Worst wildfires in US history, Arctic sea ice heading towards a historic low, simultaneous hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean and the hottest summer in the Northern Hemisphere since records began: Scientists say a series of natural disasters and record temperatures this year have surpassed their worst fears.
“We were expecting 40 years ago about things that might happen, and I don’t think any of us expected that in our lifetime, we’re going to see these things unfold,” said Chris Rapley, a 73-year-old climate professor. Science at University College London. “It has become a real problem nowadays, not an expected problem tomorrow.”
Natural disasters have brought home the enormous economic and social costs of a much warmer planet, which has warmed by about 1 ° C over the past century.
Wildfires across the west coast of the United States have burned more than 5 million acres, and pumped an estimated 110 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, equivalent to the annual emissions for the entire British energy sector.
Smoke from the fires has spread high in the atmosphere as far as northern Europe, according to satellite data from the European Union’s Atmospheric Monitoring Services.
“The scale and scale of these fires is much higher than in any of the 18 years covered by our monitoring data,” said Mark Barrington, a Copernicus wildfire scientist.
In the United States, smoke has reached New York and Washington, D.C., smearing visible fog in the sky.
While US President Donald Trump sought to do so The blame for the fires is mainly forest managementClimate scientists disagree.
“All of these things that are happening are the predictable consequences of climate change,” said Philip Duffy, president of the Woodwell Center for Climate Research in Massachusetts. “People ask if this is the new normal, and I say, no, it will continue to deteriorate as long as we keep adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.”
Frederick Otto, president of the Institute for Environmental Change at the University of Oxford, said record temperatures mean that “fire weather” – the dry conditions that cause wildfires – are becoming more frequent and more intense.
“The place where we see the clearest and biggest sign of climate change is the extreme temperatures,” she said.
New extreme temperatures have been recorded around the world this year from California’s Death Valley, which reached 54.4 ° C, to the far east of Russia, where it was 38 ° C. registered Within the Arctic Circle. In Brazil, one of the largest wetlands in the world, the Pantanal, has been burning since mid-July after a severe drought.
Rapley of the University of California, Los Angeles, California compared the Sahara Desert – which underwent a major climate shift and desertification nearly 6,000 years ago – and said a similar change may be underway. “California wildfires broke out much faster and are more catastrophic than we expected.”
Other researchers said that the greenhouse effect was in line with scientific models but that the human and social cost was much greater than expected.
“Our societies are only adapted to a small set of possible weather conditions,” said Professor Otto of the University of Oxford. “What 2020 is showing is a 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature, which is exactly what we expected … really driving our societies towards the edge of what we can handle.”
Firefighting in the United States this year has cost $ 2 billion so far, while the total cost of fire damage could reach $ 50 billion, according to Tom Corringham, an economist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography near San Diego.
“The size is amazing,” said Mr. Corringham. “These are not transient shocks to the economy, they are permanent reductions in growth related to climate change.”
As if to underscore the new pattern of extreme weather events as California’s forests burn, scientists this week have identified five simultaneous hurricanes and tropical storms in the Atlantic, for only the second time ever. Hurricane Sally, which made landfall on Wednesday in Alabama and Florida, caused winds of more than 100 mph. United State Expectation ‘Very active’ hurricane season.
However, Tim Linton, a professor of climate change at the University of Exeter, said that not in the United States but in the polar regions the signs of irreversible climate change were even more alarming.
The ice-covered area of the Arctic Sea is heading towards a historic low this year, and the Greenland ice sheet has lost its mass.
Professor Linton said: “It is not just the evidence this year, but a decade of evidence that leads me to the view that we may have already passed one or two tipping points in the climate system.”
Decreasing Arctic sea ice is leading to a warming vicious cycle. With little white ice on the ocean’s surface to reflect the sun’s heat, the water is warming, leading to fewer ice that reflects less heat – a major reason why the Arctic is warming at a rate three times faster than the rest of the planet.
Professor Linton said: “We know in the long term that if we continue to warm the planet, not only will you risk losing summer sea ice in the Arctic, but ultimately you may lose it over the course of the year.”