Monday, February 05, 2007

And It's Not Just The Tip Of The Iceberg, Sadly

The shear face of the massive B-15A iceberg stretches for 150 kms across McMurdo Sound after it broke off the Ross Ice Shelf in Antartica, 2001

This article about recent climate statistics in Britain's The Independent is terribly disheartening (though completely unsurprising):

Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are at their highest levels for at least 650,000 years and this rise began with the birth of the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Carbon dioxide is the principal greenhouse gas responsible for global warming and, in 2005, concentrations stood at 379 parts per million (ppm). This compares to a pre-industrial level of 278 ppm, and a range over the previous 650,000 years of between 180 and 300 ppm, the report says.

Present levels of carbon dioxide - which continue to rise inexorably each year - are unprecedented for the long period of geological history that scientists are able to analyse from gas samples trapped in the frozen bubbles of deep ice cores.

However, the IPCC points to a potentially more sinister development: the rate of increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is beginning to accelerate. Between 1960 and 2005 the average rate at which carbon dioxide concentrations increased was 1.4 ppm per year. But when the figures are analysed more closely, it becomes apparent that there has been a recent rise in this rate of increase to 1.9 ppm per year between 1995 and 2005.

It is too early to explain this accelerating increase but one fear is that it may indicate a change in the way the Earth is responding to global warming. In other words, climate feedbacks that accelerate the rate of change may have kicked in.

The IPPC's report points out that, as the planet gets warmer, the natural ability of the land and the oceans to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere begins to get weaker.

Then there is this (bolds mine):

A terrifying leap in average global temperatures of 6.4C ­ with higher figures nearer the poles ­ could occur over the next century, according to the most authoritative report yet on global warming.

The rise, which would make agriculture, even life, almost impossible over much of the Earth, was the worst-case scenario envisaged by hundreds of scientists on the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). They reported yesterday on their three-year study of how temperatures are likely to rise as global warming takes hold.

The "six-degree world" might come about by 2100, the scientists said, if human society carries on with rapid economic growth and high levels of burning fossil fuels ­ coal, oil and gas ­ which emit the carbon dioxide causing the atmosphere to warm. Their worst case was worse than that suggested in the previous IPCC report, published in 2001, when the highest rise envisaged by the end of the century was 5.8C.

[.....]

Besides the temperature rises it predicts, yesterday's report, released in Paris in a media scrum of more than 50 television crews, is noteworthy for the higher level of confidence with which it sets out its case. It will be seen as bringing to an end a 20-year argument about whether or not global warming is happening and whether or not human activities are its cause. These doubts have been used as an excuse for inaction, in particular by George Bush's administration.

It is "unequivocally" happening, the report says, and there is " at least a nine out of ten chance" that human action ­ principally the emission of CO2 from burning fossil fuels ­ is behind it.

As the study has been officially endorsed by the home countries of all the scientists who took part ­ including the US ­ President Bush has nowhere left to go in his attempts to use uncertainty to prevent decisive action. Indeed, the report markedly ups the ante, and will increase pressure on leaders, from Mr Bush down, to combat it together by creating a regime to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which runs out in 2012.


Al Gore, sir, we need you to be our next president--now more than ever. I'll even volunteer to design a superhero jersey for you, a green one (of course) with a big CO2-with-a-slash-through-it logo. Tipper can sew you a cape, and the Nobel Prize and Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences juries will supply the accessories.

Run, Al, Run!

(Hat-tip to Michael L. in St. Pete)

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