The effects of global warming are in some ways less definable than the causes. It seems odd that such huge manifestations of change such as rising sea levels, glacier retreat, and Arctic shrinkage somehow manage to filter down so that when members of western civilization safely tucked away in homes and apartments look at the effects they are so remote as to become invisible. What we may well bear watching are the effects of the effects of global warming. These secondary results are so non-linear as to be a random harvest of environmental and economic dilemmas that, when fully formed and in place present a definitive short-term danger.
Still, let us once again follow a chain of events so as to be able to completely envision the scale and scope of the problem.
Rising sea levels
Rising sea levels are an easily measurable effect of global warming. As Polar ice melts down the water created obviously must go somewhere. Aside from that ice which joins inland fresh water reservoirs, the vast majority of melted ice joins the pool of the oceans. Most people misunderstand the effect of polar meltdown and consider that this addition to our oceans creates the overall rise in sea levels. This is hardly the case. The rise in sea levels due to global warming is primarily caused by thermal expansion. In short when you heat a liquid (such as sea water) it expands. Sea levels are currently on a pace to rise at a rate of approximately 1 inch every ten years. Such a small change seems as if it could never affect quality of life for people living in such distant from the oceans locations as Denver, Colorado.
Yet this is precisely the scenario by which we are all affected. Obviously people living in low laying areas such as coastal Florida and Louisiana will most directly be affected. A one hundred year model that allows for the current progression of global warming factors would result in millions of acres of land mass lost in these areas. Still we have set our viewpoint in the Rocky Mountains not Holland or the eastern coast of England, both of which are teetering at or below sea level.
Salt water intrusion
Our Denver citizen might enjoy bottled water from Zephyrhills, Florida or any of the hundreds of fresh water springs gushing forth in the sunshine state. Salt-water intrusion as a result of rising sea levels could easily destroy a huge percentage of the potable water available in this and other coastal states. Agricultural products of low-lying areas around the world will face shortfalls. Production of fruits and vegetables is dependent on a stable set of environmental conditions. Ever hear of the Indian River? Well most of America’s grapefruit is grown there along the Florida coast and should we follow the expected loss of coastline for all of the Southern US which is projected at a possible 2 mile inward loss of coastline over the next 75 years. Both the Indian River and Indian River Grapefruit will no longer exist. 50% of American produce is grown in our low laying areas. A major effect of global warming is that agricultural production will be decreased. Our planet will be unable to grow as much food.
A major secondary effect of rising sea levels is massive beach erosion. Our Colorado vacationer will find the endless stretches of sandy beaches he enjoys on his winter vacation have withered away to a few hundred yards here and there. But a shortened tourist base is hardly a world catastrophe…is it? Tourism pumps over 50 Billion dollars a year into Florida’s economy. North Carolina and Louisiana earn 15 billion dollars each through tourism. In fact every US state and every nation on Earth with mild climate and a sandy shore depends upon financial gain from tourism to sustain its economy.
Lest we dwell only on financial impact consider that loss of coastal acreage will displace thousands of species of animal and plant life.
Perhaps the most commonly conceived notion as to the effects of global warming is that of cataclysmic weather. In fervor to promote the cause, too often we see graphic depictions of raging floods, category 12 hurricanes and dozens of tornadoes sweeping the landscape. These same depictions seem to serve those who accept the threat of global warming and those who reject the possibility. One agenda hopes to frighten the world into an austere program of self-denial so as to instantly curb global warming causes. The other faction points out that currently there are no typhoons sweeping across Kansas so therefore global warming is a but a myth. As always when dealing with scientific anomalies the truth lies nicely hidden in between.
Category 4 and 5 hurricanes have risen in frequency from 20 to 35% over the last 30 years. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, frequency of hurricanes overall has risen by almost 40% and the those hurricanes now making landfall deposit almost 10% more rainfall than their pre 1970 counterparts. As an effect of global warming hurricanes are stronger, wetter and more numerous. Hurricane Fay from 2007 created massive flooding over a dozen states. This increase in storm activity is directly related to a wider variance between warm and cold ocean waters. Consider that the measurement of temperature rise in ocean waters is based on an overall average. Storms are created by the extremes that create that average.
Global warming produces as byproducts, variance in the jet stream, wind sheer, greater quantity of cyclones, and drought.
If we increase the temperature of the air it is able to absorb more moisture in the form of water vapor. If we cool the air that vapor becomes liquid and falls to the earth as rain. The greater the amount of water vapor the atmosphere absorbs the greater the amount of rainfall we will receive during the normal process of reaching a dew point or other yard stick of precipitation. This increased rainfall results in drastically increased erosion. Areas such as Colorado’s Platte River long noted for the devastation following its hundred-year floods can in no way accommodate that same volume of water arriving every decade. Erosion is vulnerable tropical areas such as Africa results in native plant life dying off and a resultant desertification.
Evaporation, by definition is a cooling process. So why then is this increased evaporation not countering global warming? Because the water vapor that enters the atmosphere counters the cooling process while acting as a greenhouse gas. It should be pointed out that change in climate for targeted areas can often result in a plus side modification meaning that adding water to dry areas usually results in those areas being able to support vegetation.
Destabilization of local climates
The overall destabilization of local climates is a major effect of global warming. The Arctic is home to over 4 million people. Canada, Russia, and Alaska are dealing with a tremendous rise in bacterial growth as permafrost regions warm.
Glaciers in the northern hemisphere have decreased in size by 50% over the last 100 years. This particular meltdown has resulted in landslides; flash floods and lake overflow through out the Andes, Alps, Pyrenees, Himalayas, and Rocky Mountains. These seasonal meltdowns are followed by seasonal droughts. Global warming creates climate extremes. We may measure the average but we live with the outcome of the extremes. The slow steady melting of the Himalayas results in the steady flow of water of the Ganges River. The Ganges is the lifeblood of over 500 million people. To say this plainly, if we melt all of our fresh water too quickly and send it out to blend with the ocean billions of people, including our friend in Denver, Colorado will go thirsty.
Our Oceans are the Earth’s largest sink for the absorption of CO2 from our atmosphere. As excess CO2 is dealt with, the oceans in an effort to balance the ecosystem have become saturated with CO2. This has resulted in production of mild carbonic acid and is known as ocean acidification. While this is an extremely slight change in the ph (acid to base) balance of the seas it does result in damage to corals. Coral reefs are home to the vast majority of undersea life.
Ocean acidification coincides with Oxygen depletion in our oceans. Heavier CO2 molecules are supplanting oxygen. Less oxygen equals less fish.
As temperature swings increase we are left with flooding in some areas and drought in others the drought creates correct conditions for forest fires. These fires, like our hurricanes, are suddenly emerging on a much grander scale. The 2009 fires raging through Australia and the 2002 fires in Florida serve as excellent examples. Massive fires release much more carbon as both particle and molecule than can readily be absorbed. Once again prevalent anti global warming as reality belief is that these fires can only be considered a natural effect of the ecosystem and as the forests are a naturally renewing resource should be discounted as an effect of global warming. However with global warming defined as a premise of additional stress on our environment we come to realize that it is not the existence of a naturally made fire but the scale of that event that matters.