountains.

“There are going to be some winners and some losers,” research biologist Correigh Greene told me. His comment seemed to sum up the situation nicely, and I used this quote in the final installment of a three-part series I wrote for the Puget Sound Institute and the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

All three climate stories are largely based on a new report from the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington called “State of Knowledge: Climate Change in Puget Sound.”

What stands out in my mind is how Puget Sound’s food web could be disrupted in unexpected ways. For example, tiny shelled organisms — key prey for many fish species — are already dying because they cannot form healthy shells. And that’s just one effect of ocean acidification.

The observations mentioned in my story and in the report itself come from a variety of experts who understand the needs of various species — from those that live in the water to those dependent on snow in the mountains. What will actually happen on the ground depends on many variables — from the buildup of greenhouse gases to changing trends such as El Nino.

As things are going, it appears that this year will be the warmest on record. The global average surface temperature is expected to reach the symbolic milestone of 1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial era, according to the World Meteorological Organization. The years 2011 through 2015 have been the warmest five-year period on record, with many extreme weather events influenced by climate change, according to a five-year analysis by WMO.

The new report from the Climate Impacts Group discusses various scenarios based on total emissions of greenhouse gases. High scenarios presume that emissions will continue as they are now. Low scenarios presume that people will dramatically reduce emissions. What will actually happen is unpredictable at this time.

Greenhouse gas emissions are used to predict carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, ultimately pushing up the average global temperature. The first graph below shows the range of annual emissions (in gigatons of carbon) depicted by the various scenarios. The next graph shows how the emissions translate into atmospheric concentration. One can take any of the scenarios and see how the levels translate into temperatures at the end of the century. For a more complete explanation, go to page 19 of the report, where these graphs can be found.

Emissions

CO2

Temps

Climate report describes changes coming to the Puget Sound region

How climate change could alter life in the Puget Sound region is the focus of a new report from the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group.

A 1997 landslide on Bainbridge Island killed a family of four and resulted in five homes being condemned for safety reasons. Landslides can be expected to increase in the future because of changes in precipitation patterns. Kitsap Sun file photo
A 1997 landslide on Bainbridge Island killed a family of four and resulted in five homes being condemned. Landslides can be expected to increase in the future because of changes in precipitation patterns.
Kitsap Sun file photo

In concert with the report’s release, I’m writing three stories for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, all focusing on specific aspects of the report, beginning with landslide risks. See “Shifting ground: climate change may increase the risk of landslides” on the Puget Sound Institute’s blog.

As the new report describes, increased flooding, more frequent landslides and decreased salmon runs are likely, along with declines in some native species and increases in others. We are likely to see more successful invasions by nonnative species, while summer drought could cause more insect damage to forests and more forest fires.

The report, “State of the Knowledge: Climate Change in Puget Sound,” pulls together the best predictions from existing studies, while updating and expanding the range of topics last reported for Puget Sound in 2005.

“When you look at the projected changes, it’s dramatic,” said lead author Guillaume Mauger in a news release. “This report provides a single resource for people to look at what’s coming and think about how to adapt.”

The report includes examples of communities taking actions to prepare for climate change, such as merging flood-management districts to prepare for increased flooding in King County and designing infrastructure to contend with rising sea levels in other areas.

“In the same way that the science is very different from the last report in 2005, I think the capacity and willingness to work on climate change is in a completely different place,” Mauger said.

Sheida Sahandy, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, said the people of Puget Sound must be prepared for changes that have already begun.

“To protect Puget Sound, we need to plan for the ever-increasing impacts of climate change,” she said in a news release. “This report helps us better understand the very real pressures we will face over the coming decades. The effects of climate change impact every part of what we consider necessary for a healthy Puget Sound: clean water, abundant water quantity, human wellbeing, and a Puget Sound habitat that can support our native species.”

Work to compile the report was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency via the Puget Sound Institute at UW Tacoma, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state of Washington.

The report will become part of the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, where my climate-change stories will reside after publication over the next three weeks. I’m currently working part-time for the Puget Sound Institute, which publishes the encyclopedia and is affiliated with the University of Washington — Tacoma.

For other news stories about the report, check out:

Global cooling debate was never what some climate skeptics claim

Climate-change skeptics frequently bring up a 40-year-old story about climate change — a fleeting notion that the Earth was cooling.

Talking about that story, which was picked up by Newsweek and other publications, serves as a roundabout way for skeptics to ridicule the science of global warming, suggesting that scientists have never been able to get their story straight.

But the idea of global cooling failed to stand up to scientific scrutiny, and the whole idea of global cooling soon disappeared.

Now is the time to put that old story to rest, writes Peter Dykstra, publisher of the nonprofit Environmental Health Sciences, in a guest blog published on the Scientific American website.

“Rush Limbaugh is a frequent flyer on the Newsweek story, making the common error of promoting it to a ‘cover story.’” Peter writes, noting that it was a single-page, nine-paragraph piece on page 64.

“Lawrence Solomon, a kingpin of Canadian climate denial, added a new twist two years ago, claiming that the global cooling theory was growing to ‘scientific consensus,’” Peter said. “Yet the American Meteorological Society published a 2008 paper, which reported that even in the theory’s heyday, published papers suggesting a warming trend dominated by about six to one.”

Peter goes on to describe how various people have used the story to sew seeds of doubt about today’s leading climate-change findings.

“Science, in particular, moves on as it becomes more sophisticated,” he said. “The scientific community stopped talking about global cooling three decades ago. It’s time to retire this long-dismissed theory as an anti-science talking point.”

Peter’s blog includes a photograph of the old Newsweek story from April 28,1975, so I enlarged it and read what it actually said. Some excepts:

  • “In England, farmers have seen their growing season decline by about two weeks since 1950, with a resultant overall loss in grain production… During the same time, the average temperature around the equator has risen by a fraction of a degree – a fraction that in some areas can mean drought and desolation.”
  • “Last April, in the most devastating outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded, 145 twisters killed more than 300 people and caused half a billion dollars worth of damage in thirteen U.S. states.”
  • “To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world’s weather.”
  • “’Our knowledge of the mechanisms of climatic change is at least as fragmentary as our data,’ concedes the National Academy of Sciences report. ‘Not only are the basic scientific questions largely unanswered, but in many cases we do not yet know enough to pose the key questions.’”
  • “Climatologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change or even to allay its effects. They concede that some of the more spectacular solutions proposed, such as melting the polar ice cap by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers, might create problems far greater than those they solve.”

Ironically, current research predicts that we will see increasing weather anomalies as a result of climate change. Studies also show that soot is unintentionally landing on the polar ice caps, melting them even faster. On the other hand, thousands of studies have now documented the warming trends in correlation with an increase in greenhouse gases.

If anyone doubts the level of climate-change research taking place, take a look at “Science Daily,” a website that compiles reports on all kinds of studies. The category “Climate” includes just a portion of the climate research underway throughout the world.

In a related development on climate change, a group of 28 Washington scientists wrote a letter to the Legislature (PDF 110 kb), saying our state is already feeling the effects of climate change:

“We must adapt to the inevitable impacts of a changing climate by investing in communities to make them more prepared for the current impacts and future risks of climate change. At the same time, Washington must also take appropriate steps to reduce heat-trapping emissions that would cause much more devastating consequences in the decades to come…

“We ask that you implement a policy that establishes a price on greenhouse gas emissions to encourage a shift to clean energy solutions and drive low-carbon innovation that will foster the clean industries of the future…

“The emissions choices we make today — in Washington and throughout the world — will shape the planet our children and grandchildren inherit. Please help create a cleaner, safer, and healthier future for Washington. Let this be our legacy.”