12 March 2009

Science in the news -

1.) It's worse than we thought, item 1: In 2007, scientists predicted up to a 6'C rise in global temperatures. We're warming up a lot faster than that, as reported in the Guardian this week:

Scientists at the Copenhagen Climate Congress this week said the IPCC may have underestimated the scale of the problem, and that emissions since 2000 have risen much faster than expected.
What's the big deal? Well, humans lose heat by sweating, and unless we also learn to pant or some other method, we won't be able to lose enough heat to accommodate to the new reality of a warmer earth. Steven Sherwood, a climate specialist from Yale University, said:
"Seven degrees would begin to create zones of uninhabitability due to unsurvivable peak heat stresses and 10C would expand such zones far enough to encompass a majority of today's population."
I've done a little research and a little math: an increase in 7'C would mean the average high in New York City in July would go from 84'F to 96.6'F; in Miami it would go from 90'F to 103'F; in Milwaukee it would go from 79'F to 91.4'; and Denver would go from 87.8'F to 100.4'F. So that's nice. Baudette, Minnesota, here I come.

2.) It's worse than we thought, item 2: Sea levels are going to rise much higher than previous, more conservative projections showed. Here in my beloved California, the new number is 55 inches - over four and a half feet - by the year 2100 as reported in a surprisingly thorough LA Times story, this morning. Look at the map, right - yellow areas are current flood zones, and all that red are areas that would become flood zones. And San Mateo County in NorCal would get hit harder, with four other Bay Area couties close behind.

Think about four and a half feet of additional water, and then think about South Florida. Or the Netherlands. Or Bangkok. It's sobering, and we are completely unprepared. (This is some of what I was trying to talk about in yesterday's blog entry - what are the givens to which we cling that just don't make sense? - and wasn't quite able to wrap the words around the idea.) Researchers at Haskell College have posted maps showing what would happen in a 5 meter rise. (So have many others, but Haskell College has a soft spot in my heart, and it's easily accessible to the non-science person, like me.) A 55 inch/ 4.5 feet / 1.4 meter rise, like the one projected for 2100, would look like something closer to this map, below, from CReSIS (Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets at the University of Kansas). Here's the map of a one meter rise in sea level, with the areas of red newly under water. Maybe my dream of New Orleans is not such a good idea after all.

3.) From an urban planning perspective, the implications of global climate change are huge. "Current building, land use and planning practices assume a continuation of climate as it has been known in the past. 'That assumption, fundamental to the ways people and organizations make their choices, is no longer valid,' ...the working arm of the National Academy of Sciences said in a report released Thursday." If it's 12'F warmer in Los Angeles over the summer, what will that mean for energy demand? We already have rolling blackouts and times when we are asked not to use our washers and dishwashers due to high energy use going to air conditioning, so what will additional demand mean? No dishwashers? Will housing tracts rescind their bans on backyard clotheslines, for example (one of the most idiotic housing covenant requirements ever, in my opinion)? And if we need more energy, where will it come from so we're not further contributing to global climate change and warmer summers, thus fueling more demand for energy and contributing to the feedback loop? Full story from the L.A. Times here.

Wish that I could end on a positive note, but that's the science in the news this week.


KenAnselment said...

For some hope, and perhaps an answer to the question you pose at the end of item 3, see "The Graph": http://coolinfographics.blogspot.com/2009/02/graph-future-of-solar-power.html

All is not lost--unlike the Marquette basketball season. A last-second layup. Nic's broken foot completely changed that team.

Unknown said...

We invested wisely. Our townhouse will be ocean front. We're visiting the Marshall Islands in August. I will be thinking about this.