From season to season and year to year, weather events that were once rare occurrences are now increasingly commonplace. After human kind has been through once in a century like the Covid pandemic that has killed over a million people, now the world is faced with yet another once in a century like catastrophic climatic conditions around the world.
Soaring and record-breaking temperatures, hotter air holding more moisture, extreme weather getting wilder, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, wild fires, and floods that are inundating parts of the world that has proven 2022 to be yet another year that will go down in history.
Unprecedented heat waves have occurred recently from Delhi to the Pacific Northwest, and the number of these deadly events is expected to increase. New research from the University of Washington and Harvard University gives a range of heat impacts worldwide by the end of this century, depending on future emissions of greenhouse gases.
The study was published Aug. 25 in the open-access journal Communications Earth & Environment. “The record-breaking heat events of recent summers will become much more common in places like North America and Europe,” said lead author Lucas Vargas Zeppetello, who did the research as a doctoral student at the UW and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard. “For many places close to the equator, by 2100 more than half the year will be a challenge to work outside, even if we begin to curb emissions.”
“Our study shows a broad range of possible scenarios for 2100,” he added. “This shows that the emissions choices we make now still matter for creating a habitable future.”
The study looks at a combination of air temperature and humidity known as the “heat index” that measures impact on the human body. A “dangerous” heat index is defined by the National Weather Service as 103 F (39.4 C). An “extremely dangerous” heat index is 124 F (51 C), deemed unsafe to humans for any amount of time.
“These standards were first created for people working indoors in places like boiler rooms — they were not thought of as conditions that would happen in outdoor, ambient environments. But we are seeing them now,” Vargas Zeppetello said.
Across the world “intense rain storms are getting more intense,” said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer. And he said mountains, like those in Pakistan, help wring extra moisture out as the clouds pass. The flooding has all the hallmarks of a catastrophe juiced by climate change, but it is too early to formally assign blame to global warming, several scientists told the media.
At least 1,136 people have been killed since June and roads, crops, homes and bridges washed away across the country. This year’s record monsoon is comparable to the devastating floods of 2010 – the deadliest in Pakistan’s history – which left more than 2,000 people dead.
The “recent flood in Pakistan is actually an outcome of the climate catastrophe … that was looming very large,” said Anjal Prakash, a research director at India’s Bharti Institute of Public Policy. “The kind of incessant rainfall that has happened … has been unprecedented.”
“This year Pakistan has received the highest rainfall in at least three decades. So far this year the rain is running at more than 780% above average levels,” said Abid Qaiyum Suleri, executive director of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute and a member of Pakistan’s Climate Change Council. “Extreme weather patterns are turning more frequent in the region and Pakistan is not a exception.”
Pakistan’s Climate Minister Sherry Rehman said “it’s been a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions.” Pakistan “is considered the eighth most vulnerable country to climate change,” said Moshin Hafeez, a Lahore-based climate scientist at the International Water Management Institute. Its rain, heat and melting glaciers are all climate change factors scientists warned repeatedly about.
“Clearly, it’s being juiced by climate change,” said Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center in Massachusetts. There’s been a 400% increase in average rainfall in areas like Baluchistan and Sindh, which led to the extreme flooding, Hafeez said. At least 20 dams have been breached.
If the rains are a huge factor that impacted millions, the heat has been as relentless as the rain. In May, Pakistan consistently saw temperatures above 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit). Scorching temperatures higher than 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) were recorded in places like Jacobabad and Dadu.
The extreme heat accelerates the long-term glacier melting then water speeds down from the Himalayas to Pakistan in a dangerous phenomena called glacial lake outburst floods. “We have the largest number of glaciers outside the polar region, and this affects us,” climate minister Rehman said. “Instead of keeping their majesty and preserving them for posterity and nature. We are seeing them melt.”
As per reports, the disaster is hitting a poor country that has contributed relatively little to the world’s climate problem, scientists and officials said. Since 1959, Pakistan has emitted about 0.4% of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, compared to 21.5% by the United States and 16.4% by China.
“Those countries that have developed or gotten rich on the back of fossil fuels, which are the problem really,” Rehman said. “They’re going to have to make a critical decision that the world is coming to a tipping point. We certainly have already reached that point because of our geographical location.”
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged the world to come to Pakistan’s aid as he launched a $160m appeal to help the tens of millions affected in the disaster. He blamed “the relentless impact of epochal levels of rain and flooding”.
As global temperatures rise, the hottest temperatures — and the number of areas impacted by extreme heat — are also rising. That means more scorching hot days in more places.
Take the Texas cities of Austin and Houston, for example. Over the past 50 years, Austin has seen the number of days with temperatures above 100°F increase by one month, while Houston has recorded an additional month with temperatures above 95°F. In California, temperatures are estimated to have increased 3°F in the past century.
In recent years, California has become ground zero for meteorological turmoil. With record dry, hot conditions across the state, seasonal high winds (known as Diablo in Northern California and Santa Ana in the southern part of the state) caused destructive wildfires to grow and spread at an unprecedented rate.
When global temperatures rise, moisture evaporates from waterbodies and soil. Droughts in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world have become more severe and long-lasting thanks to climate change. The American West is currently in the midst of a mega drought that ranks among the worst in the past 1,200 years.
Hurricanes are growing more powerful as global temperatures rise because these storm systems draw their energy from warm ocean water. One of the most powerful storms to ever hit the United States struck the Gulf Coast in August 2020. Hurricane Katrina ripped into the Gulf Coast in August 2005, devastating entire cities and hitting communities like those in low-lying New Orleans parishes especially hard.
As the planet warms, ocean waters are also warming — and expanding. At the same time, warmer temperatures are causing land ice — think glaciers and ice caps — to melt, which is adding water to the world’s oceans. As a result, average global sea level has increased eight inches in the last 150 years.
Ice Melt from Greenland will raise sea level 10 inches
Greenland’s rapidly melting ice sheet will eventually raise global sea level by at least 10.6 inches (27 centimeters) — more than twice as much as previously forecast — according to a study published on August 29th.
That’s because of something that could be called zombie ice. That’s doomed ice that, while still attached to thicker areas of ice, is no longer getting replenished by parent glaciers now receiving less snow. Without replenishment, the doomed ice is melting from climate change and will inevitably raise seas, said study co-author William Colgan, a glaciologist at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland.
“It’s dead ice. It’s just going to melt and disappear from the ice sheet,” Colgan said in an interview. “This ice has been consigned to the ocean, regardless of what climate (emissions) scenario we take now.” Study lead author Jason Box, a glaciologist at the Greenland survey, said it is “more like one foot in the grave.”
One of the study authors said that more than 120 trillion tons (110 trillion metric tons) of ice is already doomed to melt from the warming ice sheet’s inability to replenish its edges. When that ice melts into water, if it were concentrated only over the United States, it would be 37 feet (11 meters) deep.
The figures are a global average for sea level rise, but some places further away from Greenland would get more and places closer, like the U.S. East Coast, would get less. Although 10.6 inches may not sound like much, this would be over and above high tides and storms, making them even worse, so this much sea level rise “will have huge societal, economic and environmental impacts,” said Ellyn Enderlin, a geosciences professor at Boise State University, who wasn’t part of the study. “This is a really large loss and will have a detrimental effect on coastlines around the world,” said NYU’s David Holland who just returned from Greenland, but is not part of the study.
According to scientists, the year 2012 (and to a different degree 2019 ) was a huge melt year, when the equilibrium between adding and subtracting ice was most out of balance. If Earth starts to undergo more years like 2012, Greenland melt could trigger 30 inches (78 centimeters) of sea level rise, he said. Those two years seem extreme now, but years that look normal now would have been extreme 50 years ago. That’s how climate change works. Today’s outliers become tomorrow’s averages.”