US gets warning on climate

Mark Jones jones118 at SPAMlineone.net
Tue Jun 13 02:31:37 MDT 2000




Scientists see a land of storms and droughts battered by sea

The weather: special report

Julian Borger in Washington
Tuesday June 13, 2000

Picture New York as a tropical city, as hot and sticky as Miami, with much
of downtown Manhattan frequently flooded. The Alaskan ice has melted leaving
temperate agricultural land, while further south, the Florida Everglades
disappear below the waves, changing the very shape of the US.
This radical vision is no longer just a distant possibility, but a likely
scenario for the coming century, according to a US government study
published yesterday. Among a string of sobering predictions, it suggests
that if global warming continues on its present trajectory, average US
temperatures will rise by 6C (10F) by 2100 and sea-level could rise by over
two feet.

The report, Climate Change Impacts on the United States, which took four
years to compile, suggests the US will change more in the next century than
during the past millennium. Over much of the country more rain will fall in
more intense thunderstorms, but the rate of evaporation will also increase
sharply. Severe floods and prolonged droughts will occur side by side.

The forecast is not entirely gloomy. Crop yields will improve dramatically
as vegetation thrives on an atmosphere rich in carbon dioxide. Forests
should also flourish.

However, the outlook is bleak for fragile ecosystems vulnerable to changes
of temperature and sea level. Coral reefs are likely to die off, and the
swamps and wetlands which dot the eastern seaboard will be overwhelmed by
seawater. The Everglades, a huge expanse of swamps which are home to
alligators and rare species of birds, could be wiped off the map of Florida.

Denise Reed, a climate change expert at the University of New Orleans, said:
"Where ecosystems are already heavily altered and stressed by human impacts,
sea-level rise could be the straw that breaks the camel's back."

Meanwhile low-lying eastern cities including Miami, Washington DC, New York
and Boston, would come under pressure. New York city, with a long coastline
and four out of five boroughs on islands linked with tunnels and bridges,
would be particularly hard-hit.

Sea-level rises of up to 3ft 6in would be exacerbated by storm surges,
submerging much of Coney and Staten islands, and the foundations of the
World Trade Centre and Battery Park city on the southern tip of Manhattan
would be regularly flooded. The climate through much of the year would be as
hot and humid as today's Miami.

Storms like the northeaster of 1992, which shut down New York's subway
system, its airports and many of its roads, would become much more common,
and could even be annual occurrences by the end of the century. The rising
ocean and the frequent storms would also endanger freshwater resources all
along the east coast without large-scale sea defences.

Susanne Moser, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, who contributed to the
report, said yesterday: "People will try to protect themselves with sea
walls, and natural ecosystems will be the most likely losers. But I cannot
imagine how humans will not be forced to retreat from the less
heavily-populated areas."

The study was published in draft form on the internet yesterday to invite
public comment, and is expected to spark furious debate over its assumptions
and the computer models it employed.

Critics have pointed out that the two main computer simulations used by
Britain's Hadley centre and the Canadian meteorological centre - produced
startlingly different results for some regions. One forecast North Dakota
would turn into a virtual desert, the other that it will become a swamp.

But Anthony Janetos, a co-chairman of the panel which wrote the report, said
that the uncertainties did not undermine the study's value for contingency
planning.

"There are a lot of local and regional decisions that have to be made now,
not just federal policies, and people have to start thinking hard about what
they might want to do."

The study's authors say its forecasts were based on "business as usual"
assumptions that emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases
continue to rise in line with 20th century trends.

Ms Moser said that to avert the sort of radical transformation in the US
landscape envisaged by the report, the western industrial nations would have
to make far more radical changes than they have been willing to contemplate.

"If we completely stopped emissions today we will still have some sort of
the impact from the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. The
reductions currently being negotiated are a very modest step that would not
have much impact on these predictions."

Guardian 13-06-00






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