Adapting to +4˚C

2009-04-04

in Politics, Science, The environment

High-key shamrock leaves

New Scientist has an interesting piece on what might be involved in adapting to a 4˚C increase in mean global temperature – a level twice that considered by most to be the threshold of danger. Some of the more dramatic projections include: “Alligators basking off the English coast; a vast Brazilian desert; the mythical lost cities of Saigon, New Orleans, Venice and Mumbai; and 90 per cent of humanity vanished.” The piece rightly stresses that the adaptation challenge depends on both the speed of change and the degree, and that some levels of climate change are not compatible with maintaining populations or civilizations comparable to those that exist today. It focuses intensely on water availability as a key determinant for the habitability of large parts of the globe.

While the details of this assessment are far more speculative than the science that shows a 4˚C rise to be possible, given continued fossil fuel use, it does seem worthwhile to be seriously contemplating what different future scenarios might involve. On the one hand, doing so might help us prepare. On the other, it should help us more viscerally comprehend the consequences of inaction.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

alena April 5, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Is that lovely and fragile green beauty the shamrock from my visit? It seems to have survived although you felt it was doomed. That is good news.

Milan April 5, 2009 at 6:18 pm

It’s the same shamrock, lit with a Lumiquest Softbox III atop a Canon 430EX II flash.

My sense of doom was over the longer term. My plants generally linger for months or years, but eventually succumb.

. February 15, 2012 at 11:34 am

Prehistoric, lush ecosystem thrived in northern Arctic; Swamp creatures once populated Ellesmere Island

Two Canadian scientists have completed a comprehensive portrait of the lush, rainforest-like ecosystem – populated by prehistoric creatures akin to alligators, hippos and flying lemurs – that prevailed some 40 million years ago in what is now Canada’s northernmost land mass: Ellesmere Island.

The study of hundreds of fossilized species, published in the latest issue of the journal Geological Society of America Bulletin, paints a picture of the ancient Arctic that contrasts sharply with the barren and bone-chilling place it is today.

But Ellesmere Island’s rugged and windswept terrain, a bleak domain now ruled by the shaggy muskox, was once teeming with a diverse array of plant and animal life in a long-lost world that’s only recognizable today from Earth’s southern latitudes.

Glimpses of Ellesmere’s extinct rainforest have been provided in previous scientific studies, including several by Saskatchewan-born paleontologist Jaelyn Eberle. Now a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and curator of fossil vertebrates at the university’s natural history museum, Eberle co-authored the new GSA Bulletin paper with Manitoba scientist David Greenwood, a paleobiologist at Brandon University.

Their exhaustive inventory of the known flora and fauna of the Eocene Arctic, a period that lasted from about 50 million to 38 million years ago, reveals what Eberle calls – in refreshingly unscientific phrasing – “a pretty amazing place” at the northern extreme of the future Canada.

“Who would have guessed we had all of those turtle species and primates living in the ancient Arctic?” Eberle told Postmedia News, adding that, “despite all of the fossil discoveries though, there are still a lot of questions unanswered. The Canadian Arctic was, and still is, the last frontier for paleontology.”

Among the unexpected inhabitants of ancient Ellesmere was the coryphodon, a semi-aquatic mammal resembling the modern hippopotamus and known from fossilized bone and teeth found on the High Arctic island.

Even though Ellesmere was situated nearly as close to the North Pole 50 million years ago as it is today, the coryphodon – notable for its massive size and fang-like tusks – lived in temperate, swampy forests that thrived in the greenhouse-heated planet of the Eocene age.

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