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Holiday Un-Cheer: New Science in Climate Change

December 19, 2012
News


Climate Change Accelerating

New reports this fall reveal that climate change is hitting faster and harder than scientists predicted.  

NOAA reports record loss of Arctic ice cover this year (1). Researchers reveal in the journal Environment Research Letters that sea levels are rising 60% faster than expected (2).

The United Nations warned that melting permafrost in the Arctic is releasing significant amounts of the powerful greenhouse gas, methane (3).  Their report estimates methane release could ultimately contribute up to 39% of all heat-trapping emissions—but had not been included in previous models of future climate. 





Homes, hotels, and farms

Unfortunately, these same coastal areas are valuable property--wonderful locations for houses, hotels, and restaurants.  When coastal habitats are destroyed or degraded, whether for this kind of development or for agriculture or aquaculture, the carbon that has been buried in the soil for centuries is suddenly exposed to air and released as the powerful heat-trapping and CO
.

These formerly unsung carbon-storing ecosystems help protect us (and all life on earth) from potentially huge damage.  Global warming doesn’t just raise Earth’s temperature, but also affects every temperature-sensitive process, including rainfall amounts and distribution, wind patterns, storm energy, sea-level rise and biological processes such as reproductive success, larval development rates, species distribution, disease resistance, sensitivity to toxins, among many others.  

In recent years, we have lost mangrove forests for many reasons:

*to make ponds for shrimp aquaculture

*to convert marshes to farms or rice paddies

*to create river dams that prevent nourishing sediments from flowing downstream,

*to do offshore dredging, and development of coastal areas for cities or resorts

Current figures show between 150 million and 1.02 billion tons of carbon released each year from mangrove destruction--between 3 and 19 percent of the carbon released by deforestation.  This results in economic damage of between $6 billion and $42 billion annually (8).

Ocean Health Index Puts Carbon Storage in the Top Ten

In the Ocean Health Index, Carbon Storage (http://www.oceanhealthindex.org/Goals/Carbon_Storage/) is one of ten goals that reflect humankind’s most essential needs. Carbon Storage focuses on three threatened coastal habitats – seagrass meadows, salt marshes, and mangrove forests.  

Although they are equivalent to less than 2% of the ocean’s surface, coastal ecosystems contribute more to long-term carbon storage and sequestration in sediments than any other ocean ecosystem.  They can store large quantities of carbon for two main reasons—first, their vegetation usually grows rapidly each year, capturing (or sequestering) large amounts of carbon dioxide.  

Secondly, their soils are largely anaerobic (without oxygen), so carbon that gets incorporated into the soils decomposes very slowly and can persist for hundreds or even thousands of years.

The carbon burial capacity of marine vegetated habitats is phenomenal—180 times greater than the average burial rate in the open ocean.  When destroyed, these habitats rapidly release CO2 back into the atmosphere.

This Global Ocean Health Index gives carbon storage a score of “75” out of 100.  The perfect score of 100 is the condition and existence of these habitats in 1980.  “75” is an indication that many of these habitats have been destroyed or damaged in the past 30 years - a dangerous situation in light of the growing CO2 in our atmosphere and our need to store carbon in these habitats.

In addition to Carbon Storage, mangroves, salt marshes and sea grass beds also offer Coastal Protection (http://www.oceanhealthindex.org/Goals/Coastal_Protection/) from floods and erosion caused by storms and sea-level rise, host significant biodiversity (http://www.oceanhealthindex.org/Goals/Biodiversity/), serve as nurseries for seafood caused by Fisheries (http://www.oceanhealthindex.org/Goals/Food_Provision) and provide opportunities for Tourism and Recreation (http://www.oceanhealthindex.org/Goals/Tourism_and_Recreation/).  
 
Corporate Concern

This year, decades of warnings from scientists have also been  echoed by warnings from major corporations, including Munich Re (2012) and PriceWaterhouseCoopers (2012).  Both companies recently released reports on the damage that climate change is bringing.  Two degrees of global warming has always been the benchmark for catastrophic changes, but PriceWaterhouseCooper’s report states that since we are not meeting the necessary goals of carbon reduction, “now one thing is clear: businesses, governments and communities across the world need to plan for a warming world – not just 2°C, but 4°C, or even 6°C.” (8) (9)

 
References

(1) “Arctic continues to break records in 2012: Becoming warmer, greener region with record losses of summer sea ice and late spring snow,” December 5, 2012, NOAA News. http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2012/20121205_arcticreportcard.html

(2) Rahmstof, Stefan, Grant Foster and Anny Cazenave.  “Comparing climate projections to observations up to 2011,” Environmental Research Letters, Vol. 7, Number 4.  Published 27 November 2012.  http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/7/4/044035/article

(3) “Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost,” November 2012, UNEP.  (http://www.polity.org.za/article/policy-implications-of-warming-permafrost-november-2012-2012-11-29)

(4) “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts:  How We Know Inaction is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces,” by Joe Romm, October 14, 2012.  Think Progress. 
(http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/10/14/1009121/science-of-global-warming-impacts-guide/).

(5) World Bank. 2012. Turn Down the Heat.  A Report for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics. 106 pp. November 2012.  Online at:http://climatechange.worldbank.org/sites/default/files/Turn_Down_the_heat_Why_a_4_degree_centrigrade_warmer_world_must_be_avoided.pdf

(6) Solomon, S., G.-K. Plattner, R. Knutti and P. Friedlingstein. 2009. Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/01/28/0812721106.full.pdf+html

(7) Balstad, Roberta.  October 2011.  Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation, IPPC 4th Assessment Report.  http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/70134246/extreme-events-climate-change-us-new-ipcc-report-policymakers

(8) Pendleton L, Donato DC, Murray BC, Crooks S, Jenkins WA, et al. (2012) Estimating global ‘‘Blue Carbon’’ emissions from conversion and degradation of vegetated coastal ecosystems. PLoS ONE 7(9): e43542. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0043542

(9) Munich Re. 2012.  Severe weather in North America.  Executive Summary.  Munich Reinsurance America.  Princeton, New Jersey. Download at http://www.munichreamerica.com/ks_severe_weather_na_order.shtml

(10) PriceWaterhouseCoopers. 2012.  Too late for two degrees? Low carbon index 2012.  PWC UK.    http://www.pwc.com/en_GX/gx/low-carbon-economy-index/assets/pwc-low-carbon-economy-index-2012.pdf  





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