This month, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) issued a report entitled “State of the Climate in 2014.” Over 400 scientists from nearly 60 different countries have come to a grim conclusion: no matter what we do to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases (primarily CO2, methane and nitrous oxide), ocean temperatures are going to keep rising.
According to the report, concentrations of greenhouse gases in the planet’s atmosphere are at record levels. Carbon dioxide levels alone are approaching 400 parts per million. At the same time, surface temperatures throughout the world were higher in 2014 than they have been at any time since 1880. It’s not just the western US: countries around the world on every inhabited continent reported high temperatures at record or near-record levels. 90% of this heat is absorbed by the oceans.
Even if we were able to stop all greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, the effects on the world’s oceans will last for hundreds – or even thousands – of years. The reason: inertia, the tendency of static forces to remain static and moving forces to remain in motion. Because of its density, water temperatures change quite slowly compared to air temperatures. Correspondingly, water retains its heat for much longer periods of time. Greg Johnson, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explained it to the UK Guardian in mechanical terms: “think of it more like a fly wheel or a freight train. It takes a big push to get it going but it is moving now, and will continue to move long after we…[stop] pushing it.”
The excess heat stored in the world’s oceans is having dramatic and even catastrophic effects on weather patterns. According to the AMS report:
Drought continued in southeastern Brazil and the western United States. Heavy rain during April–June led to devastating floods in Canada’s Eastern Prairies. Above-normal summer monsoon rainfall was observed over the southern coast of West Africa, while drier conditions prevailed over the eastern Sahel. Generally, summer monsoon rainfall over eastern Africa was above normal, except in parts of western South Sudan and Ethiopia. The south Asian summer monsoon in India was below normal, with June record dry.
At the same time, the Arctic is experiencing record-breaking temperatures. Sea ice starts melting earlier in the spring than ever before in recorded history.
The report also notes a significant increase in the number of tropical storms. Between 1981 and 2010, the average annual number of hurricanes and typhoons was 82. In 2014, that figure rose to 91.
Of all the world’s species, homo sapiens has shown itself to be the most adaptable to a wide range of conditions. Unfortunately, very few other species share that ability. Consider the delicate balance of ecosystems; virtually all living things in a given environment play vital roles in maintaining the health of their unique biome.
Humans may be able to adapt and survive, at least in the short term – but other species will not be as lucky. There is no way to predict the effects of mass extinctions that will surely result from the coming climate disaster brought on by human greed, stupidity and short-sightedness.