Don't be fooled by cold winter, climate change expert says

polar vortexPrior to 1990, the polar vortex was a regular phenomenon that occurred every four to five years, according to a climate change expert who will speak here Thursday night.

It might be easy for most people in these parts to forget about global warming when they’ve been getting walloped by a polar vortex followed by an Alberta Clipper.

But even though we’ve been hit with some of the coldest temperatures in years this winter, the planet is indeed getting warmer, according to a visiting climate change expert who will speak here on Thursday.

“The polar vortex hasn’t been around since before 1990, but before then, we used to see this kind of phenomenon about every four or five years,” said Jerry Schnoor, an environmental engineering professor and co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa. “Because of global warming, it’s become a lot less frequent.”

Over the past 150 years, Dr. Schnoor said earth’s atmospheric temperature has increased about 0.8 C, and more than that in the Arctic.  Sea surface temperatures have responded accordingly, warming about 0.5-0.6 C in the past 50 years.  Over that same period, accumulating carbon dioxide concentrations changed the pH of the upper ocean from 8.2 to 8.08, an increase in acidity of almost 30 per cent.

Schnoor said 2013 was one of the warmest years on record and that predictive models indicate that trend will continue, with warmer temperatures and drier air, punctuated by shorter but more intense precipitation. As a result of those dramatic changes, he said, people will need to re-think about how we design infrastructure, from everything to how roads and bridges are constructed to where heating and cooling systems are located in buildings.

While the debate rages about the causes of climate change, Schnoor is firmly in the camp that believes human activities are largely to blame and that the planet will continue to warm if we don’t curb fossil fuel use. He does, however, believe it’s not too late to reverse the trend.

“We can be part of a global action network, a coalition of the willing, to constrain greenhouse gases emissions by 2020 and achieve steep cuts by 2050,” he said.  “All countries can contribute to a more sustainable future while creating new jobs for our citizens.  We can do this by building a new green economy for the 21st century based on energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, and favorable public policies.”

The recent recipient of an Einstein professorship from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the editor-in-chief for Environmental Science and Technology, Schnoor was invited to lecture here by Doug Haffner, a professor in the university’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research.

He’ll deliver a free public lecture on Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. in room 202 in the Toldo building.

 

 

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