Extreme Weather Events XXIV: Manhattan, NY, 2012

Extreme Weather Events XXIV: Manhattan, NY, 2012
Blackout after the storm.

Hurricane Sandy: photographed November 2012.

In the United States, Hurricane Sandy affected 24 states, with its most intense damage in the densely populated states of New Jersey and New York.  More than 110 people were killed by the storm and the cost of damage is estimated at over $62 billion, which would make it the second-costliest Atlantic hurricane, behind only Hurricane Katrina.

Most climate scientists agree that climate change did not create Hurricane Sandy — tropical storms would occur with or without global warming. But many climate models suggest that such storms will become more intense as the planet warms.  In this case, the possible exacerbating factors included: rising sea levels that heighten the storm surge (certain), warming sea surface temperatures that help to intensify the storm (nearly certain), and warmer-than-usual temperatures over Greenland that created a “block” in the North Atlantic, pushing the hurricane toward the East Coast (less certain).  Typically, scientists say, the jet stream instead carries hurricanes eastward into the Atlantic Ocean.

Sandy became known as “Frankenstorm” in the media because of its size and because it made landfall around Halloween.  The size of Sandy was cause in part by the collision of the tropical storm with an extratropical low pressure system.  It is unknown whether climate change contributed to the likelihood of such a collision.

Extreme Weather Events XVI: Staten Island, NY, 2012

Extreme Weather Events XVI: Staten Island, NY, 2012

Extreme Weather Events XIX: found photo, Staten Island, NY, 2012

Extreme Weather Events XIX: found photo, Staten Island, NY, 2012

Extreme Weather Events XXI: Far Rockaway, NY, 2012

Extreme Weather Events XXI: Far Rockaway, NY, 2012

Extreme Weather Events XVII: Staten Island, NY, 2012

Extreme Weather Events XVII: Staten Island, NY, 2012

Extreme Weather Events XXV: Manhattan, NY, 2012

Extreme Weather Events XXV: Manhattan, NY, 2012

Extreme Weather Events XXII: Coney Island, NY, 2012

Extreme Weather Events XXII: Coney Island, NY, 2012

Extreme Weather Events XVIII: Staten Island, NY, 2012

Extreme Weather Events XVIII: Staten Island, NY, 2012

Extreme Weather Events XX: found photo, Staten Island, NY, 2012

Extreme Weather Events XX: found photo, Staten Island, NY, 2012

Extreme Weather Events XXIII: Coney Island, NY, 2012

Extreme Weather Events XXIII: Coney Island, NY, 2012

Johan

Johan Huibers’ Ark, The Netherlands, 2010

The Netherlands: photographed June 2006 and June 2010.

Situated on the Rhine delta, the Netherlands is potentially one of the most vulnerable countries to increases in sea level or increased frequency of extreme storms.  Twenty-six percent of the country is below sea level and another 29 percent of the country is at risk from river flooding, according to Dutch government estimates.  (These numbers are a correction of estimates used in the IPCC report cited in the link above).

However, a history of disastrous floods has prompted the country to build an elaborate network of water defenses.  To date, defenses have focused primarily on barriers (dykes and large storm surge barriers), but recently the country has developed a strategy of so-called soft defenses, such as the Room for the Rivers initiative, the goal of which is to give the river space for overflow.  This is done by depopulating certain areas, relocating existing dykes, excavating land and other such measures.

In 2008, the Dutch government announced a 200-year climate plan, as reported in Wired magazine.  The plan was predicated on the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), which exists expressly for the purpose of bridging science and policy.  The plan called for $1.5 billion a year in spending for the next 100 years, a stark contrast to what is politically feasible in the United States and other countries.  The Room for Rivers project and other initiatives followed.  In forging this plan, the Dutch observed a simple formula:  risk = (probability of failure) x (projected cost of damage).  “We will completely control the water,” said one of the engineers on the committee that produced the plan, echoing an inscription on one of Holland’s largest storm surge barriers: Hier gaan over het tij de maan de wind en wij  (Here the tide is ruled, by the wind, the moon and us).

Rising Sea Level XXVI: Plompe Tower, Former Village of Koudekerke, The Netherlands, 2010

Rising Sea Level XXVI: Plompe Tower, Former Village of Koudekerke, The Netherlands, 2010
Historic flood site.

Rising Sea Level XX: The Netherlands, 2007

Rising Sea Level XX: The Netherlands, 2007
Sea dunes.

Rising Sea Level XXIII: The Netherlands, 2007

Rising Sea Level XXIII: The Netherlands, 2007
Sea dike.

Rising Sea Level XXIX: The Biesbosch Noordwaard, The Netherlands, 2010

Rising Sea Level XXIX: The Biesbosch Noordwaard, The Netherlands, 2010
The Dutch “Room for Rivers” policy is creating new floodplains that allow for river flooding during increased winter rains in Europe predicted by climate-change models. The 2,000-hectare Noordwaard area in the Dutch Biesbosch region is one such area. Of the 25 farms in the area, 12 will remain while the others will be relocated to create room for overflowing rivers.

Rising Sea Level XVIII: Zeeland, The Netherlands, 2007

Rising Sea Level XVIII: Zeeland, The Netherlands, 2007
The most ambitious of the Delta Works, the 3-mile long Oosterschelde storm surge barrier between the Oosterschelde estuary and the North Sea.

Rising

Rising Sea Level XVI: Zaltbommel, The Netherlands, 2006

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XLVII: Cordillera Blanca, Peru, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XLVII: Cordillera Blanca, Peru, 2008

Peru: photographed March-April 2008.

This series focuses on the relationship between the desert coast where two-thirds of the country’s population lives and the mountains where about 80 percent of the country’s freshwater supply is located.  A Between the coast and the mountains runs a network of pipes and aqueducts conveying that water to people for crops, drinking and hydropower.

Much of Peru’s water comes from glacial runoff, particularly in the dry season. Glaciers in the Andes are melting. How soon they will be gone is a question that scientists are currently analyzing. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that: “Over the next 15 years, inter-tropical glaciers are very likely to disappear (IPCC, AR4 WGII, Chap. 13, p.583, 589). Some recent studies have been more conservative regarding the rate of melt.

Efforts to manage water supply are a big part of the human history in Peru, from the Nazca to the Moche, from the Incans to present-day society. This long and varied history of human cultures in Peru is embedded within the much longer geologic history evident in the mountains.

Anonymous, La Sabiduría junto con la Elocuencia, saca a Atahualpa del sepulcro, 1865

Anonymous, La Sabiduría junto con la Elocuencia, saca a Atahualpa del sepulcro, 1865

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting LI: Cordillera Blanca, Peru, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting LI: Cordillera Blanca, Peru, 2008
An area of glacial runoff near the Pastoruri glacier.

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting L: Cordillera Blanca, Peru, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting L: Cordillera Blanca, Peru, 2008

Photograph of mummy found in Ancon, Peru (1875), Alexander Agassiz

Mummy found in Ancon, Peru (1875)

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting LII: Cordillera Blanca, Peru, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting LII: Cordillera Blanca, Peru, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting LIX: Lake Paron, Peru, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting LIX: Lake Paron, Peru, 2008
Water storage project.

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting LVI:  Quebrada La Agonia, Peru, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting LVI: Quebrada La Agonia, Peru, 2008
Aqueduct to carry water from the Cordillera Blanca mountain range to the desert coast for agriculture and drinking water.

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting LVI:  Quebrada La Agonia, Peru, 2008

From the files related to Sert’s proposed master plan for rebuilding Chimbote, Peru after the city was destroyed in an earthquake in 1970

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting LX: CHAVIMOCHIC Project, La Libertad, Peru, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting LX: CHAVIMOCHIC Project, La Libertad, Peru, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting LIX: Lima, Peru, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting LIX: Lima, Peru, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting LIX: Lima, Peru, 2008

Ruins of the “Fortress of Paramonga,” constructed by the Kingdom of Chimor (c. 1200 to 1400 AD)

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting LVII: North of Lima, Peru, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting LVII: North of Lima, Peru, 2008
North of Lima development continues into the dry foothills with diminishing sources of water.

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting LIV: Carabayllo, Lima, Peru, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting LIV: Carabayllo, Lima, Peru, 2008
“Pueblo Joven”

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XXXVI: Bellingshause Base, King George Island, Antarctica, 2008

Antarctica (Land): photographed March 2008.

The continent is important to any assessment of climate change risks because of the role the polar regions appear to have as drivers of global climate.  One of the biggest concerns for climate scientists is the potential for reaching a tipping point on one of several climate feedback loops that are triggered by melting of the ice caps (IPCC, AR4 WGII, Chapter 15, p.661-662).  These feedback loops could reach a point where the climate regime begins rapid and uncontrollable change (e.g.: more warming causes more melting which causes greater decrease in the earth’s ability to reflect heat which in turn causes more warming, etc.)  Evidence for such relatively rapid changes exists on the historical climate record.

“Neither Antarctica nor the sub-Antarctic islands have permanent human populations; the vast majority of residents are staff at scientific stations and summer-only visitors,” according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  Despite the presence of nearly 5,000 scientists on the Antarctic continent and some 45,000 tourists a year, the place remains a mystery, where, in the words of W.S. Merwin, one is “caught in the magnetism of great silence.”  Even now scientists understand very little about how changes such as observed melting in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet will affect climate in the future.

For example, from a recent study:  “In recent decades the Antarctic Peninsula and some surrounding ocean areas have warmed faster than anywhere else in the Southern Hemisphere... Sea ice duration in Maxwell Bay, King George Island decreased from six to three months over 1968-2008, and thickness of the fast ice near Bellingshausen station decreased from 90 to 30 cm over the same period…  The rapid climate changes across the Antarctic Peninsula are altering ocean and terrestrial ecosystems.”  Yet, scientists do not yet know the full implications of these changes.

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XXXII: Bellingshause Base, King George Island, Antarctica, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XXXI: Bellingshause Base, King George Island, Antarctica, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XLII: Deception Island, Antarctica, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XLI: Deception Island, Antarctica, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XLI: Deception Island, Antarctica, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XXXVI: Deception Island, Antarctica, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XXXVI: Deception Island, Antarctica, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XXX: Antarctica, 2008

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XXX: Antarctica, 2008

Drought and Fires LI: Niger, 2007

Drought and Fires LI: Niger, 2007

Niger: photographed October 2007.

The country ranks next to last on the United Nations’ Human Development Index.  Much of Niger consists of the Sahara Desert.  A strip of semi-arid grassland known as the Sahel runs along the southern edge of the country.  Approximately 80 percent of the population practices subsistence farming on this land, where the soil is degraded and rainfall erratic.  Climate change is critical here as rising temperatures diminish already low crop yields.  Drought and the steady, southward creep of the Sahara Desert, both of which also appear to be exacerbated by climate change, will have a catastrophic impact on a country that is already subject the periodic famine (IPCC, AR4 WGII, Chap. 9, p. 435-437, 439, 451). As Chris Marker put it:  “The Sahel is not only what is shown of it when it is too late; it’s the land that drought seeps into like water into a leaking boat.”

Half of Niger’s government revenues come from foreign aid.  The government has invested a significant amount of this money in extensive reforestation and land restoration projects aimed at protecting the country from drought, extreme weather events and desertification. The crescent shapes in the previous photograph are trees being planted, not trees being cut.  Banquets and dams help retain sporadic rainwater and create more arable soil, as well as small lakes.  Every tree in the final image was planted by hand.  Niger’s reforestation efforts have been celebrated for their success, but only time will tell.  Niger suffered drought and famine in 2005, two years before these photographs were taken, and then again in 2010, when 12 million people faced food shortages.

Drought and Fires XLI: Niger, 2007

Drought and Fires XLI: Niger, 2007

Drought and Fires LIX: Niger, 2007

Drought and Fires LIX: Niger, 2007

Drought and Fires XXXIV: Niger, 2007

Drought and Fires XXXIV: Niger, 2007

Drought and Fires XLV: Niger, 2007

Drought and Fires XLV: Niger, 2007

Drought and Fires XLII: Niger, 2007

Drought and Fires XLII: Niger, 2007

Drought and Fires LIII: Niger, 2007

Drought and Fires LIII: Niger, 2007

Rising Sea Level XXXIV: Munshiganj, Bangladesh, 2007

Rising Sea Level XXXIV: Munshiganj, Bangladesh, 2007

Bangladesh: photographed July 2007.

Along with the Sahel region in Africa, Bangladesh is frequently cited as the most vulnerable country to climate change. Land-loss due to sea-level rise combined with increased frequency of extreme storms is already putting multiple pressures on a country where much of the population is engaged in subsistence farming and lives at or near sea-level.  For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted one study indicating more than a million people could be displaced on the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta by 2050 (IPCC, AR4 WGII, Chapter 6).  Other estimates for displaced people due to climate are much higher, and there are already many such refugees, according to Scientific American. India is currently constructing a wall on the Bangladesh border.

Bangladesh is the most densely populated large country in the world.  It has about the same number of people as Russia, but packed into an area more than a 100 times smaller.

There have been some adaptation projects in Bangladesh.  Floating gardens to protect against salinization of freshwater and flooding; rainwater catchments; and embankments, but to date there has been nothing like the massive infrastructure investment of the Dutch who have the resources to build large barriers and dams.

Rising Sea Level XXXII: Munshiganj, Bangladesh, 2007

Rising Sea Level XXXII: Munshiganj, Bangladesh, 2007

Rising Sea Level XL: Munshiganj, Bangladesh, 2007

Rising Sea Level XL: Munshiganj, Bangladesh, 2007

Rising Sea Level XLI: Munshiganj, Bangladesh, 2007

Rising Sea Level XLI: Munshiganj, Bangladesh, 2007

Drought and Fires XVIII: Gansu Province, China, 2007

Drought and Fires XVIII: Gansu Province, China, 2007

Western China: photographed in June-July 2007.

The sign in the following image stands where there was a lake as recently as 50 years ago.  It reads “Protecting the Environment is Everybody’s Responsibility.”  Images of agriculture are from the Hexi corridor, which stretches for 1,000 kilometers and produces wheat for Gansu province (population 26 million).

Climate change impacts on China’s water supply are compounded by disappearing glaciers and changes in rain patterns. According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “melting of glaciers could seriously affect half a billion people in the Himalaya- Hindu-Kush region and a quarter of a billion people in China who depend on glacial melt for their water supplies…  As glaciers melt, river runoff will initially increase in winter or spring but eventually will decrease as a result of loss of ice resources.  (IPCC, AR4 WGII, Chap. 10, p.483).  Additionally, “more frequent and prolonged droughts as a consequence of climate change and other anthropogenic factors together will result in the increasing trends of desertification in Asia”  (IPCC, AR4 WGII, Chap. 10, p.486).

Drought and Fires XIV: Gansu Province, China, 2007

Drought and Fires XIV: Gansu Province, China, 2007

Drought and Fires XX: Gansu Province, China, 2007

Drought and Fires XX: Gansu Province, China, 2007

Drought and Fires XXV: Qinghai Province, China, 2007

Drought and Fires XXV: Qinghai Province, China, 2007

Drought and Fires XXI: Qinghai Province, China, 2007

Drought and Fires XIII: Gansu Province, China, 2007

Rising Sea Level XV: San Michele Cemetery, Venice, Italy, 2007

Rising Sea Level XV: San Michele Cemetery, Venice, Italy, 2007

Venice: photographed in May 2006 and November 2006.

A 2009 study published in Climate Dynamics concluded:  “Relative sea level rise (RSLR) due to climate change and geodynamics represents the main threat for the survival of Venice.”  A more recent study questioned the net impact of climate change on the city given a predicted offset in decreased storm activity.  As this study concedes, however, “Predictions of such extreme and small-scale events are exceedingly challenging.”  The IPCC generally makes projections of climate change impacts for much larger areas than a specific city, and even that is subject to great uncertainty.

Venice is symbolic, even in the discourse of climate change.  It is an icon of western civilization, but also an icon of the transience of wealth and power.  Byron and other romantics constructed an image of romantic decay, which still dominates our view of the city.

Rising Sea Level VI: Venice, Italy, 2007

Rising Sea Level VI: Venice, Italy, 2007

Rising Sea Level XII: Venice, Italy, 2007

Rising Sea Level XII: Venice, Italy, 2007

Rising Sea Level III: Venice, Italy, 2006

Rising Sea Level III: Venice, Italy, 2006

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting V: Grossglockner, Austria, 2005

Pasterze Glacier: photographed Sept. 2005 and Sept. 2006.

“In the tiny Alpine town of Heiligenblut (German for “Holy Blood”) they have been watching their glacier melt for years.  Romans, medieval gold miners and a Danish prince who died while clutching a stolen vial of Christ’s blood, are all a part of the town’s history.  Now the streets are filled with tourists.  They come, among other reasons, to see Austria’s biggest glacier, the Pasterze, drag itself out from under Austria’s most picturesque mountain, the Grossglockner . . .

“The Pasterze offers many incontrovertible images of global warming, and whatever that term may mean politically, it is impossible to see evidence of the Pasterze’s melting and then say with a straight face that the planet is not heating up.  For example, there is the monorail built in the 1960s to carry people down to the lip of the glacier.  Now instead of alighting directly onto ice, visitors get out of the monorail and begin a 20-minute trek down to where the glacier lies today. There are a series of forlorn signs on the way down, reading: ‘This Is Where the Glacier Stood: 1968,’ ‘This Is Where the Glacier Stood: 1975,’ ‘This Is Where the Glaciers Stood: 1980,’ etcetera…

“Atop the monorail station, a young scientist named Michael Avian is perched with surveyor’s tools and a laptop.  Avian is part of group from the University of Graz that takes more than an anecdotal interest in the melting glacier.  Avian and others on a team led by Dr. Gerhard Karl Lieb make painstaking measurements of the glacier’s movements each year . . .  The melting of the Pasterze Glacier has accelerated dramatically in the past six to seven years, the average rate doubling in the past three years, according to Dr. Lieb.  This amounts to a melt of as much as 30 meters (about 100 feet) in a given year . . .”  (From an article written for Tokion magazine in February 2006 by Sayler/Morris.)

Additional reference for the extent and potential human impact of melting glaciers due to climate change can be found in the Stern Review (cf. Chapter 3) and in this 2005 Nature article.

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting II: Hohe Tauern National Park, Austria, 2005

Glacial, Icecap and Parmafrost Melting VI: Hohe Tauern National Park, Austria, 2005

Found image

Glacial, Icecap and Parmafrost Melting VIII: Margaritzen Resevoir, Hohe Tauern National Park, Austria, 2005

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting IX: Pasterze Glacier, Hohe Tauern National Park, Austria, 2005

Found image

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting XIV: Pasterze Glacier, Hohe Tauern National Park, Austria, 2006

Glacial, Icecap and Permafrost Melting X: Pasterze Glacier, Hohe Tauern National Park, Austria, 2005

Glacial, Icecap and Parmafrost Melting XX: Fairbanks, Alaska, 2006

Glacial, Icecap and Parmafrost Melting XX: Fairbanks, Alaska, 2006

Fairbanks: photographed September 2006.

Permafrost is defined by the National Snow and Ice Data Center as a “layer of soil or rock, at some depth beneath the surface, in which the temperature has been continuously below 0 °C for at least some years. It exists where summer heating fails to reach the base of the layer of frozen ground.”  The photographs here are of trees that have fallen as the land beneath them buckles with the melting of long frozen soil. Such scenes are referred to as “Drunken Forests.”

Scientists have observed widespread melting of permafrost, which has seemed to accelerate in recent years.  This is significant to local ecosystems, particularly in Alaska and Siberia, but far more significant is the threat that such melting will lead to the release of massive amounts of carbon dioxide and methane that are currently stored in the soils that have been frozen for thousands of years.  This would create a feedback loop where more melting would cause more thawing, which would in turn cause more melting.  Such feedback loops threaten to abruptly alter the climate.  (See also entries for Antarctica, Belize Barrier Reef, Monteverde Cloud Forest).

A survey conducted at the end of 2011 and published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature found that scientists believe the problem is potentially much worse than previously thought.  It is unusual that such a technical survey would capture national media attention, but this one did.  This is because of the importance these stronger-than-predicted melting trends have for the future stability of the climate.  For example, the New York Times reported that: “A recent estimate suggests that the perennially frozen ground known as permafrost, which underlies nearly a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere, contains twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere.”  As one scientist quoted in the New York Times said: “To me, it’s a spine-tingling feeling, if it’s really old carbon that hasn’t been in the air for a long time, and now it’s entering the air,” Dr. Schuur said.  “That’s the fingerprint of a major disruption, and we aren’t going to be able to turn it off someday.”

Drought and Fires XIV: Umatilla National Forest, Washington State, 2006

Drought and Fires XIV: Umatilla National Forest, Washington State, 2006

Eastern Washington: photographed August 2006.

In August 2006, the peer-reviewed journal, Science published two articles that linked increased fires in the American West with global warming and suggested that this could be a worldwide problem.  These articles made two salient points: 1) Higher spring and summer temperatures and earlier snowmelt are extending the wildfire season and increasing the intensity of wildfires; 2) More fires mean more carbon in the atmosphere, which means warmer temperatures, meaning more fires.  These articles were cited in the last IPCC assessment report (2007).

Since these articles appeared the science has only become settled on both these points.  See, for example, here and here.  Of note are the recent fires in Russia in 2010 and Texas and Arizona in 2011.

Drought and Fires XV: Umatilla National Forest, Washington State, 2006

Drought and Fires XV: Umatilla National Forest, Washington State, 2006

Drought and Fires XV: Umatilla National Forest, Washington State, 2006

Drought and Fires XV: Umatilla National Forest, Washington State, 2006

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Disrupted Ecosystems VIII: Great Barrier Reef, Belize, 2006

Disrupted Ecosystems VIII: Great Barrier Reef, Belize, 2006

Belize Barrier Reef: photographed April 2006.

With respect to oceans and climate change there are principally four concerns:  1) ocean acidification; 2) changes in ocean currents, most notably the thermohaline circulation; 3) sea-level rise and 4) damage to ecosystems such as coral reefs.

The first two changes are of particularly grave concern, as they threaten to touch off feedbacks that could result in abrupt and catastrophic changes in the climate.  (There is good evidence in the climate record that such deadly, rapid changes have happened before).  Ocean acidification refers to changes in the ph balance of the ocean thought to be caused by the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide.  Current rate of acidification is the fastest in 65 million years, according to a recent study.  This could cause mass extinctions events and other major disturbances.  Ocean currents are one of the primary drivers of climate on the planet.  Any significant change to those currents (for example through ocean warming or introduction of sizeable cold water melt from icecaps) could likewise cause relatively sudden and drastic changes.  Much speculation exists about the possibility of altering or shutting off the thermohaline circulation, which accounts for our current distribution of heat and cold.  The impact of this happening would be to throw some northern latitudes into a deep freeze.  While there is little doubt that global warming will have some impact on currents, it is unknown how much and how fast.

Loss of ecosystems such as coral reefs due to ocean warming and other human impacts is yet another part of the story concerning climate change and the oceans.  It is worth remembering that the issue is not the loss of beauty but the broader impact that loss of such ecosystems has on the current balance of the earth.  Ocean research has been largely neglected in climate research, “despite its enormous importance in regulating global climate and its sensitivity to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification,” according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which published a recent report on oceans and climate change that is addressed to a general public (see first link above).

Disrupted Ecosystems X: Barrier Reef, Belize, 2006

Disrupted Ecosystems X: Barrier Reef, Belize, 2006

Disrupted Ecosystems XXI: Monte Verde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica, 2006

Monteverde Reserve: photographed April 2006.

Per its vulnerability to the climate change, the following is from the IPCC: “The tropical cloud forests in mountainous regions will be threatened if temperatures increase by 1°C to 2°C during the next 50 years due to changes in the altitude of the cloud-base during the dry season, which would be rising by 2 m/yr.  In places with low elevation and isolated mountains, some plants will become locally extinct because the elevation range would not permit natural adaptation to temperature increase (FAO, 2002).  The change in temperature and cloud-base in these forests could have substantial effects on the diversity and composition of species.  For example, in the cloud forest of Monteverde Costa Rica, these changes are already happening.  Declines in the frequency of mist days have been strongly associated with a decrease in population of amphibians (20 of 50 species) and probably also bird and reptile populations (Pounds et al., 1999)” (IPCC, AR4 WGII, Chapter 13 p.596).  Note that the role climate in the extinction of the golden toad has been questioned by a 2010 study.

Per the impact that warming in the cloud forest may have on the climate by way of feedbacks:  Data gathered by Drs. Deborah and David Clark over the past 20 years in a Costa Rican rain forest indicates that rising temperatures are causing tropical forests to grow more slowly and if temperatures cross a certain yet unknown threshold, could start to decay.  (As temperatures rise, land plants release, rather than absorb, CO2 as their metabolism slows photosynthesis, which reduces their growth and increases respiration.)  This process could cause tropical forests to become sources of atmospheric CO2 rather than net reducers, significantly impacting the world’s climate.

Extreme Weather Events XV: Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 2005

Extreme Weather Events XV: Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 2005

New Orleans: photographed November 2005.

“We are flying over Plaquemines Parish, which our hosts, the US Army Corps of Engineers, refer to as “Ground Zero.” A finger-like peninsula claimed from the marshes that follows the Mississippi River and extends 80 miles south of the Crescent City.  In most places it is no more than eight miles wide and everywhere is lower than the water.  Fifteen-foot levees hold back the Mississippi on one side and the marsh on the other.  The progression of town names tells a story:  Port Sulphur, Empire, Triumph, Venice, Tidewater.  The land gradually tapers off into the sea after a final flourish of oil refineries, tankers, helicopters and spider web of roads.

“Three months ago the 40-mile wide eye of Hurricane Katrina passed over this spit of land, raised the water some twenty feet above the levees and completely devastated every one of these towns.  From the helicopter the destruction seems systematic, even artful.  Trees felled by the surging water lie stacked in gentle waves across the peninsula; fields of debris drape the marshes and fold against the levees; plastic bags of every color make strange fruit in a desiccated orchard; cemetery-like rows of empty lots memorialize swept-away houses . . .

“. . . The destructive power of a hurricane’s winds is fed by energy latent in the warmth of ocean waters.  As water temperatures heat up, many believe storms will become more violent and more frequent.  To make matters worse, the more violent the storm, the more marshland gets shredded, and the water gets even closer.  Katrina destroyed 100 square miles of marshland outside of New Orleans, according to the US Geological Survey.  Most of it will not grow back.  Throw global-warming induced sea-level rise into the mix, which threatens to wipe out as much as 40 percent of the United States’ coastal wetlands before the end of the century, and it is easy to see why more half of the 800,000 people that fled the city have not returned as of November, according to recent Department of Labor statistics . . .”  (From a February 2006 article for the Spanish publication “Mu” by Sayler/Morris.)

Additional reference on the link between climate change and storm intensity and/or frequency can be found here and here.  It is remains one of the more debated and uncertain aspects of climate science.  Most scientists seem to agree the warming of the oceans will likely lead to an increase in the intensity of storms, but it is unsettled whether such warming will lead to more storms overall.

Extreme Weather Events IX: Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 2005

Extreme Weather Events IX: Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 2005

Extreme Weather Events IV: Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 2005

Extreme Weather Events IV: Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 2005

Extreme Weather Events X: Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 2005

Extreme Weather Events X: Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 2005
Satsuma trees after the floodwaters subsided

Extreme Weather Events XIV: Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 2005

Extreme Weather Events XIV: Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 2005

Extreme Weather Events XII: Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 2005

Extreme Weather Events XII: Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 2005

Extreme Weather Events VII: Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 2005

Extreme Weather Events VII: Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 2005

Extreme Weather Events I: Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 2005

Extreme Weather Events I: Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, 2005