What’s Hot in Climate Change – August 2016

Welcome back to What’s Hot in Climate Change, a sample of a few of the stories that stood out from the past few weeks in climate change news. We hope your summer has been a good one so far. It’s been pretty damn hot here in Houston, hot as ever, but even so 2016 is already on track to blow away global records for the hottest year ever recorded. Which brings us to out top stories — a story of fire and ice.

Extreme Heat in the Middle East

Two places in the Middle East hit 129 degrees fahrenheit (53 centigrade) on July 15th.  These are the hottest temps ever recorded on the planet, except for maybe Death Valley, CA.  Fortunately these temps occurred away from the coast where the high humidity would have added to the danger.

Extreme heat combined with the humid air can raise the temperature to the point where human beings can no longer be outside without getting heat stroke. In essence, the air is so warm and moist that your body can not shed heat into the environment anymore. When that happens you keep all your heat, your body’s core temperature rises, and you get heat stroke and die.  A healthy adult can last about 6 hours under these conditions before death.

The wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) is the measurement that combines the effect of heat and humidity.  A WBGT of 35 degrees centigrade or higher is uninhabitable.  The Earth’s climate is pretty remarkable in that during all of human evolution over the past few million years the WBGT has not risen above 35C at any place on the planet.  That’s all about to change.

Satellite pic showing temperature of Persian Gulf Area on 22 July 2016
Grey-green area at the top of the Persian Gulf are where temps were hottest, on 22 July 2016.

Recent climate model projections show that large swaths of the Middle East along the Persian Gulf will be uninhabitable by humans by 2100 AD during the summer because the WBGT will be >35C.  If all that sounds farfetched to you, consider that for the first time in recorded history this came very close to happening last summer.  On the 31st of July 2016 at Bandar Mahshahr Airport, Iran, the temperature was above 40C, the humidity was ~49% and the WBGT peaked at 34.6 C. In terms of WBGT, this was the worst heat wave ever recorded.  

Projection of Persian Gulf temps by 2100
Saudi Arabia is in the middle of each frame, with the Persian Gulf in darker colors.  Left frame is historical WBGT. Middle is by 2071-2100AD if we limit warming to <2C. Right is warming above 2C by 2071 – 2100AD. Purple temps are uninhabitable.  You can see large parts of the coast along the Persian Gulf will be uninhabitable.  From Pal & Eltahir, Future temperature in southwest Asia projected to exceed threshold for human adaptability, Nature Climate Change, 2015, 6:197-200.

There are many threats from climate change, but heat is probably the biggest threat that impacts people around the world.  It will be especially dire as  exponential increase in heat wave frequency and intensity take hold. And don’t think for a second that these effects will be confined to the Middle East, many areas along the tropical belt and equator will be affected.  Not to mention that the more temperate areas will be that much less temperate.  In fact, some of the health impacts will be worse in more temperate areas where people are not used to extreme heat.  (Surviving climate change induced heat waves is an upcoming post for this blog, so stay tuned for that.)

 

Other effects of global warming include bigger, hotter and more frequent forest fires.

The primary cause of this are warmer winters and drier spring seasons, which lead to tinder box conditions in our forests early in the summer. This problem has been well known and studied for some time, and The Climate Advisor wrote about it last year. You can read more about it in a nice piece done by the New York Times which features some well done graphics. One important point noted by the NYT is that the cost of fighting forest fires is rising dramatically, straining state and federal forest management budgets.

fighting forest fires is getting expensive

 

Another record that 2016 is on track to break — the record for lowest Arctic sea ice extent.

Some deniers used to point to years where the sea ice was larger in extent and then use that to say there is no evidence of warming in the Arctic.  What they fail to understand is that there are two kinds of sea ice. There’s the thin ice that comes and goes, year to year — and there’s the thick sea ice that lasts through the summer and persists year to year and decade to decade. It’s the long-lived sea ice that’s disappearing, AND as we see now, there’s also much less of the yearly sea ice.   Arctic climate is dynamic, complex, and difficult to figure out — but one thing is clear, there are epic changes happening there now.

Arctic Sea Ice Extent, July 2016
Data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center — http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

 

Greenland Looses 1 Trillion Tons of Ice Over Four Years

Another important story about ice came out recently — using the European Space Agency’s Cryostat satellite, climate researchers measured the ice loss from Greenland. They found that Greenland has lost a staggering 1 trillion tons of ice over the past four years. Even though it sounds like a lot (it is), it only raised worldwide sea level by almost a millimeter. A millimeter may not sound like much, but for every few millimeters there are centimeters of increase in storm surge. That’s how a small bit of extra water leads to much more damage from storm surges along the coasts. Not to mention that when all of Greenland melts it will add 20 feet to worldwide sea level. Here’s is a nice video from the Washington Post…

3-D Printed Weather Stations

On a less depressing note, the fabulous atmospheric scientists and engineers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado have put together a set of plans for a 3D printed weather station. The goal is to help developing countries make their own weather stations and collect climate data that is key to agriculture, aviation, climate adaptation and other important endeavors. I contacted the developers at NCAR and they said they hope to make the 3D plans widely available by website at some point in the near future. This would make a great school project that draws from a bunch of areas of science and engineering. I look forward to that coming out soon, and will post that info when I get it.

3D printed weather station
From NCAR… “A newly installed weather station at the Salvation Army’s College of Biomedical Sciences in Chikankata, Zambia. The sensor on the left (with the funnel) is a specially designed tipping bucket rain gauge; the vertical, vented cylinder on the vertical arm of the station is a radiation shield containing temperature, humidity, and pressure sensors; and the horizontal cylinder protruding out the back contains a single-board computer. A wind vane (left), solar light sensor (middle), and three-cup wind anemometer (right) are mounted on the upper arm. The station is powered by a single solar panel and a backup battery.”

Let’s Walk the Walk

Last but not least, the intent of this blog is not only to inform you about issues in climate change that may impact you, but also give suggestions about what you can do as an individual to lessen the impacts and adapt to it. Of course, other than political action, switching to alternative energy is probably the single biggest thing you can do as an individual. Consuming less and recycling more are also key.  The less you consume and the more you recycle, the less energy you use, because it costs less energy to turn recycled material into something new again than it does to create something from scratch.

We here at The Climate Advisor not only talk the talk, but we also walk the walk. We use 100% wind power from Champion Energy, and we recycle ever last bit of plastic, metal and paper possible. Maybe it’s hard to take those first steps, but once you do it becomes second nature. Plus you feel like you are at least doing your part to lessen your impact on the world.  So until next time, have a great summer, recycle and be cool!

2 weeks worth of recycle
Two weeks of recycling, plus a small bag of trash in the foreground consisting mostly of coffee grounds!

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