1 year ago
Drought and Storm
Every year and everywhere the effects of climate change become more apparent. Violent downpours throw the sky into turmoil and droughts harden it to a blue that comes to seem cruel. Wildfires, hurricanes, heat waves, and melting permafrost accelerate, touching every nation. Over the last year, even with a global pandemic restricting travel, enough coal, oil and gas was burned globally to add 1% to the total carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and oceans. The pandemic pause also offered a glimpse of how quickly ecosystems can regenerate and the possibility of choosing a different way to live. (more)
Changes in rainfall 1981-2010 relative to 1951-1980, Paths of major storms
Adapted from Vogt, J. et al (2018) and NOAA Hurricane Center maps
Severely Increased Rainfall
Measures over one year compared with recent benchmarks
7.8 billion in 2021
rising by ~ 1%/year
Rate is slowing
Carbon Dioxide Concentration in atmosphere
415 parts per million in 2021
rises and falls in yearly cycle
Average is rising by ~ 1%/year
Global Average Temperature
15°C in 2021
Sea Level above level in 1900
22 centimeters in 2021
rising by ~ 3.3 cm/year
Rate is accelerating
Population in 2000
20th century median
Sea level in 1900 is datum
Year to Year
Over the course of a year the Earth breathes, absorbing carbon dioxide into new plant growth in spring and summer, then releasing it in fall and winter when plants die and decompose. This annual oscillation cycles carbon through the living world without changing the overall quantity in the ecosystem.
In spring when ice retreats, old plant material is exposed and warmed, accelerating decomposition, the total quantity of carbon dioxide the air crests, then starts to decline as new plants and leaves sprout into the sunlight, growing fast. In summer when the sun is high and warmth extends to the massive northern forests of Russia and Canada, the growth of trees draws in carbon dioxide across a vast landscape to bring atmospheric carbon dioxide to a minimum. In autumn, growth slows, leaves fall and rot, releasing carbon dioxide back into the air until the ice returns.
Year to year, as fuel emissions add carbon to this cycle, the seasons still change; winter is still cold, summer warm, yet every year the weather becomes less stable, threatening agricultural systems worldwide. Temperatures in the far north are most radically affected. Greenland and the Arctic are seeing temperatures 26°C above historical averages, sometimes well above the freezing point.
The warming arctic also weakens the jet stream to the extent that winter polar air can penetrate to middle latitudes, bringing brutal winter cold, sometimes for weeks. In summer the same jet stream can stall in one position, allowing heat to build without respite to deadly temperatures, particularly in cities. Warmer summers draw more moisture from the ground, exacerbating droughts in some areas and feeding storm clouds in others, which can release torrential rains, which erode soil and flood valleys. The heat also warms the ocean, fueling summer cyclones to the highest wind speeds ever recorded. And carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans acidifies the water, threatening corals, shellfish and some plankton at the foundation of the marine food chain.
The annual cycle also offers opportunities for renewable energy in concert with the seasons. Solar energy peaks with the summer solstice, just as the weather gets hot and air conditioners turn on. In winter the wind kicks up across the northern latitudes stirred by temperature differences. Agricultural techniques such as permaculture and agroforestry, which shift from annual planting to perennial species, shade and protect the soil, allowing it to hold moisture and absorb rainwater, mitigating both drought and flooding.
Text: Samenow, J. (2019). Temperatures leap 40 degrees above normal as the Arctic Ocean and Greenland ice sheet see record June melting. Washington Post.(June 14, 2019) Washington DC.
Image: Composite of images from Adobe Stock
Map: Vogt, J., et al. (2018). Drought Risk Assessment and Management: a conceptual Framework Luxembourg, Publications Office of the European Union. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329451050
National Ocean Service NOAA. (2018). "NOAA Historical Hurricane Tracks." from https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/news/historical-hurricanes/.
CO2: Scripps Institution of Oceanography/"The Keeling Curve: Carbon dioxide concentration at Mauna Loa Observatory." https://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/.
Temperature: NASA Global Climate Change Vital Signs of the Planet/ Global Temperature: https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/.
Sea Level: NASA Global Climate Change Vital Signs of the Planet/ Sea Level: Satellite Data: 1993 - Present. https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/sea-level/.
Population: Worldometers. (2018). "World Population by Year." Data from United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/world-population-by-year/.