15. October 2022 · Comments Off on CLIMATE CHANGE NOW! · Categories: Blog

Mother Earth is reacting to the world’s indifference to its warnings, so they are currently intensifying. Since so many people have resisted prior warnings about nature’s imbalance, Nature herself must now take a hand.

She started with higher temperatures and more hurricanes, and no one listened. She went on with insect infestations such as “murder hornets,” and others. Still no one listened. So she sent the coronavirus (and then its variants). Are we listening now?

During the 1970s, Congress wanted NASA to do more research to meet “national needs.” These needs included energy efficiency, pollution, ozone depletion, and climate change. In 1976, Congress revised the Space Act, authorizing NASA to research the stratospheric ozone layer. This formalized the agency’s movement into Earth sciences.

Something I just recently learned: Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent. This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the oceans. The effect of this acidity is to kill hundreds if not thousands of fish and other sea creatures. This itself has the effect of causing ocean predators to create other methods of locating sustenance, such as moving closer inland and eating (thus decimating) creatures that wouldn’t ordinarily be their prey.

The above can eventually lead to the extinction of many other small creatures that have evolved to live just offshore.

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, climate change is the result of the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels for energy and other human activities. These gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, warm and alter the global climate, which causes environmental changes to occur that can harm people’s health and well-being. The NIEHS Climate Change and Human Health Program leads and coordinates the institute’s efforts to better understand climate change, in order to protect people’s health.

While climate change is a global process, it has very local impacts that can profoundly affect communities. It can affect people’s health and well-being in many ways, some of which are already occurring, by:

  • Increasing the frequency and severity of heat waves, leading to more heat-related illnesses and deaths, and wildfires.
  • Changing the range of disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas that transmit West Nile Virus, dengue fever, Lyme disease, and malaria to humans.
  • Increasing exposure to pollen, due to increased plant growing seasons; molds, due to severe storms; and air pollution, due to increased temperature and humidity, all of which can worsen allergies and other lung diseases, such as asthma.
  • Increasing temperatures, causing poor air quality that can affect the heart and worsen cardiovascular disease.
  • Increasing flooding events and sea level rise, that can contaminate water with harmful bacteria, viruses, and chemicals, causing foodborne and waterborne illnesses.
  • Increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, in addition to causing illnesses, injuries, deaths, and effects on mental health from damage to property, loss of loved ones, displacement, and chronic stress.
  • Placing added stress on hospital and public health systems, and limiting people’s ability to obtain adequate health care during extreme climate events.

Scientists attribute the global warming trend observed since the mid-20th century to the human expansion of the “greenhouse effect”–warming that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space.

According to NASA, the vital signs of climate change include the facts that carbon dioxide has increased to 414 parts per million, the arctic ice minimum has decreased by 12.85% per decade, and the sea level has been rising 3.3 millimeters per year. More recently, The Jason-3, Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2, and Jason-1 missions recorded a sea level rise of nearly 4 inches (about 10 centimeters) since 1993.

NASA points out that “Certain gases in the atmosphere block heat from escaping. Long-lived gases that remain semi-permanently in the atmosphere and do not respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature are described as ‘forcing’ climate change. Gases, such as water vapor, which respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature are seen as “feedbacks.” Feedbacks include gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect, such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluoro-carbons.

In 1993, NASA stated the global temperature was up two degrees F since 1880, and pointed out that although two degrees may sound like a small amount, it’s an unusual event in our planet’s recent history. Earth’s climate record, preserved in tree rings, ice cores, and coral reefs, shows that the global average temperature is stable over long periods of time. Furthermore, small changes in temperature correspond to enormous changes in the environment. For example, at the end of the last ice age, when the Northeast United States was covered by more than 3,000 feet of ice, average temperatures were only 5 to 9 degrees cooler than today.

By 2007, the accumulation of new Earth science data helped the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the United Nations body established to assess the science related to climate change – reach the conclusion that “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (human-produced) greenhouse gas concentrations.” But there’s still a lot to learn about the consequences. How much warmer will it get? How much will sea level rise?

According to National Climate Assessment Reports (NCAR), global climate is predicted to continue to change over this century and beyond. Temperatures will continue to rise, frost-free season (and growing season) will lengthen, changes in precipitation patterns, there will be more droughts and heat waves, hurricanes will become stronger and more intense, sea level will rise up to eight feet by the year 2100, the arctic is likely to become ice-free.

The effects of these changes will include air pollution, algal blooms, dioxins, lead, mercury, mold, ozone, pesticides, radon, and others.

As the North Atlantic hurricane season enters its traditional peak period, the US National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) has adjusted its forecast to take into account ongoing conditions which influence cyclonic activity.

The slightly lowered conditions still favor an above-normal 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, according to NOAA’s annual mid-season update issued today by the Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service.

NOAA forecasters have slightly decreased the likelihood of an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season to 60% (lowered from the outlook issued in May, which predicted a 65% chance). The likelihood of near-normal activity has risen to 30% and the chances remain at 10% for a below-normal season. 

“We’re just getting into the peak months of August through October for hurricane development, and we anticipate that more storms are on the way,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “NOAA stands ready to deliver timely and accurate forecasts and warnings to help communities prepare in advance of approaching storms.”

With 70% confidence, NOAA’s update to the 2022 outlook, which covers the entire six-month hurricane season that ends on Nov. 30, calls for up to 20 named storms, of which up to 10 could become hurricanes. Of those, up to 5 could become major hurricanes. So far, the season has seen three named storms and no hurricanes in the Atlantic Basin. An average hurricane season produces 14 named storms, of which seven become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.

There are several atmospheric and oceanic conditions that still favor an active hurricane season. This includes La Niña conditions, which are favored to remain in place for the rest of 2022 and could allow the ongoing high-activity era conditions to dominate, or slightly enhance hurricane activity. In addition to a continued La Niña, weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds, an active west African Monsoon and likely above-normal Atlantic sea-surface temperatures set the stage for an active hurricane season, and are reflective of the ongoing high-activity era for Atlantic hurricanes.

Every year, there are on average 84 named tropical cyclones all over the world. Over the past 50 years, every single day, they have caused on average 43 deaths and US$ 78 million losses  and have also been responsible for one third of both deaths and economic losses from weather-, climate- and water-related disasters, according to WMO statistics from 1970-2019. But the death toll has fallen dramatically, thanks to improvements in forecasting, warning and disaster risk reduction coordinated by WMO’s Tropical Cyclone Program.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report projects that the global proportion of tropical cyclones that reach very intense (category 4-5) levels, along with their peak winds and rainfall rates, are expected to increase with climate warming. Sea level rise and coastal development have increased the risk and impact.

A harmful algal bloom (HAB) occurs when toxin-producing algae grow excessively in a body of water. Algae are microscopic organisms that live in aquatic environments and use photosynthesis to produce energy from sunlight, just like plants. In addition to health concerns, HABs can damage the environment by depleting oxygen in the water, which can cause fish kills, or simply by blocking sunlight from reaching organisms deeper in the water.

Dioxins, found in waste incineration and burning of trash, can cause developmental problems in children, lead to reproductive and infertility problems in adults, result in miscarriages, damage the immune system, and interfere with hormones. Exposure to dioxins has widespread effects in nearly every vertebrate species, at nearly every stage of development, including in the womb.

Sources of lead include old paint dust, and contaminated water and soil. Sources of mercury include fish and shellfish. Mercury, also known as quicksilver, is a naturally-occurring metal that is toxic to living organisms. Metallic or elemental mercury–an odorless, shiny, silver-white liquid–is commonly used in thermometers, barometers and fluorescent light bulbs. Metallic mercury is extremely dangerous, with a few drops generating enough fumes to contaminate the air in a room. Furthermore, skin contact with the metal results in the absorption of mercury into the bloodstream, and potential health problems.

Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that comes from the natural decay of uranium or thorium found in nearly all soils. It typically moves up through the ground and into the home through cracks in floors, walls and foundations. It can also be released from building materials or from well water. Long-term exposure to radon particles can lead to lung cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that radon causes about 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year. 

How can we keep climate changes from happening? One possibility, from National Geographic, is what’s called “efficient living,” which includes building smaller houses, using other modes of transportation besides cars (bicycles, walking, planes or trains for long-distance travel).

Another is repowering of businesses. Some utilities are “repowering” coal plants to run on cleaner natural gas or biomass; nearly 50 units are slated for retrofits in the U.S. alone. “Repowering” is an industry term, but the concept also applies to trucks, buildings, and land. For businesses loath to see valuable assets become obsolete, it’s a no-brainer. 

In addition, cities may need to begin building smart streets, green buildings, and using sustainable water management. Nations may need to begin working with offshore energy, carbon capture and storage, and reforestation. And the world may need to work on removal of carbon dioxide, managing stratospheric aerosols, launching sunshades into space, and marine cloud seeding.

NASA is currently developing the Earth System Observatory (ESO). The core of ESO is five satellite missions that will provide essential data on climate change, severe weather, natural hazards, wildfires, and global food production.

These observations will address the most pressing questions about our changing planet identified in the 2017 Earth Science Decadal Survey conducted by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. The missions will focus on five areas:

  • Aerosols
  • Clouds, convection, and precipitation
  • Surface biology and geology
  • Water and ice mass change
  • Surface deformation and change

Based on the Academies’ recommendations, NASA will complement the core missions with innovative Earth Explorer missions that deliver additional high-priority observations.

Beginning with NASA’s original missions, the agency has been focused on learning more about the world around us, whether at the edge of the solar system or right here at home. As Earth changes, NASA is working toward an ever-improving understanding of our home planet.

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