Burning Fossil Fuels Bringing Heavy Rains and Flooding
(Bonus: How we can kick the fossil fuel addiction)
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 16, 2011 (IPS)
Human-induced heating of the planet has already made rainfall more intense, leading to more severe floods, researchers announced Wednesday.
Two new studies document significant impacts with just a fraction of the heating yet to come from the burning of fossil fuels. Fortunately, another new report shows the world can end its addiction to climate-wrecking fossil-fuel energy by 2050.
“Warmer air contains more moisture and leads to more extreme precipitation,” said Francis Zwiers of the University of Victoria.
Extreme precipitation and flooding over the entire northern hemisphere increased by seven percent between 1951 and 1999 as a result of anthropogenic global warming. That represents a “substantial change”, Zwiers told IPS, and more than twice the increase projected by climate modeling.
Zwiers and Xuebin Zhang of Environment Canada used observations from over 6,000 weather stations to measure the impact of climate warming on the intensity of extreme precipitation for the first time. The study was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
The planet is currently 0.8 degrees C hotter from the burning of fossil fuels. However, global temperatures had not yet started to increase in 1951, the first year of rainfall data Zwiers and Xuebin examined. By 1999, global temperatures had climbed by about 0.6 degrees C. The average temperature increase over that 50-year period is relatively small compared to the present but major impacts have been documented in terms of storm and flood damage even with this small increase in temperatures.
This suggests that the Earth’s climatic system may be more sensitive to small temperature increases than previously believed.