The very real effects of a changing climate

2013-10-09T00:00:00Z The very real effects of a changing climateCatherine Gautier / Commentary Santa Maria Times
October 09, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Climate change is not a vague possibility for the distant future. It is already affecting the planet - more-intense storms or longer-lasting droughts, longer and hotter heat waves, or more rain. Careful scientific observations confirm climate change is happening, here and now.

It is only natural to ask if global warming caused Hurricane Sandy, the superstorm that ravaged the East Coast in 2012, or is global warming responsible for the recent wildfires in California, Colorado or Texas?

Climate is the statistics of weather, and heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide are the steroids of climate. The climate has warmed because of human activities adding these gases to our atmosphere, and the odds are higher now for many types of extreme weather, simply because climate change has altered the environment in which every weather event occurs. The entire water cycle has speeded up, and there is more water vapor in the atmosphere now than there was a few decades ago.

Observations also show more rain now falls in heavy rain events than was the case a few decades ago. Similarly, the data demonstrate there are many more high-temperature records being broken now than low-temperature records.

Hurricane Sandy likely gained strength because the ocean over which it passed was warmer than it would have been without climate change. Sea level globally is also higher now because of climate change, and that may have increased the damage due to flooding from ocean water driven ashore by the hurricane's high winds.

Climate scientists predicted global warming would alter the climate system and produce exactly the kind of changes we are now observing - temperature increases producing hotter summers and stronger heat waves, changes in the water cycle that increase drought, early snowmelt and more flooding, plus interactions between these factors.

For example, western U.S. wildfires and water stress are both increasing. Scientists had also predicted remote effects such as shrinking glaciers worldwide and melting ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, all contributing to global sea-level increase.

If we imagine a possible future for Santa Barbara County in, say, 10 or 20 years, it is fairly certain the average air temperature will have increased and there will be more and stronger heat waves. They will be especially severe inland, far from the cooling effect of the ocean.

Our water resources will be more stressed from limited precipitation - with severe droughts lasting several years - and from declining snowpack. Storms may be stronger on average, particularly during our rainy season. These more -powerful storms, plus the higher sea level, will lead to more severe beach and cliff erosion. Water quality will suffer from added sediments and contaminants after heavy downpours.

Increased water stress has consequences, including more-intense wildfires burning larger forest areas. Agriculture will suffer, with reduced yields and higher costs, due to increased heat and reduced water availability. Areas favorable to growing particular varieties of grapes may shift, directly affecting California's wine industry. Competition between agricultural and urban water users may well increase, leading to higher rates for both.

Climate scientists are confident these changes will intensify, and the consequences of climate change will become even more severe, unless the world acts soon to reduce the amount of heat-trapping gases and particles being emitted into the atmosphere.

Human activities are the dominant cause of climate change, and our actions or inactions will determine the climate our children and grandchildren will inherit.

Catherine Gautier is professor emeritus, Geography Department, University of California, Santa Barbara. Richard C.J. Somerville is a distinguished professor emeritus, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego.

Copyright 2015 Santa Maria Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(3) Comments

  1. Cbrown
    Report Abuse
    Cbrown - October 09, 2013 7:05 pm
    Peace with Iran?

    You mean a naive president that is looking to bolster his failing legacy with a phony improvement of relations with a dangerous country? Pass the problem onto the next administration?

    This is the administration that you lefties want to pretend is moderate! Your Iranian “moderate” signed this law.

    You’ll sell out American and its safety- all so you guys can puff up your chest and think you’re smart!

    Let’s make DEALS with these people! Something right out of the teacher union playbook!

    “Sick! New Iranian Law Allows Fathers To Marry Their 13 Year Old Adopted Daughters”

    --- A new law in Iran that allows men to marry their adopted daughters at the age of 13 has caused major concern that the country’s new president is not as progressive as originally thought. President Hassan Rouhani has been hailed as a new moderate voice in the controversial Middle Eastern government but the approval of the new law shows that the extreme beliefs in the intolerant country have not evaporated. The law was approved by the Iranian members of parliament and maintains that girls can marry with the permission of their father at the age of 13 and young boys at the age of 15.---

  2. IndependentThinker
    Report Abuse
    IndependentThinker - October 09, 2013 2:04 pm
    Not a conspiuracy, not likely a misprint either, they're probably trying to PUSH YOUR BUTTONS,Cb-- or, perhaps engender proactive debate towards solutions, as in, what can we do to soften the impact of coming climate change events? Stockpile foods and water? Buy one whole lotta sun-block? Did you know that the active ingredient in sun block actually kills coral? Think about that when applying sun-block to yer bald head....or, perhaps you have lathered your head too much?
    So, the chances for peace with Iran are better = isn't that grand!?
  3. Cbrown
    Report Abuse
    Cbrown - October 09, 2013 1:09 pm
    Why do we have the same basic letter from the same person TWICE in less than one month?

    Are they upset that not enough people believe them anymore?

    Is this just part of the doom and gloom exaggerators big push since the recent IPCC report?

    Let's see how many times we can cry wolf!

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