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Date of Issue: February 14, 2007

Sandscript

Baby, it's getting hot outside: climate change exerpts

Floridians got a rude awakening of climate change last Friday. Tornadoes swept through a wide swath of the state north of Orlando in the hours just before dawn. Early estimates placed more than 1,300 homes damaged through a 40-mile swath. The death toll numbered 20.

A few hours later, a long-anticipated report on global climate change was released. The statements in the report present news almost as bad as the tornado's destruction.

The U.N. International Panel on Climate Change has released the result of studies from more than 600 scientists from 113 countries. According to the International Herald Tribune, "Most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations."

That "very likely" translates into a 90-percent certainty, according to the authors of the report. Previously, the term used was "likely," which, in science-speak, means 66-percent certainty.

"The primary source of the increased atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide since the pre-industrial period results from fossil-fuel use, with land-use change providing another significant but smaller contribution," the report continues. "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global mean sea level."

Climate change is evident in the weather we've had to deal with of late. Think it's hotter than usual? You're right: 11 of the past 12 years have been ranked as the warmest since records have been kept, beginning in 1850. The panel report said that the world's oceans have been absorbing "more than 80 percent of the heat. Such warming causes seawater to expand, contributing to sea-level rise."

That sea level rise is of particular concern to those of us living on skinny barrier islands like Anna Maria. The latest scientific estimate is a 7- to 23-inch rise in water in the next 100 years. Those numbers pretty much jibe with some local figures that were collected a few years ago, which estimated sea level would increase by 6 inches by 2020, 14 inches by 2065, and 25 inches by 2115.

On the next high tide, go out to your favorite seawall or pier and add 6 inches to the water level, or a couple feet, and you get the idea that things here aren't quite as high and dry as they should be.

On a slightly more global view, the panel report states, "At continental, regional and ocean basin scales, numerous long-term changes in climate have been observed. These include changes in Arctic temperatures and ice, widespread changes in precipitation amounts, ocean salinity, wind patterns and aspects of extreme weather including droughts, heavy precipitation, heat waves and the intensity of tropical cyclones.

"Average Arctic temperatures increased at almost twice the global average rate in the past 100 years.

"More intense and longer droughts have been observed over wider areas since the 1970s, particularly in the tropics and subtropics. Increased drying linked with higher temperatures and decreased precipitation have contributed to changes in drought. Changes in sea surface temperatures, wind patterns, and decreased snowpack and snow cover have also been linked to droughts.

"Widespread changes in extreme temperatures have been observed over the last 50 years. Cold days, cold nights and frost have become less frequent, while hot days, hot nights, and heat waves have become more frequent."

The scientists didn't really answer the question of whether or not our increased hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean is directly caused by long-term climate changes, as some propose, or is merely a cycle of high activity, low activity that has been observed every 20 years or so.

We're obviously in the high-activity period right now. Will it last forever? The scientists stated, "There is observational evidence for an increase of intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic since about 1970, correlated with increases of tropical sea surface temperatures. Some aspects of climate have not been observed to change. ... There is insufficient evidence to determine whether trends exist in the meridional overturning circulation of the global ocean or in small scale phenomena such as tornadoes, hail, lightning and dust-storms."

The scary thing about all the talk is that it could well be too late to change anything. Temperature increases are placed at 3 to 7 degrees by 2100. Keeping things status quo will keep the warming trend going, "due mainly to the slow response of the oceans."

Friday's report is only one round on the global climate issue. Another study on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability should be finalized in April, and one on ways to reduce emissions or their impacts in May.

More good news to look forward to, eh?

 

And the news keeps coming

The bad news is that maps used to assess flooding problems are decades old. The good news is that changes are being made to correct the antiquated mapping data.

In the forefront of the issue is the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It creates maps that are used by mortgage and insurance agencies to determine rates and need for various types of insurance.

But most of the data comes from U.S. Geological Survey figures from the 1970s. Remember how much sea level has risen? Remember what the Island looked like 30 years ago versus today? And we're just one little barrier island.

The whole concept was recommended by something called the National Research Council. FEMA officials are supportive of the effort, and figure it could take up to two years to revise the maps.

The cost? Well, North Carolina is undergoing a program right now to assess map elevations, at a cost of about $26 million.

 

Sandscript factoid

Florida mystery author Tim Dorsey has a new book out, "Hurricane Punch." Anybody who's interested in storms should love the antics as the crew follows hurricane after hurricane across Florida.

And as the name implies, there is a cocktail involved. "Hurricane Punch" is:

Red Bull, Everclear, cranberry juice, grapefruit juice, pineapple juice, light rum, dark rum, amaretto, blue curacao, orange passion fruit, a wedge of lime, a leaf of mint, a squirt of triple sec, a splash of Grand Marnier, a dash of grenadine, a pinch of coconut, a sprinkle of sugar, shaved ice, and a whole bunch of mescaline.

Somehow, I don't think we'll be able to order the beverage at our local watering hole — although based on all the climate change news, some kind of strong elixir appears warranted.

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