Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Global Climate Change

The weather in California lately, reminds me of the changes the Earth is undergoing now. The Greenland ice sheet has been melting and slipping down its bedrock toward the sea faster than expected, particularly during the summer melting season according to NASA scientists. It's sliding faster because melted water from the surface is trickling through 4,000 feet of crevices to the bedrock. There, the meltwater serves as a lubricant between the ice and rock, speeding the ice sheet's journey toward the coast. This process was known for decades to enhance the flow of small mountain glaciers, but was not known to occur in the large ice sheets. Global positioning satellites were used to monitor the ice flow. They found that in the summer of 1999, the rate of movement was 3.5 inches more than the midwinter rate, much faster than it was int eh summer of 1996. This finding raises the possibility that warming global temperatures will accelerate the sheet's flow into the ocean, contributing to higher sea levels. Greenland contains enough ice to raise ocean levels by 20 feet.

Plants are bursting into blossom weeks earlier in England than they have in at least 40 years, according to new research. The premature blooms are the strongest biological signel yet of climate change according to Alistair H. Fitter of the University of York. The researchers compared flowering dates with temperature changes in south-central England over the last 40 years, and found that temperatures for January, February, and March have increased by 1.8 degrees since the 1960s. In the same period, flowering dates have shifted by an average of 5 to 15 days, with some plants blooming earlier. They also begin to sprout further north and at higher elevations, some Alpine flowers are already appearing further up mountain slopes. This is how nature respond to global warming.

We can expect more deadly epidemics due to global warming according to a study by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. Researchers found that climate-related outbreaks are occurring in a wide range of hosts, including corals, birds, oysters, plants and humans.

The number of increases in disease incidence is astonishing according to Richard Ostfeld of the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York.

"We don't want to be alarmists but we are alarmed." he was quoted in Science.

Even slight increases in temperature allow disease-causing viruses, bacteria, and fungi to develop more rapidly. As global temperatures rise, these carreirs are spread into new areas that were previously inhospitable. For example, insects carrying tropical diseases are heading toward the poles. Cold weather has often kept a check on these germs but with shorter, milder winters, more of them are surviving. These changes could lead to the extinction of species and cause more illness in humans.

"It's not only going to be a warmer world, it's going to be a sicker world, " says Andrew Dobson.