Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Boulder scientist: Slighter warming, greater impact

Colorado Daily: In 2001, scientists from around the globe, including Boulder’s Joel Smith, warned that if global temperatures increased just a handful of degrees, the impacts to ecosystems and weather patterns could be both extreme and widespread. Now, a group of scientists led by Smith, many of whom also worked on the 2001 report for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have published an update. Ecosystems and weather patterns — and the people they impact — are probably even more sensitive to global warming than they thought.

For example, in 2001, Smith, of Stratus Consulting in Boulder, and his colleagues estimated that global temperatures would have to rise between 1.8 and 3.6 degrees above 1990 levels to increase the risk of severe weather. Now the researchers report in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that “increases in drought, heat waves and floods are projected in many regions and would have adverse impacts, including increased water stress, wildfire frequency and flood risks, starting at less than (1.8 degrees) of additional warming above 1990 levels.”

Since 2001, new climate-change research has sketched a clearer picture of how global warming can affect, and in some cases already has affected, all aspects of the Earth, from agriculture to sea levels. Scientists have been busy piecing together how Atlantic hurricanes, European heat waves and pine beetle infestations, for example, may all be related to an increase in greenhouse gases. “Based on observed impacts and new research, the risks from climate change in general now appear to be greater than they did a few years ago,” Smith said. “The current path of greenhouse gas emissions is likely to lead to a change in climate that will exceed levels which we found will cause significant adverse impacts.”…

A bimetal thermometer, shot by 1-1111 , Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2

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