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The Ups and Downs of Global Warming
Andrew MOISEENKO, -- translation by: J. Marshall Commins — 25.03.3008
The year 2007 marked the warmest year in the history of Russian climate observation, according to the Russian Federal Hydrometeorological and Environmental Monitoring Service (Rosgidromet). The average annual temperature was 2°С above the norm.
Few doubt that the Earth's climate is changing, but no one knows exactly why or how long the process will last. The international community must start preparing today for the effects of global warming.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) recently published the article: "Sixty-Three Answers to Questions from the Global Warming Skeptic." KP offers readers compelling insights from the educational brochure.
Q: Climate change has occurred repeatedly throughout history. The temperature was so warm in the Middle Ages that today's ice-capped Greenland was referred to as the "Green Country" due to its abundant flora. So why should we be worried now?
A: Temperatures from the past 250 years do in fact prove that today's climate change isn't unique. The climate has been both colder and hotter. In the age of the dinosaurs, for example, the temperature was 7°С warmer than today.
Previously, temperature change led to the increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases. Today everything is reversed. We see an unprecedented increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide and methane causing the temperature to rise. This sudden change is explained by the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
Q: If it gets warmer, then we'll be able to grow bananas in Russia...?
A: Today, global warming is affecting our agriculture favorably. We're seeing a decline in dangerous winters which harbor extreme frost for winter crops. Our plants are blossoming 5-10 days prematurely in some regions. We also have fewer June frosts in several northern regions in European Russia. Scientists say that a slight increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases the productivity of many crops; but, the temperature is continuing to rise.
Rosgidromet notes that by 2020 the productivity of grain crops will decline significantly by 20 percent in the North Caucasus and 15 percent in Russia's Central Black Earth Region, in the Volga region, and in the Urals and eastern Siberia. Although we'll see a 7-9-percent increase in crop productivity in Russia's northern and southwestern regions, as well as the Far East, this will not compensate for the loss.
Q: In the past few years, they've started planting potatoes in the northern parts of the Sakha Republic. We're pleased to hear the news.
A: It's true. About 350 years ago, Peter Golovin and Matvey Glebov, two provincial governors, wrote that "...the earth [in the Yakut Burg], Your Majesty, does not thaw in the summer," this is why "...according to the tales of trade and industrial servants, cereal cultivation should not be expected." But the permafrost thaw is causing a number of problems.
In the 20th Century, the Earth's temperature rose to 0.7°С, and to 5°С in northern regions. In the past 30 years, over 300 buildings in Yakutsk have been damaged due to the subsidence of frozen grounds. From 1990-1999, more structures suffered from irregular subsidence than in the past decade: 42 percent in Norilsk (Krasnoyarsk Krai); 61 percent in Yakutsk (Sakha Republic); 90 percent in Amderma (Arkhangelsk Oblast).
Q: At last, we can stop freezing and start saving on heating.
A: Experts say that Russia's heating season will decrease 4-5 days by 2015 (even 5 days in Kamchatka). We'll save fuel and energy by 5-10 percent – 20 percent by 2050. But, we'll use air conditioners more often. Economists say that these costs will eat up one-third of what we'll save. We also expect to see a partial weather change with irregular warm and cold periods, strong winds and snowfalls (both during and after the heating season). Therefore, we'll need additional energy outputs.
Q: In 1998 and 2005 (ed. and 2007), temperatures reached a record high. But one or two warm years doesn't amount to global warming.
A: Of course, individual years taken on their own can't prove or disprove global warming; 2005 isn't a climate gauge in and of itself. But what about the fact that 10 of the past 15 years – and 20 of the past 25 – reached unprecedented high temperatures. A phenomenal record glacial thaw was observed in Antarctica in 2007. By the end of summer, the glacial area was only 4.4 mln square kilometers. For the past 30 years, it had been nearly double that – 8 mln square kilometers.
Q: According to estimations, the average temperature may increase more than 2°С. Is this a considerable amount?
A: It's not inconsequential. Remember, we're talking about the average temperature on Earth. In certain places, the temperature may increase much more.
Russia faces a temperature increase of 4-6°С. Meanwhile, the temperature in Antarctica will nearly double. Even more, 500 mln people will suffer from a lack of freshwater due to this 2°С temperature increase. About 3 bln will suffer given a 3°С temperature increase.
Q: We've had floods and droughts in Russia before. There haven't been any emergency climate situations...
A: Rosgidromet says that the number of dangerous hydrometeorological phenomena has doubled, reaching 300 per year from 1990-2005. In fact, we had 311 and 361 incidents in 2004 and 2005, respectively (387 and 436 in 2006 and 2007). By 2015, this number will double again to 600 – or two natural disasters per day.
Q: Everyone starts talking about global warming when it's hot in the summer, or warm in the winter, but their voices die down when the frost and snowfalls begin.
A: Global warming isn't a smooth temperature increase, but more a disbalance. It's a wild rocking of the whole climate system on the backdrop of a slowly rising temperature. When it was 10-15°С warmer than the norm in Moscow on New Year's Eve in 2007, the weather dropped to -15°С in Tashkent (similar to this year). At the end of May 2007, when Moscow residents were suffering from extreme heat, Geneva saw the temperature drop to 4°С.
It's the swaying of the climate system that has 4-5 times more effect than the average temperature increase, which, for example, is only 2°С in Moscow during the winter.
Rosgidromet says that the amount of dangerous winter hydrometeorological phenomena hasn't decreased over the past 15 years, composing 60-80 incidents per year in Russia. We should anticipate abundant snowfalls and frost around 30°С, and with increasingly frequent strong thaws and rains within the intervals.
Q: Green organizations say that the glaciers are thawing... But the glacier cap in Antarctica has increased in past years.
A: Glacial areas in Antarctica are only increasing on the eastern mainland.
NASA says that Antarctica's glacial volume is generally decreasing. So the glacier cap's growth doesn't contradict overall global warming.
As it becomes warmer in Antarctica, we'll see snowfalls increase. Even a colossal temperature increase of 20°С (for example, from -50 to -30°С) won't result in the snow's thawing. Actually, the glacier will increase in volume. Greenland is losing three times more glacier than Antarctica. Thus, Greenland's glacial thawing more than compensates for the decrease in the rising sea level as a result of the increasing glacier cap in eastern Antarctica.
Q: The atmosphere can't warm enough to completely thaw Greenland's and Antarctica's glaciers, so we shouldn't be worried that the sea level will rise dramatically.
A: Greenland's and Antarctica's glaciers aren't thawing as much as they're breaking off. As the climate becomes warmer, the surface ice thaws, and the melted water travels down the fractures to the glacier's bottom. The water acts like a lubricant, which helps enormous glacial chunks to slip into the ocean where they quickly thaw.
This is why scientists estimate that the sea level will increase almost one meter in the 21st Century; consequently, there are several possible models of what may transpire.
Worst case scenario, or even in an average case scenario, cities like Shanghai, Calcutta, Amsterdam and Saint Petersburg will be either flooded or only exist with the use of high dams. In this case, however, the ground water level will increase and the cities' structural foundations will have to be rebuilt.