Tag Archives: climate change

Testing the Limits of Where Humans Can Live

kuril-islands
Kuril Islands. Photo Source: RIA Novosti. Alexandr Grashenkov
The Kuril Islands are a chain of volcanic islands between Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula and Japan’s Hokkaido Island, which separate the Okhotsk Sea from the Pacific Ocean. The coastal waters of the Kuril Islands are home to seals, sea otters, killer whales and sea lions.
Kuril Islands. Photo Source: RIA Novosti. Alexandr Grashenkov

Excerpt from The University of Washington

On an isolated segment of islands in the Pacific Ring of Fire, residents endure volcanoes, tsunamis, dense fog, steep cliffs and long and chilly winters. Sounds homey, huh?

At least it might be for inhabitants of the Kuril Islands, an 810-mile archipelago that stretches from Japan to Russia. The islands, formed by a collision of tectonic plates, are nearly abandoned today, but anthropologists have learned that thousands of people have lived there on and off as far back as at least 6000 B.C., persevering despite natural disasters.

“We want to identify the limits of adaptability, or how much resilience people have,” said Ben Fitzhugh, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Washington. “We’re looking at the islands as a yardstick of humans’ capacity to colonize and sustain themselves.”

kuril islands
Photo Source: Sergei Krasnoukhov

Understanding what made residents stay and how they survived could inform how we adapt to modern vulnerabilities, including climate change. The findings also have implications for how we rebound from contemporary catastrophes, such as the Indonesian tsunami in 2004, hurricanes Katrina and Rita and last year’s earthquake in Haiti.

Fitzhugh is leading an international team of anthropologists, archaeologists, geologists and earth and atmospheric scientists in studying the history of human settlement on the Kuril Islands.

The team’s findings will be discussed Feb. 20 during a lecture, Scales of Vulnerability and Resilience in Human Settlement of the Kuril Islands, at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

The scientists are studying islands in the central portion of the Kurils, from Urup Island in the south to Onekotan Island in the north, about 75 percent of the island chain. During three expeditions, they’ve found small pit houses, pottery, stone tools, barbed harpoon heads and other remnants of the islanders’ fishing and foraging lifestyle.

The scientists believe that human settlements existed in three different waves, the earliest in 6000 B.C., the most recent in 1200 A.D.

Fitzhugh finds evidence that following volcanic eruptions and tsunamis, people left the settlements but eventually returned. Fitzhugh and his research team have found that mobility, social networks and knowledge of the local environment helped indigenous people survive.

kuril island

“Having relatives and friends on other Kurils meant that, when something disastrous happened locally, people could temporarily move in with relatives on nearby islands,” he said.

Understanding the local environment also helped people survive the persistently foggy, dark and chilly environment. Since fog can shroud the islands, residents couldn’t navigate between islands by simply pointing their boats toward destinations. Fitzhugh and his collaborators suspect that indigenous Kurilians instead used bird behavior, water currents and water temperature to navigate.

kuril-island
Photo Source: Sergey Krivosheyev

Fitzhugh says that the Kurils’ population decline has less to do with environmental challenges and more to do with changes in social and political influences, such as skirmishes between Russia and Japan over control of the Kurils.

He adds that as a global society in a time of environmental changes, we have to protect abilities of small and vulnerable populations to sustain themselves.

“This is not something that will naturally rise to the top of priorities of large political systems without concerted effort,” Fitzhugh said.

kuril-islands
Photo Source: Sergey Krivosheyev

Original Article

Tokyo’s unlearned history lessons, Kuril Islands Dispute, by Yuri Rubtsov, PhD, International Affair Magazine

Why Kuril dispute will not end any time soon, BBC

The Kuril Islands Dispute, Wikipedia

The Kuril Islands Photos Gallery, Ria Novosti

50 million environmental refugees by 2020, experts say

climate refugee
A boat full of illegal immigrants enters the port of the Italian island of Lampedusa escorted by a Coast Guard vessel on February 20. Photo Source: AFP/File/Roberto Salomone

Excerpts;

Fifty million environmental refugees will flood into the global north by 2020, fleeing sparked by climate change, experts warned at a major science conference that ended Monday.

“In 2020, the UN has projected that we will have 50 million environmental refugees,” University of California, Los Angeles professor Cristina Tirado said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Read Full Article, PhysOrg

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If Greenhouse Gas Emissions Stopped Now, Earth Would Still Likely Get Warmer

co2
Photo Source: Karl Dolenc

Excerpt from The university Of Washington

While governments debate about potential policies that might curb the emission of greenhouse gases, new University of Washington research shows that the world is already committed to a warmer climate because of emissions that have occurred up to now.

There would continue to be warming even if the most stringent policy proposals were adopted, because there still would be some emission of heat, trapping greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. But the new research shows that even if all emissions were stopped now, temperatures would remain higher than pre-Industrial Revolution levels because the greenhouse gases already emitted are likely to persist in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

In fact, it is possible temperatures would continue to escalate even if all cars, heating and cooling systems and other sources of greenhouse gases were suddenly eliminated, said Kyle Armour, a UW doctoral student in physics. That’s because tiny atmospheric particles called aerosols, which tend to counteract the effect of greenhouse warming by reflecting sunlight back into space, would last only a matter of weeks once emissions stopped, while the greenhouse gases would continue on.

“The aerosols would wash out quickly and then we would see an abrupt rise in temperatures over several decades,” he said.
Armour is the lead author of a paper documenting the research, published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. His co-author is Gerard Roe, a UW associate professor of Earth and space sciences.

The global temperature is already about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit higher than it was before the Industrial Revolution, which began around the start of the 19th century. The scientists’ calculations took into account the observed warming, as well as the known levels of greenhouse gases and aerosols already emitted to see what might happen if all emissions associated with industrialization suddenly stopped.

In the best-case scenario, the global temperature would actually decline, but it would remain about a half-degree F higher than pre-Industrial Revolution levels and probably would not drop to those levels again, Armour said.

There also is a possibility temperatures would rise to 3.5 degrees F higher than before the Industrial Revolution, a threshold at which climate scientists say significant climate-related damage begins to occur.

Of course it is not realistic to expect all emissions to cease suddenly, and Armour notes that the overall effect of aerosols, particles of sea salt or soot from burning fossil fuels, for example, is perhaps the largest uncertainty in climate research.
But uncertainties do not lessen the importance of the findings, he said. The scientists are confident, from the results of equations they used, that some warming would have to occur even if all emissions stopped now. But there are more uncertainties, and thus a lower confidence level, associated with larger temperature increases.

Climate models used in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessments take into consideration a much narrower range of the possible aerosol effects, or “forcings,” than are supported by actual climate observations, Armour said. The Nobel Peace Prize-winning panel, sponsored by the United Nations, makes periodic assessments of climate change and is in the process of compiling its next report.

As emissions of greenhouse gases continue, the “climate commitment” to a warmer planet only goes up, Armour said. He believes it is helpful for policy makers to understand that level of commitment. It also will be helpful for them to understand that, while some warming is assured, uncertainties in current climate observations, such as the full effect of aerosols, mean the warming could be greater than models suggest.

“This is not an argument to say we should keep emitting aerosols,” he said. “It is an argument that we should be smart in how we stop emitting. And it’s a call to action because we know the warming we are committed to from what we have emitted already and the longer we keep emitting the worse it gets.”

Original Article

Thawing Permafrost and Accelerated CO2 Emission

North Australia set to face more weather extremes, corals show

Porites Coral
A large fossil Porites coral. Photo Source: Georgia Tech

By David Fogarty, Reuters

Flood and storm-battered northern Australia is likely to suffer more frequent weather extremes, according to a study of coral cores that reveal a centuries-old climate record for the region.

Like pages in a book, corals can help scientists go back in time by revealing years that were unusually wet or dry. The annual changes or variations in weather are recorded in growth rings that can be studied by drilling and extracting long cores.

“The corals are providing another piece of evidence that maybe suggests that we are seeing some consequences already of global warming,” Janice Lough, a senior scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Queensland state, told Reuters from Townsville on Thursday.

Lough, in a study to be published in Paleoceanography, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, examined 17 coral cores taken from reefs off Queensland’s northeast coast. The rings in the cores date from the 17th century until 1981 when they were collected, yielding a 300-year climate record.

Northern Queensland typically gets most of its rain during the summer monsoon and is at the mercy of the El Nino and La Nina weather patterns that normally bring drought or floods.

The current strong La Nina is blamed for record floods that have inundated large areas of Queensland in recent months, killing dozens of people, crippling coal mines, swamping thousands of homes and damaging crops.

Lough said her study found that the frequency of weather extremes seems to increase in recent centuries.

“It can be difficult to detect whether any changes are happening just because of that high natural variability,” she said, but added that the long-term record suggested some sort of change had occurred. “That tropical rainfall variability will become more extreme.”

The cores come from Porites coral domes that can grow up to 8 meters (26 feet) high and be centuries old, growing between 1 and 1.5 cms a year, she said.

In her research, Lough looked into slices of the coral under ultraviolet light to study the growth bands.

During wet years, rivers flush a lot of plant matter and a mix of compounds called humic acids into the ocean and these acids are absorbed by the coral and stored in its skeleton. Under UV light, growth bands with more humic acid show up more brightly than bands from drier years.

Lough said the coral records were another piece of the climate jigsaw, given the lack of long-term historical weather data, particularly in the Southern Hemisphere and the tropics.

“Corals are natural history books,” she added, revealing growth rates, changes through time and the amount of freshwater run-off from land.

Original Article

Read More, Excerpt from AGU

UK’s Prince Charles blasts climate-change skeptics

climate-change

By the Associated Press

Prince Charles lashed out Wednesday at climate change skeptics, saying they are playing “a reckless game of roulette” with the planet’s future.

Skeptics are having a “corrosive effect” on public opinion, the British heir to the throne added.

“Their suggestion, that hundreds of scientists around the world … are somehow unconsciously biased, creates the implication that many of us are secretly conspiring to undermine and deliberately destroy the entire market-based capitalist system,” he said.

Many doubters, particularly in the United States, have dismissed scientific evidence supporting warming of the earth due to human activity, arguing that the large majority of scientists are wrong, or the consequences of warming overstated.

Charles asked: “How are these people going to face their grandchildren and admit to them that they failed their future?”

Along with top officials of the European Union, Charles was addressing the Low Carbon Prosperity Summit, a conference devoted to engaging more European businesses in promoting a low-carbon economy.

In a speech to a packed European Parliament chamber, Charles touched on topics ranging from the need to protect fisheries and the Amazon rain forest, to making low-carbon emissions affordable and competitive.

Charles, who has been active in promoting environmental issues, was asked to participate in the conference in order to raise public awareness throughout Europe.

“Your presence brings added value and attention to this important issue,” EU President Herman Van Rompuy said.

The prince is a patron of the Cambridge Program for Sustainability Leadership, which works with business, government and civil society to promote a sustainable economic future.

climate-change

Original Article

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