This post was inspired by a discussion I have been having with a reader AC blue eagle
. I decided I needed to post something about Global Warming and its effects, so here is the best I can think of- a run down of 2005 from the perspective of a New Scientist expert on the environment.
Natural disaster was a running theme in 2005 - a year marked by more North Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes since records began, and a string of massive earthquakes. Scientists also warned that the planet is edging closer to irreversible global warming, as ice melts across the planet. [/olivebranch] 2005: The year in environment
* 12:30 29 December 2005
* NewScientist.com news service
* John Pickrell
found at http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8516
The environmental year began with devastation in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, which struck on 26 December 2004. The tsunami claimed 300,000 lives, crippled economies, and wiped out coastal communities from Sri Lanka to Somalia. But it also caused considerable environmental damage, carrying salt water far inland and smashing coral reefs across south-east Asia.
Seismologists warned that the earthquake would be the first of many, and confirmation came first in March when a huge related quake struck Sumatra. Then in October, another gargantuan quake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale levelled swathes of Pakistan and Kashmir. The death toll is 80,000 so far, but winter may take the lives of many more people lacking adequate shelter.
In 2005 climate change was blamed for an increase in tropical weather system severity. Hurricanes such as Dennis, Emily, Rita, Wilma and Stan wrought devastation and repeatedly hit the headlines.
The most damaging was Katrina which tore across the US Gulf Coast, dragging a 6-metre-high storm surge, and created a disaster zone covering 90,000 square miles. 80% of New Orleans disappeared underwater, and the US faced a humanitarian disaster on a scale not seen since the great depression.
The year saw not only an increase in frequency of tropical storms, but also changes in their behaviour, fuelling claims that global warming is to blame. Catarina, which struck Brazil in March, was the first hurricane ever recorded to form over the South Atlantic. Tropical storms from the Americas also found their way to Spain and Africa - another first.
Also in 2005, ice continued to thaw across the planet. In April, researchers announced that 87% of Antarctic glaciers have retreated in the last 50 years. The edges of these ice sheets are now slipping into the ocean at an unprecedented rate. The massive west Antarctic ice sheet is also starting to collapse.
Similarly, in the northern hemisphere, Siberian permafrost covering a million square kilometres is melting into peat bogs, while the extent of Arctic sea ice was lower than it has been in a century.
Disturbingly, in November, a new survey warned that Europe could be flipped into a miniature ice age, if warm ocean currents are knocked off course by rising temperatures. Some experts now predict that within 10 years global warming will become irreversible.
Despite warning signs, many governments have been slow to take decisive action. In July, six non-signatories to Kyoto, including the US and Australia, announced plans to develop "clean energy" technologies rather than emissions caps. In May, G8 leaders agreed that warming is an urgent problem, but did little more.
An international climate conference held in Montreal, Canada, in December was hailed as a qualified success by some. At the meeting, signatories to Kyoto agreed to set tougher targets, and the world's biggest polluter, the US, agreed to continue talks about its own contribution.
While national governments drag their feet, many city and state governments around the world are now setting their own targets for cutting emissions.
During 2005 humans continued to degrade the Earth's environment. The Amazon rainforest continued to be cleared at a rate of 24,000 km2 per year - equivalent to losing an area the size of New York City's Central Park each hour. In October, satellite date presented an even bleaker picture.
Big sporting events were found to leave massive "ecological footprints". Nearly all wild rivers - those unfettered by dams or irrigation systems - are gone. Ever increasing CO2 in the atmosphere is slowly acidifying the oceans, with potentially catastrophic effects on marine life. The seasonal hole in the Arctic ozone layer may have been bigger than ever this year. Also, despite efforts to prevent it, illegal fishing was found to be thriving this year, as was poaching of our closest living relative, the bonobo.
In November, 100 tonnes of chemicals, including benzene, flowed into China's Songhua River after an explosion at a chemical plant. The toxic slick affected the water supply of a number of large Chinese cities, before heading to Russia in December. Another explosion in December at a UK fuel depot, ignited Europe's largest ever peacetime blaze, which burnt for several days and sent a 3-km-high plume of toxic gas in the atmosphere.
It was not all bad news though. In June, the International Whaling Commission voted to uphold the 19-year whaling moratorium, though Japan announced plans to double its "scientific catch" quota of minke whales. In November the UN revealed that reforestation projects around the world had resulted in a small reduction in global deforestation rates. And in February research revealed that Iraq's Mesopotamian marshlands, devastated by damming and draining, are showing renewed signs of life.