A new book, Climate Change and the Health of Nations: Famines, Fevers, and the Fate of Populations, by public health expert Anthony McMichael and epidemiologist Alistair Woodward, sheds light on how sensitive humans may be to climate change by looking at how climate has changed over time in the past and how those changes impacted human health.
For example, climate impacts from the 1815 the eruption of Mount Tambora, a 13,000 ft. tall volcano on one of Indonesia’s islands, was felt globally around the world. In addition to causing an estimated 10,000 people to die instantly, the volcano spewed so much ash into the atmosphere that it caused average global temperatures to fall by 2-3 ° C and was responsible for the unseasonable chill that afflicted much of the Northern Hemisphere in 1816, which is known as the “year without a summer.”
The temperature decline caused a decade of crop failures from frost and/or lack of sunshine and famine. Nutritional deficits in people triggered epidemics and infectious diseases. In addition, mass migrations and social unrest occurred as people moved from one place to another to find more secure food supplies. Impact of the sudden change in climate can be seen in population numbers, fertility, and infectious disease rates.
The difference between climate change and the past eruption of Mount Tambora is that while ash in the atmosphere after Mount Tambora settled out within 2-3 years, carbon dioxide will remain in the atmosphere for a long time and is putting a momentum into climate change that wasn’t present in the past.
The authors explain that humans and other life forms thrive within a particular climate range, a so Goldilocks Zone in which climatic conditions are just right. Human physiology requires that we keep our bodies at a particular temperature and if the external environment changes too much from what we’re used to it stresses the body. In addition, disease vectors such as the mosquito, responds quite rapidly to increases in temperature, which boost its activity, feeding patterns, and reproduction. In the 1400s warmer temperatures in Central Asia made animals like marmots and rats more active, and that, combined with increased trade and movement of people out of the middle east into the Mediterranean (which was also climate induced) contributed to the spread of the bubonic plague in Europe.
The big problem we as people have in trying to mobilize effectively to stem the effects of climate change is that humans have evolved to pick up immediate, visible threats. The negative effects of climate change are so big picture that it’s hard to grasp them. The authors of this book examine the evidence of climate and crises—epidemics, bush fires, storms—because these are things humans can more easily understand.
For more information see: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/03/climate-change-global-warming-history-health/. To see more about the book, click here.
Ice core records show that until the Industrial Revolution atmospheric CO2 levels remained fairly steady at around 280 ppm (parts per million). By 1961, CO2 data collected at a monitoring station at the summit of Hawaii volcano showed that atmospheric CO2 levels were rising steadily by about 2 ppm per year. In 2005 the station recorded that CO2 concentrations had increased to 380 ppm. In May 2013, the station documented CO2 levels above 400 ppm for the first time.
The launch of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) in 2002 made it possible for researchers to map CO2 levels in the troposphere-the lowest region of the earth’s atmosphere- on a global scale by taking measurements over the ocean, land, and poles and tracking these changes over time. The information gathered from AIRS includes the global average value of CO2 in the troposphere, which is the atmospheric level where most all the earth’s weather occurs.
The AIRS system allowed scientists to confirm a significant landmark: the annual minimum CO2 level has now exceeded 400 ppm over the entire globe. This is significant because during spring, as photosynthesis ramps up, plants breathe in carbon dioxide (CO2), and atmospheric levels of CO2 begin to drop. When trees lose their leaves in the fall and winter CO2 levels begin to rise again. This natural process means that there is an annual cycle of minimum and maximum levels of atmospheric CO2 during the year. Finding that global concentrations are above the 400 ppm threshold at a time of year when atmospheric CO2 is typically at its lowest level is a critical turning point in our climate. Scientists say that unless something dramatic happens with humans and the planet, it will never be 400 ppm again, at least over the next several decades.
For more information see: https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2535/satellite-data-confirm-annual-carbon-dioxide-minimum-above-400-ppm/.
Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) recently announced that January 2017 was the third warmest January on record since 1880, when the record for modern global temperatures began. January 2017 was 0.92° C warmer than the average January temperatures from 1951-1980.
The monthly analysis of global temperatures is compiled from publicly available data acquired by about 6,300 meteorological stations around the world, sea surface temperatures from thermometers on ship- and buoys, and Antarctic research stations.
The hottest January on record was 2016, which was 1.12° C warmer than the January mean temperature, followed by 2007 at 0.96° C warmer. January 2017 was third.
For more information see https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2550/january-2017-was-third-warmest-january-on-record/. For more information on NASA GISS’s monthly temperature analysis, visit: https://www.giss.nasa.gov/.
Exceptional warmth for this time of year continues across the Arctic. Temperature at North Pole is forecasted just below the melting point today. This delay in cold temperatures across the basin means reduced ice thickening with implications for thin ice at the start of next year’s melt season. Unless there is some major pattern change, we may see an ice-free Arctic Basin in the next few years, not decades. Siberia seeing record or near record cold in places as a result of the circulation. See Today’s Weather Maps at Climate Reanalyzer.
The first half of October 2016 was likely the warmest across the Arctic for this time of year since at least 1948, says Maine’s state climatologist.
In the Arctic — 65–90 degrees north latitude — on Oct. 7, 2016, the mean daily temperature averaged a balmy minus 3.5 C (25.7 F), a value that’s 6.6 C above the 1951–2000 historical mean, says Sean Birkel, who also is a research assistant professor at the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine.
This temperature departure from average, or anomaly, exceeds the previous record daily temperature anomaly of 5.7 C set Oct. 14, 2007.
For comparison, prior to 2000, the highest Arctic-wide temperature anomaly for early October prior was 2.9 C, which was attained Oct. 2, 1948.
These temperature anomaly estimates are based on output from a widely used climate reanalysis model developed by the National Center for Environmental Prediction and National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Reanalysis models assimilate station, weather balloon and satellite data to reconstruct the state of the atmosphere across the globe or a region at regular time intervals.
This is particularly valuable for estimating conditions across areas of the Earth for which few observations are available, including across the Arctic Basin, says Birkel.
Record warmth in the Arctic has increasingly become the norm, he says, as feedbacks between declining snow/ice cover, the atmosphere, and the ocean have been observed.
Unusual warmth this time of year is diagnostic of changing season length: Arctic summers are warmer and longer than they used to be, while winters are warmer and shorter.
In turn, this year’s September minimum sea-ice extent tied that of 2007 as second-lowest in the satellite era. The record minimum was attained in 2012, says Birkel.
The current October warmth results in large part from open water over broad areas historically covered by ice this time of year, he says.
A steep decline of sea-ice cover has been linked to changing weather patterns across the Northern Hemisphere, including in Maine and New England, he says.
Rapid warming of the Arctic has reduced the mean temperature difference between the equator and pole, which some researchers suggest has slowed the westerly jet stream, says Birkel.
This process leads to greater likelihood for the development of atmospheric blocking patterns that can cause heat waves, cold waves and extreme rainfall events in the middle latitudes, he says.
On Oct. 3, Birkel and CCI director Paul Mayewski were part of a UMaine contingent attending the Maine-Arctic Forum in Portland, Maine, which focused on the Arctic’s changing climate and resulting economic opportunities and geopolitical concerns.
To learn more about local and worldwide weather and climate, visit the Climate Reanalyzer.
Birkel maintains the platform with support from the CCI, UMaine and the National Science Foundation. Also, a general overview of Maine’s climate is in the 2009 and 2015 Maine’s Climate Future documents produced by the UMaine Sea Grant and Climate Change Institute.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
Quarterly Climate Impacts and Outlook recently published Significant Events, Climate Overview and Regional Impacts for June–August 2016, and Regional Outlooks for autumn 2016. Parts of the region saw well below normal precipitation this summer. Five Nova Scotia sites had their second driest June on record. Boston, MA and three sites in southwestern Nova Scotia, including Yarmouth, had their driest summers on record. The lack of rain contributed to
drought conditions across the region. Read the entire report (PDF).
The National Weather Service has posted a Summer 2016 northern and eastern Maine seasonal climate narrative. Overall, northern and eastern Maine for summer (June 1st -August 31st) 2016 experienced above normal temperatures, with decidedly above normal rainfall across the north and significantly below average rainfall over downeast portions of the region. Read the entire narrative.
Click here for the updated Gulf of Maine Climate Impact Report for summer 2016. This two page NOAA/NIDIS publication summarizes significant events in the region, a climate overview, and regional impacts and forecasts.
Read the most recent Quarterly Climate Impacts and Outlook publication, focused on the Gulf of Maine. This is a two page NOAA/NIDIS publication summarizing significant events in the region, a climate overview, and regional impacts and forecasts.
Quarterly reports for other US regions, including the Northeast can be found here.