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Climate at record extremes

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    Fw: [fuelcell-energy] ... Climate at record extremes Dec. 6, 2005. 04:18 AM PETER CALAMAI SCIENCE REPORTER MONTREAL—This is shaping up as the year the
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 6, 2005
      Fw: [fuelcell-energy]

      ---------- Forwarded Message ----------
      Climate at record extremes
      Dec. 6, 2005. 04:18 AM
      PETER CALAMAI
      SCIENCE REPORTER


      MONTREAL�This is shaping up as the year the battered earth hit back,
      wreaking havoc with record weather extremes that almost certainly
      spring from global climate change.

      Scientists at the U.N. conference on climate change here will make
      public today this unprecedented litany for 2005:

      The hottest year, with the global average temperature already
      slightly warmer than 1998, the current record year.

      The most Arctic melting, with satellite photos showing the smallest
      area ever remaining covered by perennial sea ice at the end of summer.

      The worst Atlantic hurricane season, with the most named tropical
      storms (26), most hurricanes (14), most top-category hurricanes (5)
      and most expensive hurricane damage.

      The warmest Caribbean waters, with weeks-long high temperatures
      causing extensive bleaching of coral reefs.

      The driest year for many decades in the Amazon, where a continuing
      drought may surpass anything in the past century. The western United
      States is also suffering from prolonged drought.

      As well, climate researchers from a dozen countries will soon report
      that it's been getting warmer at night over two-thirds of the earth's
      land mass since 1950.

      "We are seeing the fingerprints of climate change on the physical
      world," said Lara Hansen, chief climate change scientist for the
      international arm of WWF, formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund.

      Hansen said the five record extremes were even more striking because
      they happened in widely separated parts of the world and involved
      different physical forces.

      "This isn't a domino effect, with the warm Caribbean causing Arctic
      ice to melt. We have a lot of these things going on simultaneously
      and they've all been predicted as consequences of climate change,"
      she said in an interview.

      Hansen and colleagues compiled the list of extreme weather records
      from official sources, including U.S. government agencies and the
      World Meteorological Organization.

      Their sombre interpretation is widely shared among climate
      researchers and even by the global insurance industry.

      "This doesn't prove in a mathematical sense that these were caused by
      climate change triggered by human activities. But it's exceedingly
      unlikely that all these things are happening by chance," said Gordon
      McBean, organizer of a Canadian climate science session here last
      week.

      "All this is what climate scientists have been warning would happen,"
      said McBean, a former head of the Meteorological Service of Canada
      and chair of the federal agency that funds university climate
      research.

      Most climate scientists say the rising global temperatures of the
      past 50 years are directly linked to increasing atmospheric levels of
      carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases generated by human
      activities, such as burning fossil fuels. This global warming is
      triggering widespread climate change.

      The global mean temperature so far this year is six-one-hundredths of
      a degree Celsius higher than the 1998 level, the current record. To
      make the calculation in October, climatologists with NASA's Goddard
      Institute for Space Studies combined readings from 7,200 weather
      stations around the world.

      The global average temperatures are ranked relative to the long-term
      average temperature between 1950 and 1980 so there are no absolute
      numbers.

      The record could still elude 2005 but only if a major volcanic
      eruption blanketed the globe with sun-blocking ash before the end of
      the month, causing world temperatures to plunge.

      Unlike the whisker-thin temperature margin, the intense Atlantic
      hurricane season demolished previous records. The 26 tropical storms
      exhausted all the names from the regular alphabet. Officials switched
      to the Greek alphabet and are now tracking Hurricane Epsilon, about
      800 kilometres southwest of the Azores.

      Epsilon continued to defy forecasters' expectations yesterday,
      refusing to die as it moved over increasingly colder water in the
      North Atlantic.

      In the Arctic, perennial sea ice, the thicker slabs that normally
      don't disappear in the summer, covered 1.3 million square kilometres
      less in September than the 20-year historical average � leaving a
      Peru-sized area as additional open water.

      In addition to the WWF list, a team of two dozen international
      climate researchers have produced the first global picture of changes
      over the past 50 years in minimum and maximum daily temperatures,
      called temperature extremes.

      The Canadian member of the team, federal research scientist Xuebin
      Zhang, said temperature extremes "are what cause the problems in our
      daily lives.

      "When we see increases in maximum temperatures we automatically think
      that heat waves are more likely," Zhang said in an interview from
      Downsview, headquarters for federal climate research.

      The exhaustive study gathered historical records from more than 2,200
      temperature stations and nearly 6,000 precipitation stations around
      the world for the period 1951 to 2003. The research paper will appear
      in the Journal of Geophysical Research (Atmospheres).

      The insurance industry is also taking a keen interest in extreme
      weather and climate change. Weather-related insurance losses around
      the world so far this year total $200 billion (U.S.), according to an
      industry report issued on the weekend.

      The amount is three times higher than any previous year, said Peter
      Hoeppe of Munich Re, a company based in Germany that backs up the
      policies of other insurers.

      Some of the increase is due to higher populations and wealth, but "if
      you look at the number of weather events, independent of increasing
      wealth, they go up � a signal to us of being caused by climate
      change," Hoeppe said.

      Also at the climate conference yesterday, the American National
      Wildlife Federation warned the U.S. government must get serious about
      climate change, citing disasters like Hurricane Katrina in August.

      President George W. Bush is increasingly out of step with Americans
      who are experiencing impacts on their jobs, homes and recreation,
      they said.

      With files from Peter Gorrie

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