Planet earth is warming up faster than previously expected, according to Geoff Jenkins, head of the Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research. Dying forests, expanding deserts and rising sea levels will wreak havoc on human and animal lives sooner than anticipated as global warming accelerates. He says, "It looks like it will be warmer by the end of the century than what we have predicted." Jenkins says recent revisions show a much greater output of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide than was earlier estimated.
Warmer weather will generate more droughts, floods and rising sea levels which many fear will create millions of refugees from drowning island-nations and possible wars over increasingly scarce fresh water. Economies are also likely to be hit hard as farming, fishing and business will be affected by the change in climate. A 2001 United Nations report on climate change forecast that global temperatures will rise two to five degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
But recent data suggest temperatures could rise even higher as a worst case scenario shows that is four times as much emitted CO2 than was expected. Despite efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent of 1990's levels during 2008-12 under a global Kyoto pact, the amount in the atmosphere will rise. Half of all CO2 emissions last in the atmosphere for about 100 years, while the rest is soaked up by oceans, land and vegetation. But the opposite effect may kick in as warmer weather and less rainfall in some places will dry out and kill trees which emit CO2 as they decompose, Jenkins says. CO2-absorbing microbes in the soil are also set to boost emissions as higher temperatures will fuel their activities, which produce the greenhouse gas. "Instead of helping, they will make global warming worse," Jenkins says.
Temperatures in the UK could rise by seven to eight degrees by 2080 compared with an expected four degree increase. The European Union says it will ratify the Kyoto treaty this summer and if Russia and Japan also do so the treaty can come into force without the world's largest producer of man-made CO2 emissions -- the United States. The U.S rejected the pact in 2001, saying it would harm its industry. Jenkins say, "We would have to cut emissions by 60-70 percent by the end of the century to stabilize CO2 levels."
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Venice is vulnerable to high waters but Trevor Davies at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. has found that climate change could reduce the risk of flooding. Davies and his colleague Isabel Trigo studied how the local weather triggers flooding and found that climate change has altered weather patterns and weakened storms in the Mediterranean which could cut the risks of the city being swamped.
Fears that a series of controversial dams to protect Venice from flooding could damage the environment may also be overblown. Residents and environmentalists were concerned that the dams would allow the city's raw sewage that is dumped in the canals to fester but Italian scientists say leaving the dams open for just a few hours could get rid of most of the problem.
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If you?re reading this, you can take part in an experiment to figure out how the global climate will change over the next 50 years.
Scientists have developed software that simulates 100 years of worldwide weather patterns in order to refine predictions about global warming and its effect on climate. Climatologists already have some ideas about climate change over the next 50 years, but they need the help of thousands of people running the simulation to find out the full number of potential outcomes. The 100-year simulation software is expected to be ready in late summer and people downloading it must let the model run for at least eight months.
The climateprediction.com experiment is similar to the Seti@home project, started in 1997, that uses idle home computers to look for signs of alien intelligence in radio signals collected by telescopes. However, "the Seti@home project is analyzing data from a central source, we are generating it on PCs and will analyze it ourselves," says Dave Frame, a climateprediction.com developer and researcher at the University of Oxford department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics.
Each simulation carried out by climateprediction.com participants will be unique because all of them will use slightly different starting conditions. "This is a fully-fledged research climate model," says Dr. Myles Allen, project leader for climateprediction.com and a physicist in the Space Science and Technology Department at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. "It's not a stripped down 'toy' version, so the runs take time."
The simulation will cover the hundred years from 1950 to 2050, and the unpredictable physics of weather patterns means that they could generate very different end results. The results of the simulations will be returned to the climateprediction.com team who will then pick the ones that generated global temperature changes similar to those seen during the period 1950 to 2000.
Although it is impossible to forecast weather patterns for specific regions many years ahead, phenomena such as global temperature patterns do seem predictable, says Allen. "That's one of the most intriguing things about the planet. Its large scale behavior is simpler than its small scale behavior."
When the simulations are complete, it will be possible to get an idea of the full range of possible changes to global climate over the next 50 years. To reward participants, the program will be interactive and will let people fly around the planet and watch how weather patterns change. "We cannot just tell participants, 'thank you very much'", says Allen. "They have to get something back out of this, too."
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To read about how our climate is likely to change in the future, get ?The Coming Global Superstorm? by Art Bell and Whitley Strieber, now only $9.95 for a hardcover signed by Whitley,click here.
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