Hurricane Wind-speed Doubled and Other Climate Change Briefs

Squirrels are heading for the hills, a problem with trees, a snag in measuring climate change at 'Ground Zero,' and wet Israel

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Hurricane Dorian approaching a beach, Jacksonville, Florida, U.S. September 1, 2019
Hurricane Dorian approaching a beachCredit: MARIA ALEJANDRA CARDONA/ Reuters

Hurricane wind speed grew 6 mph per decade

Bermuda gets some protection from hurricane storm surges from of its reefs. But coral is useless at shielding the island nation from winds. Now a study has shown that the maximum wind speed of hurricanes in the subtropical Atlantic around Bermuda (on average) has more than doubled in the last 60 years: from 35 to 73 mph. between 1955 to 2019. Why? Because the ocean surface temperature is rising, explain scientists at University of Southampton, publishing in Environmental Research Letters. The warmer the ocean surface, the more violent the wind, they explain.

BermudaCredit: Google Maps

Squirrels are heading for the hills

In a sign of the times, golden-mantled ground squirrels are increasingly being found at higher altitudes in western American mountain ranges, in what scientists are calling a drastic response to global warming. Colorado has warmed by nearly 2 degrees Celsius (3.5 degrees F.) since the 1980s and the squirrels’ range has shifted upward by 400 feet to 1,100 feet since the 1980s, which is significant, writes a team in the journal of Ecology. “It’s frightening,” stated McCain, an ecologist at the University of Colorado Boulder. “We’ve been talking about climate change in the Rockies for a long time, but I think we can say that this is a sign that things are now responding and responding quite drastically.”

Golden-mantled ground squirrel (some mistake it for a chipmunk)Credit: Eborutta, Wikimedia Commons

Snags to investigating ‘ground zero”

Squirrel dissatisfaction in the Rockies is one thing, but the Arctic and Greenland, which some call “ground zero” for climate change, have already warmed at least 3 degrees Celsius in the past 50 years, which is already having serious consequences such as slowing the Gulf Stream, but the further ramifications are impossible to forecast. Yale University’s Prof. Mary-Louise Timmermans explains what the difficulties are : One problem is the sheer pileup of parameters, and their complex interaction. Another that might not spring to mind is, as she points out: “The harsh, extremely cold weather throughout most of the year, as well as 24-hour winter darkness, coupled with the presence of sea-ice make data collection difficult.” One does not think of that unless one has walked a mile in the snowshoes of a scientist at the top of the world.

Through a forest darkly

Trees suck in carbon dioxide during the day as they photosynthesize, and breathe out carbon dioxide at night. But in net terms they store carbon dioxide in their wood and the soil, so trees are good, deforestation is bad climate-changewise. Yet there are nuances worth knowing, it turns out. The latest is the observation by Prof. Christopher Williams at Clark University in Science Advances that the forest canopy tends to be darker than other surfaces. Dark colors absorb more heat, and in some parts of the United States and possibly elsewhere too, more forest may actually lead to a hotter planet at least in some places. Ergo, in his view, expanding forest coverage may not help mitigate global warming, and certainly can’t do so evenly. Trees are excellent and reforestation has huge advantages, but they’re not Batman.

Fungus growing on trees in the Bialowieza Primeval Forest, PolandCredit: Peter Andrews, Reuters

Israel hasn’t experienced predicted aridification. Yet

Meanwhile in the Mediterranean, scientists have been predicting stronger if less frequent medicanes – that being our local version of hurricanes – as global warming ramps up. It has also been predicted that climate change will lead to aridification in much of North Africa and the Middle East, including Israel. Well, climate change has been ramping up for about 150 years and Israel is having fewer rainy days a year but – another prediction of global warming – the storms have been stronger. Though each year is its own story, altogether Israel has not gotten drier in the last 90 years, reports Haaretz’s Zafrir Rinat. For one thing the Mediterranean is hotter and is evaporating more, and thus producing more clouds. But all this is expected to change, after all. The models, imperfect though they are, indicate that by 2050 or by 2100, rainfall over the Eastern Mediterranean will decrease by 25 to 35 percent.

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