Our home in space

some remarks on global heating and ocean acidity

Guy Ottewell


Heat is energy. If you put more of it into the atmosphere and the ocean, it will stir up more violent weather: heat-waves and droughts, storms and floods.
        The European heat-wave of August 2003 was unlike anything ever seen before. The deaths caused were about 35,000; in France alone, 18,000. In Britain, where records had been kept since 1769, temperatures above 100 F (37.8 C) were recorded for the first time — up to 101.3 F (38.5) in some places. There were nights when the heat never fell below 80 F. Records were also set in Portugal, Germany, and Switzerland.
        The 2009 drought in Kenya was the most prolonged and severe in memory. Coming on top of the killing of elephants by poachers for ivory to smuggle to China (many hundreds a year since the ban on ivory exports was removed) drought conditions like this may, it is feared, drive elephants to extinction in central and east Africa within 15 years.
        In Somalia, the rains used to fail about once in 10 to 12 years. This has begun to happen almost every second year, sometimes two years in succession, as in 2010 and 2011. The 2011 drought is one of the world's most tragic. Thousands of thirsty people walked hundreds of miles — many children becoming separated from their parents — to Kenya, finding little or no relief when they got to overcrowded refugee camps. How can a woman with four children aged from three to ten walk for a month and a half across parched land?
        Across the northern half of China, huge sandstorms pin people indoors and can blow sand as far as America. The number of these sandstorms has increased six-fold (from about 4 to about 24 a year) in the past 50 years; the factors causing this are overgrazing, deforestation, urban sprawl, and increasingly erratic climate.
        In England and Wales, the floods of October 2000 were the worst on record. An Oxford University study concluded in 2011 that the probable cause was global warming, though the scientists cautiously did not express it quite that way: what the massive processing of data showed was that modeling of the probable weather gave up to a 90% greater chance of those floods with than without the greenhouse gas we have put into the atmosphere. Catastrophic flooding struck England again in 2010.
        Layers of coral in the Great Barrier Reef record fluctuations in the amount of fresh water deriving from nearby rivers, hence give a chronology of wet and dry years. Australian scientists found in 2011 that since the end of the nineteenth century years of extreme rain or drought have increased in frequency and intensity, results which “support climate models suggesting that, as Earth warms, tropical rainfall variability will increase.”


Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy, October 30, 2012