Climate Change Shifts Into Fast Forward

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By Stephen Leahy

Oct 26 (IPS) – Global warming has been compared to a slow-moving train wreck, in which the passengers are blissfully unaware of the coming catastrophe.

With the shocking loss of the Arctic sea ice this summer and several new reports this week that oceans and tropical forests are now absorbing less of the world’s steadily rising carbon emissions, our collective train wreck appears to have already tipped into fast forward.

“Global warming is a big feature of our lives now. It is no longer something that only future generations will have to cope with,” said Ted Scambos, senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in the U.S. city of Boulder, Colorado.

The major ecosystems that absorb carbon emissions from the atmosphere are failing, and it is happening faster than anticipated, Scambos told IPS.

The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is increasing much more rapidly than even the surging economic growth of China and India and the global economy can account for. The reason is a decline in the efficiency of emissions-absorbing “carbon sinks” on land and in the oceans, researchers reported this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

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About half of the CO2 emissions resulting from human activities are absorbed by natural “sinks”, such as forests, other vegetation and the oceans, but this new study shows that the efficiency of these sinks has fallen significantly over the past half century.

Corinne Le Quéré, a climate researcher at the British Antarctic Survey, told IPS last May that stronger winds in the Southern Ocean caused by global warming have resulted in it absorbing less and less carbon since 1981. Those winds churn the ocean waters, bringing up more dissolved carbon dioxide from the deep sea to the surface, and consequently less carbon dioxide is absorbed from the atmosphere.

The process is also making the oceans more acidic, threatening coral and other marine life.

“We are depending on carbon sinks like the oceans to absorb a huge amount of our emissions,” Le Quéré said. “This means there is more urgency than ever to reduce our emissions.”

Oceans are also warming, which also reduces their ability to absorb carbon, said Scambos. Warmer North Pacific water is flowing into the Arctic Ocean and is one of the main reasons behind this summer’s startling loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic. For the first time in human memory, the fabled Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean was ice-free.

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While Arctic sea ice retreats temporarily every summer, this summer the retreat was 2.6 million square kilometres larger than any previous summer’s loss..

The big meltdown was outside the range of previous scientific projections, and even worst-case scenarios, said Scambos. It likely represents a new era of accelerated warming over the next few decades, he said. This acceleration may well mean that the Arctic could be completely ice-free in 10 years — decades faster than previous predications made only a year ago.

Hotter oceans are also statistically correlated with four of the five major extinctions in the past 520 million years of Earth’s history, according to a study published Wednesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a British journal focusing on biological sciences.

Earth is on track to hit this extinction-triggering warming point in about 100 years unless greenhouse gas emissions are curbed, predicts Peter Mayhew of the University of York in Britain.

Another tipping point may have already been reached as warming temperatures appear to have reduced tropical forests’ ability to absorb carbon, says a series of new studies published Thursday in the New Scientist magazine.

For complete article please click CO2 Levels Begin Accelerated Climb

5 thoughts on “Climate Change Shifts Into Fast Forward

  1. Interesting article, especially the quote by Dr Mayhew in the UK. People are saying things like the climate change problem is yes, a slow moving train wreck waiting to happen, of which most people are unaware, and the canary in the coal mine of global warming, and the carnary is half dead already…..and others say the coal miners in the proverbial story only left the coal mine when they found that the canary was dead. OOPS, too late.

    Is this our fate too?

    Good reporting, sir!

  2. Hey Stephen, this is a good looking site. I just wanted to give you my opinion on global warming to give you something to think about and possibly research.

    Most of my recent thoughts on the subject were pretty well summed up on the final episode of National Geographic’s Earth: A Biography that was just recently on TV. Towards the end of the show, the host said something along the lines of, I’m paraphrasing here: “The earth has gone through many climate cooling and warming cycles and has always recovered to sustain life. Because of those cycles there have been many different dominant organisms inhabiting the Earth. Right now it is our turn to try to survive through this part of the cycle by doing what we can to pad the fall. We need to worry about ourselves, not the Earth, it will recover.”

    I believe that, but I am by no means saying that the most intelligent species to ever inheret the Earth should blatently do it harm. I think we should do everything we can to balance it out, by controlling emissions of CO2, by using alternative energy sources for everything. It would be for our own good. We may not recover, but the earth will.

    I meant for that to be a short explaination, but I really get fired up on the subject and about halfway through, I stopped and thought I should put this on my blog and link it to yours.

    Will you please let me know what your views are on the cyclic warming and cooling trends that happen naturally.

    Thank you,
    Ryan Rodgers
    iwantitpaintedgreen.blogspot.com

  3. Ryan, the planet has gone through many warming and cooling cycles; the big difference this time is the speed of the warming — +100x faster than any previous due to our emissions of CO2. You are right that the Earth will be fine, cutting emissions is all about keeping the climate tolerable for us and the ecosystems we depend on.

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