Killing a Hurricane

A thought came to me as I was staring at the sky the other day. I was watching the plumes of cumulus rise over the mountains and was thinking about the water molecules as they started off warm at the base of the mountain and through orographic lifting, how the speed and collision of the molecules changed with temperature and pressure.

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Figure 1. Cumulus towering over the Appalachian mountains. 

 As I was thinking about this I started thinking about that one movie GeoStorm. I remember the trailer for the movie and in the beginning, it shows a hurricane. Via satellite, something is dropped into the storm and the system disorganizes and dies. But would that be a good idea? like, would it be smart (technology provided) to kill hurricanes as they make their way across the ocean? I guess the best place to start is to know what the purpose of a Hurricane or other Tropical storm is.

Whats a Hurricane?

Before we branch off into the world of possibilities that might occur on Earth if we start disrupting nature, we should know what a hurricane is and why we have complex systems like these disturbances to begin with. I don’t plan on getting into the actual science of hurricane genesis or the ingredients needed to make a hurricane, however, there is one idea that I want you to keep in your mind. Our planet does some absolutely fantastic things, one of which is its ability to regulate temperature between the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

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Figure 2. Diagram showing where most heat energy is absorbed in different latitudes.

The planet is not heated equally because we live on a round planet (really an elongated spheroid). As our Sun’s radiation travels through space, it comes in contact with our planet. Look at the picture again and think about this for a second or two. At higher latitudes, the Sun’s rays travel through the atmosphere but the radiation is transferred over a longer area in either hemisphere. Try this, take a flashlight and hold it so that it is shining straight down. Now tilt the flashlight. The amount of light coming from the flashlight (Sun) has not changed, however, the spread of the light and thus available energy did. This means that over a longer area, less energy is available because it has to be used over a larger one. So now there is a flux of energy at the equator, and this extra energy has to be distributed and carried to the cooler parts of the world* via a Hurricane

* Keep in mind that the ocean takes longer to heat up, but it is also very slow to lose heat energy. The oceans hold a lot of energy and are the primary driving force when it comes to atmospheric circulations and thus surface weather conditions. Check out my blog about Oceans and Climate Change 

Tipping the scales.

As human technologies get more advanced, we as a species are able to survive diseases and illnesses that once would have killed us but now are easily cured by modern medicine. As populations grow the probability of death and economic loss will become more threatening, especially when something like a hurricane can cause some hefty damage. Just look at Last years season. Let’s say in our hypothetical situation that humans have engineered new technologies and were able to kill Tropical storms before they caused destruction to human civilizations, and save governments billions of dollars every year. Sounds well and good but what would the consequences of these actions be? Over a long period of time, I would hypothesize that things may actually seem to go back to normal ( before high emissions of co2) in that we may see more Arctic Sea ice return in the Northern Hemisphere, but will it stay there?

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Figure 3. Map of ice sheets and glaciers during an Ice Age.

If the Northern Hemisphere would continue to get colder and colder, over time the sea ice and glaciers may penetrate into lower latitudes. As glaciers form and work their way down into North America, like it did in the last Ice Ages, there would be an increased flux of outgoing radiation. This is because Ice and snow have a high albedo (reflectivity), this is why you may need sunglasses after a freshly fallen snow. The Sun’s energy is not being absorbed by the snow thus making heat energy but rather it is being reflected back into space. We call this a positive feedback. The Sun’s energy is being reflected because of the snow and allows more snow and ice to form covering a larger area thus reflecting more energy and dropping the temperatures further.

A hurricane is a storm but also a very strong Low-pressure system. Disrupting pressure systems and upper-level air movement of the troposphere could and most likely change patterns that cause our low and high-pressure systems as well as locations of such systems. These High and low-pressure systems are what directly influence surface weather conditions and location of precipitation patterns. With a cooling down North America, we may pressure and temperature gradients weaken. With a weakening polar jet more cold Arctic air is allowed to travel further south and mid-latitude cyclones like the Alberta clipper may become more frequent.

Is it possible?

I really don’t like to say that something is “impossible” but the probability of any success is very very unlikely.  As mentioned before these storms do not happen by accident, nor are they made to kill us. It all comes down to the reality of physics and other natural phenomena. The fact is that the planet heats up more in the middle and the build-up of heat must go somewhere. They move because of temperature gradient differences in the ocean as well as the atmosphere, rotate because of the spinning of the earth beneath them, gain immense amounts of energy from the almost endless available energy (the ocean via evaporation),  gain speed from the almost frictionless ocean beneath, and grow to amazing heights when midlevel winds are weak allowing mass divergence in the upper part of the atmosphere.

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Figure 3. Anatomy of a Hurricane.

The thing that would have to happen ( I would think) is the need to make the lower levels ( surface – 850 MB) cold almost instantly. Step one to making a hurricane: initiate lift. I would suggest that the first thing I would want to do is make the lower level air less buoyant than the air aloft. Since the air would be cooler it would prevent the storm from gaining energy from the ocean from evaporation. Evaporating and condensing water molecules is how the energy from the sun is able to be transferred to the storm from the ocean. Now, how you would actually do that? I don’t know. I’m just theorizing here.

Our future?

Its hard to say what chain of events would inevitably unfold if humans took matters into their own hands and start altering natural weather phenomenon, but I do feel that there would be long-term negative effects. It may be plausible that we could go into another cold period or even a full-blown Ice Age. I am not saying that these things will happen but everything in the physical world is connected and show a correlation between one physical property to the next. This means that alterations in the atmosphere directly influence the ocean and then back to the atmosphere.

This is just a single idea of what could happen. Many more situations could come forth and pose huge risks for humanity. Populations of animals may decrease, Migrating patterns of fish could be altered and pose economic as well as sovereign security issues, changes in atmospheric circulations and rain patterns may also be caused in response to these changes, ocean chemistry could be altered, and climate refugees would skyrocket as people would need to move to an area that can support them.

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Precipitation changes. Part III: Droughts

Changing Patterns

One of the most amazing things about our planet is its ability to rain life. Precipitation patterns and the lack thereof are probably one of the most direct and personal dangers that we feel from anthropogenic climate change. Changing patterns can either bring new precipitation patterns or disrupt existing ones. The ocean plays such an important role when it comes to precipitation events. With the ocean behind the driver’s seat, we understand that it directs atmospheric circulations and the transport of evaporated water. Some countries don’t have the luxury, and I don’t say that loosely, of consistent precipitation patterns. Countries like Africa and parts of India are absolutely dependent on seasonal rains and changes in SST anomalies could alter atmospheric circulation patterns, thus change the location of specific rain evens. This could also mean that with warmer oceans more water is able to be evaporated and so rain events could be more instance. This may sound good, especially for such countries that are so dependent, but this raises the risk of disasters like flooding events and Mudslides. The big issue when it comes to changing precipitation patterns are water shortages. As populations continue to grow, water and water resources become increasingly scarce. Water is such an important resource and for most of us goes unthought of. However, this is a very big issue affecting many parts of the world, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere. A good understanding of Atmospheric Circulations can be fun and informative. I watch all of this professor’s lectures online. This one specifically focuses on Atmospheric circulations, but he goes into great detail in topics that are important to understanding in meteorology. The lack of water puts stress on the individual as well as economic securities.

water      Map representation of where and what kind of water stresses around the world.

Cape Town Africa

Cape town Africa is one of the most prosperous cities in South Africa with over 3.78 million people. Cape Town is undergoing a 3-year drought and could be the first city in the world to run out of water. Journalists describe the scene as a war zone with hundreds lined up with buckets to fill for their families. Water rations are given at 50 liters per person that may be used for drinking and sanitation but no more. These rations are controlled and very strictly enforced by authority figures which then leads to tension between the public and public officials. In Cape Towns drought, the shortage of rain is a big factor but not the only one. It has been observed (not only Cape town) that temperatures are increasing in Africa. With increasing temperatures comes a faster rate of evaporation and with both these factors in play comes a very real situation. This makes land dry and farming very difficult. By the beginning of summer 2018, the water will stop flowing from the spickets. This marks “Day Zero” the point when the water reservoirs dip below 13.5% capacity. The remaining water will be used in Hospitals. So, what happens when Day Zero comes? Water rations will be cut down to 25 liters per person per day, and people must get their water from personal water sources or one of the 200 watering stations. That’s about an 18,000-person line per station every day.

People queue to collect water as fears over the city's water crisis grow in Cape Town        People waiting in lines at designated water refill locations.

Poverty and Starvation

One of the most direct and personal effects that a drought can have on a population is its effects on food production. When we start to see shifting rain patterns, we may see parts of the world experience droughts that can put millions of people in danger. Africa is experiencing these effects now and there are no signs of letting up. Food and water securities are major issues when it comes to the overall health of a population. The effects of food shortages impact people on so many different levels. When people are malnourished, they are more likely to contract diseases that can further prohibit nutrients to be absorbed properly and accelerate malnutrition. Mothers who may not be getting the vitamins and nutrition that they need can pass some diseases down to their offspring, or if the infant is still reliant on breast milk, the mother won’t be able to provide nourishment. The fact that Africa is such a densely populated area and that most of Africa resides in Arid regions makes it very sensitive to human-induced climate change and will greatly feel the impacts.

Types of droughts

Since we are talking about droughts It should be noted that there are different types of droughts that can have a direct impact on an area. It is important to understand this because climate change does not just affect a single feature, they are interconnected with other features that can impact others in a chain of interconnectivity. So, when meteorologists speak of droughts, it may not just mean that there is little or no rain.  A Meteorological drought consists of the degree of dryness in comparison to the local average. This pertains to the amount of precipitation an area receives and how much evaporation is taking place. The second classification for a drought is called an Agricultural Drought. This links precipitation totals to agriculture and the stress that it may cause. It also means that there are shortages in groundwater as well as water reservoirs which In Cape Town and many parts of Africa, this is the more dominant influence. The last two are Hydrological and social-economical droughts. Hydrological droughts are classified when there is little discharge from streams and rivers lasting months or years. A Social-economical drought happens when the demand for goods are suppressed and exceed the supply of goods because of weather conditions. Most of Africa is suffering from more than one of these classifications. A large part of it has to deal with decreasing precipitation amounts and increasing evaporation amounts, like that of wells, dams, or other water storing reservoirs. Learn more about Droughts

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Analisis and projections of water reserve amounts of the 6 most important dams in South Africa.

Climate Change isn’t Fair

It is said in the climate change societies that climate change is not fair. But what do we mean when we say “It is not fair?” the best example to use is Africa. Africa, in general, is under serious threat because of their huge population when it comes to changing rain patterns. There are over 106.8 million people in danger of starvation in Sierra Leone, Niger, and Democratic Republic of Congo alone. Africa is what is considered a country with high Vulnerability.  There are different criteria for vulnerability but the main points that rank a countries level of vulnerability are as follows. One is the countries exposure to climate stress.  Since Africa is located in a geological region that naturally favors Arid or semi-dry climates, that is less than 120 days of a growing season, the burden of climate stress is greatly felt. With such a highly populated region of the world, food is a very important issue and a cause for great concern when it comes to anthropogenic climate change.

1024px-Desertification_mapExpanding desert regions due to precipitation patterns and increasing temperatures.

These areas of arid and semi-dry regions are expected to increase by 11% because of increasing temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns as well as atmospheric circulation changes, furthering the burden and stress. This brings in the second feature for identifying a region’s vulnerability, that is the sensitivity to the exposure. The fact that Africa is such a densely populated and that most of Africa resides in Arid regions makes it very sensitive to human-induced climate change and will greatly feel the impacts. This means that small fluctuations in either precipitation fall or other biophysical connections can have great impacts on either social or economic levels. For instance, expanding arid regions means that some countries may have to migrate further North or south to farm. However, if they reach their countries limits they risk war with neighboring countries and starving their own people. This may also drive the cost of food up or may mean that more water is needed to farm, thus making less water available for drinking and sanitation. The third criteria is a country’s Adaptive capabilities, that is how well is the country able to react to the stress induced by climate change, and ways that they can relieve stresses. This is not always an easy thing. This requires cooperation from the people and governments. If the governments are not willing to do all they can or if the country has very little money or resources (which is the case for Africa) adaptive capabilities can be low and the chance to mitigate issues even lower. A lot of the information I got from this blog can be located in The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society. Its actually a very useful book and goes into great detail in complex topics. Unfortunately, I could not find a free version online but you can order it here. If you are interested in these topics I highly recommend it. Get the Book

Final Thoughts

The issue of poverty and starvation in 3rd world countries have been an issue for far too long. As populations continue to increase, the available amount of food slowly decreases. With climate change now in the mix, things start to accelerate faster in the wrong direction. The question is what do we do about it? And is it the job of developed countries to help developing countries? In my personal opinion, I do think that more developed countries help the less developed. I don’t think that this means that we need to ship all of our supplies overseas or send billions of dollars, but we should help them with technological developments. Take Cape town Africa again for instance. They have a huge mountain range close by that pretty much has its own climate. It is almost always foggy because of orographic lifting. That is water right there for the talking. They just may need a little assistance in developing a way to harness that natural water. That’s the kind of thing that I feel we all should do, not just the United States, but all countries. If you see someone needing help and your fully able to help, then why not help? When I first started this blog I really didn’t know what to make of it. I mean I knew about it but to actually dig deep into the issue and understanding how and why the planet’s systems are so closely correlated made everything fit together like a puzzle.

Changes in solar radiation output because of anthropogenic warming will change geophysical landscapes in the Arctic. Warming waters affect everything from ecosystems to changes in ocean chemistry and temperatures. Changes in temperatures will alter precipitation patterns that will affect where and how much rain places get. Storms may become more deadly and with populations growing, more people are at risk and can cripple the economy of a nation putting additional stress on the population and amplify starvation. Effects on food production will affect the coupling food, population, and sovereign securities. The main thing I have learned while doing all this research is how delicate everything is and how related they are. There is nothing we do that doesn’t have consequences, good or bad. When we get sick our body reacts to the problem and will react in a way to benefit its self. It is very possible that we have evolved to become a virus to this host. The Earth has been around for millions of years. It will be here when I die and when you die. If we do not take action and learn to work with our planet rather then against it, it is likely that we will need to go. It is such ignorance to think that the Earth needs us to survive when in fact, it is our home and we need it in order to live. It’s our home and it about time we start taking care of it.

MQWX.

 

Changes in Precipitation patterns Part II Extreme Weather

 

 

Storm Frequency

We know that the planet tries to regulate an equilibrium between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres by transporting and distributing heat. Earth is able to do this because of ocean currents like the Gulf stream and through atmospheric circulations like the Subtropical and Polar jet streams. The Earth also has a unique, beautiful, and sometimes deadly way of transporting this heat energy. Depending on what part of the world they occur; Hurricanes, Typhoons and Tropical cyclones are storms that transport large amounts of heat energy in the form of latent heat. When SSTs and atmospheric conditions are just right, large amounts of energy are taken from the oceans Via evaporation. This energy will be carried in the form of Tropical Cyclones and carried poleward where it will later be released.

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Figure 1. Map showing the Average path of tropical cyclones

Although we cannot say 100% that with climate change we will see bigger storms because of warmer waters (not long enough data sets), climate scientists are more confident in model predictions when greenhouse gas emissions are incorporated, that is an increase in storm intensity of 2% – 11% by 2100. Please note that this does not mean that we will see increased cyclonic activity or that from here on out we will see stronger superstorms. This research suggests that we will see an Increased Frequency of strong storms during a given season. That is, the probability of stronger storms (CAT 4 – 5) are more likely to occur. This can make already vulnerable populations more at risk for crippling and destructive hurricane impacts. (NOAA)

Puerto Rico

The 2017 hurricane season was an eye-opener once again to the United States as we watched an explosive line of hurricanes at one time make their way across the Atlantic, bringing large amounts of damage to the United States and Island territories. The season set the record for most expensive season totaling $282.16 billion dollars in damages, as well as setting records for longest maintained storm intensity with hurricane Irma. This season was also the first time on record that two category 4 storms made landfall in the continental United States. Insurance agencies around the world have reported increasing payouts when it comes to storm damages and are losing money because of it. The United States has been fortunate with Hurricanes, not to say that we haven’t had our share in storm impacts, as seen clearly with Katrina and now Harvey, but our ability to bounce back from such disasters are high. This, however, is not the case for other countries and territories scattered over the Atlantic. There are several reasons why. A countries resources become a very dominant factor in its ability to recuperate and mitigate threats and future threats. Another very big difference between, let’s say the United States and Puerto Rico, is that in the United States we have the ability to get far away from danger zones. Other countries don’t have that luxury and must “Batten down the hatches”. This means that there are enhanced risks for drowning and loss of life in general.

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Figure 2. Hurricane Maria passes over Puerto Rico as well as the path of Irma.

When Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico in late September it left a wide range of devastation in its wake. Covering the whole Island and even knocking out weather radars and cell 87phone towers making communication almost impossible, Puerto Rico was slammed with sustained winds of 155 mph. When the winds died, Hurricane Maria left over 80% of the islands electrical grid destroyed which led to more than half the island without power. When power outages occur they have more connected issues then just you sitting in the dark, especially in highly vulnerable locations like islands in the Atlantic. Power outages are a very serious problem because so many necessities are driven by power. Pumping water in homes (drinking, flushing toilets, and sanitation), power to hospitals (life support, medication machinery), and even storing medications. Sewage pumps and failures can occur which can lead to contaminated water, thus making it unsafe to drink and conduct search and rescue operations.

Storm surge

Storm surge is one of the deadliest factors in play when an area is affected by a hurricane or Tropical cyclone. This happens because as the storm moves over the ocean waters it pushes water along with it. This means consistent high waves and ocean levels that can break over protective barriers (if equipped). Storm surge is an increasing problem that can affect millions of people at one time. With rising sea levels, the deadlier the storm surge becomes. This is because flooding can move further inland than before and can cause a wider spread of damage. With the combination of rising sea levels and the probability of more intense storm activity, we may see much deadlier storm surge events in a changing climate. A way to combat this issue is through mitigation. Seawall construction can be a solution, however, it is expensive and for a seawall to become effective for an area it must stretch the entire parameter of the coastline. With increased storm activities the storms can cause geophysical destruction to coastlines and to forests. The erosion of beaches also raises concerns because the increased erosion caused by tropical cyclones make beaches narrower and more importantly lowers the elevation of the land making it more vulnerable to storm surge. This means that coastal properties and tourism are more likely to feel direct effects of rising sea levels and storm surge. Storm surge is a very important topic when connecting the dots between the storm and other impacts on populations and infrastructure. I found several sites that may further explain how this issue can be so critical to these systems. Storm Surge     Economical impact.

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Figure 3. Animated model of a Hurricane and Storm surge.

Landslides

Landslides are a destructive force of nature, although they are not storms, the frequency of them can be caused by humans. Deforestation is an increasing problem in some developing nations. Haiti is a good example of how deforestation and natural disasters can disrupt everyday life.  Despite many different setbacks, this developing nation has deforestation posses’ a big problem for the country. Haiti is the poorest developing country in the Western Hemisphere and over 60% of the population below the national poverty line. (CIA Factbook) There are multiple reasons for this deforestation. One oil is expensive to buy so the country relies on other forms of energy, coal. They cut and burn their trees to make coal to burn for energy leaving large areas of open land. Second is areas are cleared out to make room for farming and agricultural purposes. Trees and their roots hold the soil together, so when an area is affected by deforestation, the land becomes loose. With a high-frequency precipitation event like a hurricane, the loose soil becomes mud. Mudslides and landslides can leave enormous amounts of damage in their path and continue to add stress to the population.

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Figure 4.  satellite view of Deforestation in Haiti 

Wildfires

Although wildfires may not seem like an extreme weather event, I think it is important to discuss because wildfires can become mo

re frequent in a changing climate and can be very destructive and can disrupt populations and ecosystems. When precipitation patterns are changed some areas may experience less rainfall or even a shift from seasonal rain events like the Indian Monsoons. When an area is under dry conditions the probability of potential dangerous wildfires can increase. Now, this can be because of human carelessness but I’m talking about having the right conditions for fires to start due to dry conditions. In addition, the risk of fires being started by lightning strikes can increase due to more severe weather events. (NCA4 ).This is an increasing issue in Alaska and other tundra areas. Since we are seeing more snowmelt and less snowfall, more of the bare earth is exposed. Boral forests and tundra areas contain large amounts of stored carbon that can be released during a wildfire. Wildfires obviously pose direct and indirect effects on human populations. They can destroy crops as well as property damage leaving peoples livelihoods ingulfed in flames. If a fire is large enough it will dilute the quality of air which can cause serious health effects to people with emphysema or asthma as well as complicate breathing to people with no pre-existing complications. With any stressful situation, things may become overwhelming and may lead you to make fatal mistakes. I attached an article that talks about how you can better prepare for any disaster. Practice makes perfect and knowing what to do before disaster strikes may save your life. Click Here for additional preparation and safety tips. Storms are as amazing as they are deadly and should be taken seriously. Storms like hurricanes are necessary to maintain an equilibrium between the Northern and Southern hemispheres so it isn’t that hard to see that an imbalance caused by humans may lead to the planet having to equalize the difference.

Changes in Precipitation Patterns Part I. Flooding

When it rains it pours.

When we see temperatures rise we can expect more water to be held in the atmosphere. We also could expect more evaporation in the oceans caused by increasing SSTs. “When it rains, it pours.” Is a common phrase that we use loosely, but the phrase can have some truth with it, well, for weather that is. Over the past century, we have been fascinated by weather and observing as well as collecting data. When we look at rainfall amounts over the years there is little fluctuation in the amount of rain some areas may get. However, when we look at the data more closely we notice that in some areas the number of rainy days decreases, but the amount of rainfall in a given event increases. This is showing that there may be changes in the way our planet distributes water. When taking a look at the statistics provided here  regarding precipitation amounts and for many other weather-related data sets, the evidence starts to add up. Changes in rain patterns will cause floods, droughts, and even intensify cyclone rain amounts. They will be deadly as well as costly to both population and national securities.

heavy-precip-figure2-2016.pngFigure 1. This graph tracks the frequency of heavy precipitation events in the United States.

Nuisance Floods

The increased chance of “nuisance” flooding events surfaces as higher precipitation events increase. These are flooding events that usually take place in low lying areas or areas located next to rivers. These events can also be triggered by rising ocean levels and the presence of a full moon. When areas are flooded, not only are they expensive and pose direct health hazards, they also erode topsoil rich in nutrients that farmers depend on. This means that an increase in nuisance flooding events in some areas can directly affect agriculture and thus the population.

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A flooded road by a river during a heavy rain event.

Agriculture is one of the most important systems within a human population, after all, we all must eat. As human social patterns change and larger populations within groups (cities) form, our dependence on a reliable food source becomes increasingly significant. Agriculture is critical, the balance between to much rain and not enough can disrupt populations, economics, security’s (vital, sovereign), and overall public health. Flooding of farmlands creates problems in multiple systems. One for the population dependent on crop production, and two the crop itself. When flooding occurs, it can deplete the soils oxygen levels that can have fatal consequences to the crops. Cool wet soil also increases the probability of the crops contracting diseases that would render the crops useless. The use of pesticides and other chemicals are widely used in today’s farms, so when flooding does happen, these toxins are then washed away into streams, lakes and other water sources. This increases the pollution factor and can affect small communities as well as the ecosystems in nearby water sources. Bangladesh is very vulnerable to this kind of threat. Since they are located in low lying areas, they are more prone to severe flooding events. I found a pretty good article Here that may shed some light on the severity of this issue, not only from a humanitarian point of view but also an economic point of view.

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Figure 2. Flood in Bangladesh that killed 70 and displaced 200,000.

Pakistan floods

Many climate scientists seem to be confident in the amplification of intense cyclonic activity but are even more confident that we will see much more precipitation being produced from these storms and an increase in flooding events (NOAA) The 2017 hurricane season was one for the record books. It was the most expensive season to date ($282.22 Billion), and the greatest number of consecutive hurricanes in a season since 1851. Hurricane Harvey also broke the record in the United States with the highest precipitation falling at a total of 60.48 inches, but flooding is not just limited to hurricane events. Pakistan ranks 9th in flood-affected countries and in the summer of 2010 these effects were certainly felt. Pakistan is located in a region that experiences monsoon periods that bring relief to India and Pakistan. Many scientists at the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) agree that there are linkages between warm ocean temperatures, record-breaking temperatures in Russia, and ENSO phases that have led to deadly flooding in Pakistan. In the summer of 2010, the Northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa received more than 274 mm of rainfall in 24 hrs.

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Figure 3. Areas affected by the Indus river flooding. 

Now, this may not seem like a lot of rainfall but these heavily populated areas reside next to major water sources. The Indus river runs right through this area. When that much rain falls, the rivers overfill and flood the adjacent areas. This single flooding event cost more than $43 billion dollars and would take the lives of 1,781 people. Unfortunately, the situation was not given much care with other nations in relief. The damages were more than $43 billion, but the Pakistani government only asked the UN for $460 million in relief funds and were only given 20% of what they asked. This, in my opinion, is very dangerous. When aid is not provided then there will be reproductions too the country affected as well as neighboring countries if many people are forced from their livelihoods ( Climate Refugees ). This occurs when a group of people are forced out of their homes due to climatic issues. (floods, droughts, fires, storms)

Increase of Disease

When storms and floods damage infrastructure they slow down progressive movements to aid in relief. When roads are damaged or flooded out, trucks carrying food, fresh water, and medical supplies cannot reach their destination. This puts many people at risk as well as emergency response teams that may have to find another way in or out of a city. Physical storm damage is also very expensive. This means that money that could have been used in storm preparation or mitigation now must be used in repairing infrastructure. Flooding can cause sanitation systems to fail. If these systems malfunction freshwater sources may become contaminated and unable to be used putting additional stress on affected populations. Flooding also poses another issue, disease. When severe flooding occurs, it increases the chances of contracting a disease or sickness. This can happen several ways. One is that with flooding sanitation systems can malfunction as mentioned a bit ago, waterborne illnesses may leak into the water system. If this goes unnoticed or the water is not properly tested, it may lead to populations contracting illnesses like Hepatitis A and cholera. Since cholera is an illness that comes with diarrhea and vomiting, the situation can be worsened by the lack of clean drinking water and increase of dehydration. This caused more than 115,922 cases of disease-related hospitalizations because of the Pakistani floods. (NCBI.gov) Other forms of diseases (vector-borne) may happen if the ground is too saturated, thus leaving large amounts of standing water. This can provide a perfect environment for mosquitoes or other disease-carrying insects like West Nile and malaria. If these still waters are close to a populated area, then the entire population is at a higher risk of contracting a potentially life-threatening illness.

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Figure 4. (top)  shows the direct relationship between Climate change and Disease Vectors.

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Figure 5. ( bottom) Indirect effects between climate change and disease vectors.

The bottom line is when discussing precipitation anomalies, you must take a step back and appreciate the overall complexity of the issue. Changes in precipitation patterns mean that some places will get new rains, and some will lose old ones. Flooding in one country could mean a serious drought for its neighbor upstream (atmospherically speaking), because of changes in atmosphere circulations due to changes in SST. Changes in political responses due to threats to security will also surface. As agriculture is being threatened, population security starts to feel the unease. Even as I write the state of Hawaii is undergoing a major flooding issue in Kauai. The amount of 2 feet of rain in a 24hr period triggered floods and landslides that will indeed take time to recover. Hawaii is also a very popular tourist location that brings in millions of dollars, However, these floods may hurt that income as parts of Hawaii will need to focus attention on rebuilding efforts and aiding in relief.

MQWX.

Oceans and Climate Change

 

“What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.”
― Werner Herzog

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Covering almost 75% of planet Earth and containing about 97% of the water on our planet, the oceans of the world have helped evolve and sustained human life for thousands of years. Humans have founded mighty empires on the shores of this incredible wonder of nature, giving us food, allowing economic growth, and fueling the imagination. So many of us only see the surface and fail to dive deep into the complexity of the ocean and all that goes on deep within, so before I make any more horrible puns, let’s get started.

As we all should know by now, if you have been following my blog series, the ocean is a major heat source because of its low albedo. With this, it is said that the ocean has a large heat capacity thus large amounts of energy in the form of heat is stored in the depths. So far, we have seen a 1.3° ± 0.1°F Global increase from 1900 to 2016 with U.S coastlines warming close to 0.7°F for this period. This leads to several changes in ocean circulation (transporting heat poleward as discussed in blog 2 “The Arctic and climate change”), ocean acidification, carbon intake, and ocean stratification.

Ocean Acidification

Ocean Acidification is a major problem for the world’s oceans. It directly affects the organisms that live in the ocean as well as secondary effects to fishing industries. Since humans have been putting large amounts of Carbon dioxide into the atmosphere we have directly changed ocean chemistry. The ocean absorbs a quarter of the total amount of CO2 we release into the atmosphere every year. Since the ocean and atmosphere are connected and exchange properties (easy way to think of this would be evaporation) the ocean and atmosphere exchange CO2 where the ocean is the one that absorbs it from the ocean. This increasing amount of CO2 leads to a more acidic ocean or Ocean Acidification. When there is an increase in the amount of Carbon in the oceans this will lead to many interconnected biological systems. This can mean the timing of zooplankton plumes, which can have a chain reaction to organisms that are dependent on them within the food chain. In a chain reaction, this can mean that some fisheries can be directly affected by this, thus economies as well.

When there is an increase in ocean acidification this can directly affect coral by reducing calcification rates. It also makes the corals and reefs more delicate so they are more easily damaged. Changes in ocean acidification can also disrupt organisms that build onto the reefs. The Great Barrer Reef is home to over 1,500 species of fish, 130 species of sharks, 30 different marine mammals, and 6 of 7 endangered turtles. As you can see if and when these magnificent structures are destroyed because of climate change. Many biological organisms will be at the mercy of the changing ocean. The ocean is such an important and very complex system, and there is so much more information about ocean acidification. If you are interested I think you should check out. I for one was very surprised by what I learned. Continue Ocean Acidification

World fisheries

When sea surface temperatures (SSTs) rise it will have more impacts than just sea level rise. When SSTs rise it can have a devastating impact on the ecosystem and through a chain reaction, the economy and food supply will be disrupted because of connecting social, biophysical and economic systems.When temperatures increase, ocean chemistry, salinity, and oxygen levels change that can disrupt fish ecosystems. The fish respond to the warming waters by migrating further to the poles to cooler waters. This is good for the fish at least because it shows that fish may have a chance of survival. If there is the right food for them they will be able to survive in a new location.

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Fish provide almost 16% of the worlds population animal protein that is consumed every year and about 6.5 % of all protein consumed. Fish are essential to many countries in the form of food and a way to maintain an economy. With so many countries dependent on fish stocks for food and trade, these variations in SSts, ocean stratification, and ocean chemistry can have a chain reaction that can lead to millions starving and economic collapse. There are many countries that face high vulnerabilities but the most at risk are developing countries that are landlocked. African Countries like Malawi, Guinea, Senegal, and Uganda; as well as Asian Tropical countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan, and Yemen are very sensitive to possible fishery changes due to oceanic changes. These countries get most of there animal proteins from fish, and with limited resources, a hit like this to fisheries can put millions into starvation and malnutrition.

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This map shows what percentage of animal protein consumed by residents of each country came from fish.

Fish stocks and fishing economies are not limited to just chemical or thermal changes in the ocean, they can suffer another indirect hit with increasing sea-level rise and storm intensities. Storms create a lot of damage to buildings and infrastructure, they also can directly impact fisheries by destroying boats and other fishing buildings. Hurricane Katrina damaged 95% of the 62 seafood dealers in Mississippi which led to some oyster shortages. The effects were not that greatly felt here (fishing industry) because even though it was a big hit, we have the resources to rebuild, not to mention seafood is not our only source of food here in the United States. In other countries through a hit like this can be catastrophic, especially if they did not have the resources to rebuild fisheries. Many fish dependent countries have a very fast-growing population and they are also very dependent on fish stalks for food and for maintaining an economy. This can lead to overfishing and fish shortages or even extinction. However, on a more positive note, more fishing comes from aquaculture then fishing directly from the sea which is a very good step forward, but it can easily be taken away in the mist of damaging tropical storms.

 Sea Level Rise

One of the leading and most noticeable problem of climate change in the ocean is sea level rise. Sea levels have risen at rates of 1 – 2 mm/yr over the past 100 years. This can have devastating impacts on coastal cities and put many people in danger. In the United States that puts almost 40% of our countries population at risk for flooding and deadly storm surge. Of the top 10 largest cities around the globe, 8 are located near the oceans limits. The question is what causes this very rapid change in Sea level and what are the consequences?

sea-level-figure1-2016.png    The graph above shows increasing Sea levels from 1880 to 2020. These records were collected from ocean buoys and later the use of satellites were incorporated. 

When understanding Sea level rise we have several things that we must look at. The first, and less assertive cause of sea level rise is something called thermal expansion, that is as SSTs continue to rise as the water expands it will add to the increasing rise in ocean levels.  The more dominant factor Is the rapid melting of glaciers and large ice sheets like the Greenland Ice sheet and Antarctic Ice Sheet. With increasing rise in temperature in the Northern Hemisphere (Greenland Ice sheet), we have observed large Amounts of mass loss from these ice sheets and with such large amounts of fresh water release. In January 2003 to May 2013 there was an average release of -244 ±6 Gt of water into the ocean. This is very alarming and continues to be a large topic among scientists because of the severity of the issue because it can lead to catastrophic events around the globe. This is a very interesting topic that can be discussed further in detail. for additional information and to see where i got some of my information for this passage Click Here

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Graph showing where Sea Level rising is coming from with data collected from the IPCC. Note that 62% of rising is due to melting.

The Cost of Sea Level Rise

When sea levels rise several new (and expensive) factors will be at play. One is that when levels rise storm surge from hurricanes and other tropical systems will move further inland and cause more loss of property and life. This makes storms more deadly and expensive not to mention puts a lot more people at risk. Over the past century, we have seen over 8 inches of rising sea levels. This may not seem like a lot but that can be the difference from water at your doorstep to a flooded home. Most major cities are founded on coastal areas because of the ocean is a source of transportation, trade, and food. The United States is very vulnerable to this with ≈ 120 million people living near the coast. The East coast is especially vulnerable as we saw with Hurricane Katrina killing more than 1,836 people and causing over 125 billion dollars in damage. Storm surge can also affect people from all over the country and world. As we seen with hurricane Harvey (2017) the risk of damaged oil rigs that if severely damaged could have caused a massive ocean contamination of crude oil.

Gulf Oil Rigs

                                                     Active oil rigs off the East coast.

The Gulf coast is especially at risk for oil rig damages because we have so many platforms in the Gulf. Damaged oil rigs and oil reserves could potentially spill tones of raw crude oil into the Ocean and could have a large impact on the ecosystem as well as the U.S economy.

The oceans are such an important driver in systems around the earth. They provide life, food, and can help populations and countries prosper. The oceans are also a very important driver when it comes to climate and weather because they transport heat poleward from the equator to regulate and distribute heat, and they drive atmospheric circulations that bring important rain events like the Indian Monsoon that is so vital to the survival of some countries. I think that it could easily be said that without the magnitude and complexity of Earths oceans, we would not be here. But how will a changing ocean our change world?

 

MQWX.

The Arctic and Climate change.

Sea Ice

The Arctic is a beautiful, sensitive and complex ecosystem with relationships with the Atmosphere, Ocean, and with a wide range of Biodiversity, makes it even more sensitive. This ecosystem is in great jeopardy because of human-induced Climate Change.  There are many things that will be and are affected by these warming trends like the animals that live on the land as well as in the sea, and the ocean and atmosphere circulations. This very complex and sensitive system can be altered by anomalies in temperature which will then go on to influence other systems that are interconnected. We have seen a 1.08 ± 0.13 (F°) temperature change in the past decade, as well as depletion in Arctic Sea ice. Alaska is also feeling the effects with a 1.5 (F°) change temperature in the past 30 years. (NCA4) and the trend shows no signs of slowing down.

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Albedo and SSTs

So, what is it that makes the Arctic is so important and vulnerable? We discussed in the last blog Albedo, which is the measurement how much solar radiation is reflected off of a surface. Because water has such a low albedo it means that more energy is absorbed than reflected. The Arctic sea ice and snow cover have a very high albedo (75%-95%) so it helps from allowing solar radiation to be absorbed in the Arctic ocean.  We have seen a decrease in the amount of Arctic Sea ice since 1979, and an acute acceleration around the early 2000s. This is very alarming because the sea ice effects and can fluctuate  ECVs such as air temperature, ocean temperature, ocean salinity and even have catastrophic consequences for the ecosystem. It has been observed that a 3.5% – 4.1% loss in sea ice per decade has occurred since around 1979.

Ice loss melt

This is partly because of the increasing temperature in the ocean. Since water warms up slower thus cools down slower, we see a reduced freezing time and an increased melting season. With the increasing temperatures in the ocean, new problems for the ecosystem are now in play.

The Grey Whale

When we think of animals that are in danger the most common picture that comes to mind is a polar bear floating on a small sheet of sea ice, However, there are many more plants and animals that are being affected by the increase of Arctic ocean temperatures. The Grey whale is part of one of the largest mammal migrations on Earth and has been migrating the waters for thousands of years. Off the coast of Mexico mothers nurse and feed their young as they prepare for a long 6,000 mile trip to feeding grounds in the Arctic, but we have a problem. In the Arctic, an abundance of plankton, crustacean and other fish used to thrive off the edges of the sea ice floating in the shallow waters. Since the water temperatures are rising the sea ice is melting and breaking away into deeper water. The plankton and other organisms are now out of reach for larger predators and then themselves fail to reproduce and reduce their own numbers. This is the case for the amphipod, a crustacean that is full of vitamins and fat that the grey whale needs in order to make the trip back to the Mexican coast from the Bering Sea. The decrease in the amphipod forces the whales to eat other crustaceans that are not as nutritious and puts the whales in a dangerous position.  In 1990 – 2000 stretching from Alaska to Mexico the beaches were scattered with over 200 grey whales. The whales were malnourished and one in every ten looked close to death.

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Glaciers

As temperatures continue to increase the rate of glacial depletion increase as well. Alaska is an example of some of the fastest melting glaciers. The fast rate of the melting glaciers puts a strain on the environment in several ways. The melting glaciers add a lot more water to the oceans and causes even faster sea level rise than thermal expansion. In Greenland glacial melting estimated 269 Gt of water and mass release into the ocean (< 0.26 inches per decade sea level rise) between April 2002 and April 2016. This positive feedback will continue as time moves on.

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With the melting of Arctic Sea ice, a positive feedback forms. As the air temperature increases the rate of glacial and sea ice melting increases. As the ice melts the surface albedo decreases because there is more water to absorb radiation than ice to reflect it.  The ocean temperatures will then begin to rise amplifying the rate of ice melt.  Thus the cycle will continue.

Ocean Circulation

The increase of temperatures in the Arctic Ocean may also be linked to a more global problem in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). Our planet does incredible things, one of which is its ability to carry warm equatorial water poleward and bring cold water from the poles towards the equator.

 

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This happens because of the differences in water density. Warm water is less dense than cold, and water with a higher salinity is denser than water with lower amounts of salinity.  It is because of the AMOC Europe has milder weather even though it is located at a higher latitude and should have really cold temperatures. So then how is it that there is a possibility that the AMOC could be affected? Like I stated a moment ago the AMOC is driven by differences in water density. With stronger differences in temperature and salinity, stronger gradients are present. This ensures that the cold water moving to equatorial regions and warm waters moving poleward are correctly and efficiently balanced to allow a circulation of ocean currents. However, because of the increasing water temperatures and increased amounts of fresh water melt from glaciers and sea ice in the North the densities may reach an unbalanced state and not allow the colder water to sink as deep as before. This weakened density gradient may slow down the AMOC by creating a blocking or pile up of ocean waters. If this happens then the Gulf stream will not be able to efficiently move waters with a higher salinity concentration North and with lower salinity levels in the Gulf the water will be lighter than usual and prohibit waters to sink and mix. This deep water formation is the key driver to an active Gulf stream current and without it, scenarios from model runs show that abrupt cooling may take place within the Atlantic. European data records show an increase in cooling days throughout the year. Although Europe seems to be caught in the middle of a squabble between Climate change and a possible AMOC slowdown, the overall average temperature still continues to increase despite a lower number of heating days and an increasing number of cooling days.

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Permafrost

As if it seems the situation in the Arctic couldn’t get worse, it can. Because of the cold environment when plants and animals die they do not decompose but remain frozen in the permafrost. This means that the organic matter from the organisms is still present. The problem is when temperatures increase and the permafrost begins to melt, the organic matter begins to decompose. Several models show possible projections of the amount of CO2 that may be released into the atmosphere because of a melting permafrost.

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This will release large amounts of CO2 and CH4 that will can lead to a positive feedback that will then accelerate the amount of CO2 and CH4 being released due to decaying matter even further. It is estimated that there is about 1,300 – 1,600 GtC (gigatonnes of carbon) in the permafrost. It is estimated that a possible release of 5% – 15%  of this carbon within this century may take place increasing the greenhouse effect. The estimated time for maximum permafrost melt and CO2 release is 2100. We can only hope that we never actually reach this point in permafrost loss or that the models are wrong. in the situation we do, we will be way beyond the tipping point.

Final thoughts

As we can see the environment is extremely sensitive to change, some more sensitive than others. The fact is human-induced climate change is not a one-way street. It affects everything around us and we are not the only ones feeling its effects. Increasing temperatures result in less snowfall and more snow melt which allows more of the sun’s energy to be absorbed in our oceans and land masses. Our geography is altered which can destroy beautiful landscapes and release dangerous amounts of CO2 that lie deep within the permafrost. Increasing SSTs can change the oceans global circulation and chemistry, and lead to a reduction of animals such as the amphipods that thrive off sea ice that can result in hundreds of whales laying dead on the western shores. It’s amazing that one geological spot can be so important and have such strong connections with the rest of the world. As we bring this blog to a close I hope this sheds some light and gets your mind wondering about other interactions that occur and tie together in our world and how they to may be in jeopardy. As we look to the horizon of uncertainty one thing is certain, A storm is coming but are we ready for it?

 

Dont go chasing waterfalls.

 

 

Water is one of the most magnificent substances on planet Earth. Its one of just a few things that can be found in three different forms. Solid, liquid, and gas. It can give life and take it away, and for the most part, I think a lot of us take it for granted. Let’s put it in perspective for you in a way to illustrate how magnificent the Earths water system really is. 96.5% of all the Earths water is found in the oceans. (most of which we cannot drink). That leaves us with 3.5% for us right?….well not exactly. 1.74% of our remaining fresh water is found in ice caps and permanent snow taking 68.7% of Earths fresh water.

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The list on the graph provided breaks down where the total amount of Earth’s water is dispersed throughout the world, but the key point here is how little of it we get for our use and how much of it is in the oceans. Also, how much water covers the surface of the Earth is very important in this short blog series. So how can the Earths water effect or be a result of a changing climate? For a complete understanding, I feel it is important we understand some basic science concepts before we start talking about specific events happening and inevitably coming.

Some of the key concepts we must understand is how water, solar radiation, and the atmosphere are interconnected. Have you ever walked outside after freshly fallen snow and found yourself being blinded by how bright it is outside? In relation, maybe you noticed that during a warm spell in the winter some snow seems to stick around and not melt. But why? Shouldn’t the snow melt because the air temperature is so warm? Well, not exactly. We describe a surfaces ability to reflect solar radiation as its albedo. Freshly fallen snow can have an albedo up to 75% – 95%. In other words, 75% to 95% of the suns radiation is being reflected and only 5% – 25% is absorbed and able to change the water composition at a molecular level. Now that we have a basis for this idea the chart below provides albedos for varies surfaces.

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Notice waters albedo is very low with about 10% – 100%. Disregard the extreme variation to 100% that is due to light reflecting off the waters surface due to the angle of the sun and does not last long. (morning/evening). Take notice of the high solar altitude reading as this will be important in future blogs. The general idea that I want you to understand here is that our oceans are Heat sinks and the energy they absorb will stay in the oceans until they are used.

Another fundamental concept that we must understand is the idea of Latent Heat. Remember the first law of Thermodynamics? Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only change form. This applies to latent heat which is the median between a surface and atmospheric interactivity and vis versa. Let’s explore this more. Let’s say we have an ice cube sitting on a stove top in a pan. For the moment the stove is off, and the ice cube stays solid. Right now, the water molecules are moving very slowly and holding a strong bond between each other.  Now, let’s turn the stove on. Through conductivity, the heat source is heating the pan thus heating the ice cube. As the energy is absorbed and the bonds between the molecules weaken and begin to vibrate. The water molecules begin to move quickly producing kinetic energy. The amount of how much kinetic energy molecules produce is what we call Temperature, and now our ice cube is now a little puddle of water. Let’s turn up the heat and apply more energy to the water molecules and speed the movement between them even more.  When enough kinetic energy is produced evaporation can take place. So now that our ice cube has evaporated and the energy that it took to evaporate the water stays with it until it is released again. Remember the 1st Law of Thermodynamics. For this example, let’s say we had some flat surface above the stove. We would notice two things. First, we would notice water on the surface, and two we would notice (if enough evaporation took place) the surface would be warm. Don’t believe me? Try this. Next time you have a cup of hot coffee put your hand over the cup for a few seconds. You will notice that your hand will begin to warm and get hot. Now move your hand and notice that it’s a little wet. The energy that it took to cause evaporation in the coffee was released into your hand when the molecules began to condensate on your palm.

Now that we understand how water can transport energy we need to understand that it can also trap heat. A molecule that can absorb and emit infrared radiation is called a greenhouse gas. When infrared radiation is absorbed that means that it is not escaping into space. This is not a bad thing though. We can prove the existence and importance of greenhouse gases mathematically using the Stefan Boltzmann constant and the total amount of absorbed radiation where S = 1370 w/m^2 and a = 0.30

 

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This simplified Equation brings us to a solution of 255 K (-18 C) for Earths average temperature. This average is not accurate because the equation does not include the influence of greenhouse gasses. Greenhouse gasses help trap much-needed heat on earth to sustain life, however, too much can result in a positive feedback where a stronger greenhouse effect will increase Earths global temperature thus increase the amount of water vapor able to be held in the atmosphere and result in an even stronger Greenhouse effect and the cycle will continue.

The main thing I want us to obtain from this first blog is the understanding of the importance of water and how it interacts with the world around us. Having these basic concepts can help us really start to understand what is going on in the world around us, And help us understand how things that happen in the ocean will have a direct impact to the atmosphere which will have an impact on us and climate. Things we do today will and are affecting tomorrow, and before we are quick to judge we first must understand the complexity of the topic and climate science in general. So please join and follow this 6 part blog series as we explore the role of water and how we are seeing it change in a changing world, and remember to always keep your head in the clouds.

MQWX.