August 10, 2010

Russian Wildfires Linked To Global Warming

Global warming is at least partially to blame for a recent bout of hot and dry weather that has triggered wildfires in Russia, according to experts interviewed by AFP and BBC News this week.

"The Russian heatwave is related to a persistent pattern of circulation drawing air from the south and east (the very warm steppes)," Dr. Jeff Knight, a climate variability scientist at the UK Met Office, told BBC Science Reporter Katia Moskvitch Tuesday.

"Circulation anomalies tend to create warm and cool anomalies: while it has been very hot in western Russia, it has been cooler than average in adjacent parts of Siberia that lie on the other side of the high pressure system where Arctic air is being drawn southwards," he added. "Some long-term records have been broken--for example the highest daily temperature in Moscow. We expect more extreme high temperatures as the climate changes. This means that when weather fluctuations promote high temperatures"¦ there is more likelihood of records being broken."

Those record temperatures--some surpassing 100 degrees Fahrenheit--could get even hotter in the years to come, according to WWF Russia climate chief Dr. Alexei Kokorin.

"We have to get ready to fight such fires in the future because there is a great possibility that such a summer will be repeated. This tendency won't stop in the coming 40 years or so, until the greenhouse gas emissions are reduced," he told Moskvitch.

"In a few decades, fires may affect the main forest regions of Russia," Kokorin added. "We can now say that the wave of abnormal phenomena that the rest of the world has been experiencing has finally reached central Russia."

In addition to the Moscow-area wildfires, experts also point out that the flooding in Pakistan that has left millions homeless and similar instances of severe weather over the past several months are also in line with "with climatic projections in a warming planet," according to AFP reporter Anne Chaon.

However, according to Chaon's report, one summer's worth of such conditions by itself "isn't sufficient evidence" to either confirm or deny the existence and/or impact of global climate change.

"One cannot conclude 100 percent that nothing like this has happened in the past 200 years, but the suspicion is there. Even if it's only a suspicion," Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Vice President Jean-Pascal van Ypersele told the AFP reporter on Monday. "These are events which reproduce and intensify in a climate disturbed by greenhouse gas pollution"¦ Extreme events are one of the ways in which climatic changes become dramatically visible."

According to IPCC statistics, the length and intensity of droughts and heatwaves like the one currently effecting Russia has increased in correlation with the average temperature of the planet. As Chaon states, a report released earlier this month by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirms that the planet's average temperature reached record highs during the first half of 2010.

"Whether in frequency or intensity, virtually every year has broken records, and sometimes several times in a week," Omar Baddour of the World Meteorological Organization told AFP yesterday.

"In Russia, the record temperature in Moscow (38.2 degrees Celsius, 100.8 degrees Fahrenheit in late July)--which had not been seen since records began 130 years ago--was broken again at the start of August. In Pakistan, the magnitude of the floods is unheard of," Baddour added.

"In both cases, it is an unprecedented situation," he concluded. "The succession of extremes and the acceleration of records conform with IPCC projections. But one must observe the extremes over many years to draw conclusions in terms of climate."


Image 1: Smoke in Sheremetyevo - August 7, 2010. Credit: Sergei Gutnikov - Wikipedia

Image 2: Smoke over western Russia on August 4, 2010. Credit: Jeff Schmaltz/NASA


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