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Fires, Heat Waves & Melting Ice

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Hot planet burning.

Moscow is melting, with temperatures around 38ºC and peat bogs outside the city are on fire, sending smoke across the city.  It is the warmest summer in 130 years. Elsewhere in Russia, 38,000 sq. miles (100,000sq.km) of crops have been destroyed and large parts of Siberia are on fire. The price of wheat has gone up 40% over the last month due to all the fires and droughts in Russia (and poor harvests in Canada due to a wet planting season). That’s really bad news, for the environment, the wallet and the bread makers.


Earth Temperatures. Image courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

According to NASA’s Earth Observatory site, in early July, the eastern United States temperatures hit 105F (41ºC). Beijing experienced near-record heat, and temperatures soared to 122F (50ºC) in Kuwait. In fact, North America, western Canada, parts of Western Europe, Siberia, and eastern China plus areas north of the Caspian Sea are all above average. It is also unusually warm in South America, where it is now their wintertime.

Siberia Fires. Image courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

The NASA map shows these temperature anomalies for July 4–11, 2010, compared to temperatures between 2000-2008, based upon land surface temperatures measured by NASA’s Terra Satellite. Red and orange are above average temperatures, blue is below-average temperatures and gray areas are water or where there is insufficient information. It looks quite pretty, but also quite worrying.

It isn’t good for the forests, not only are there all the fires in Siberia, but right now there are almost 400 wildfires in BC, Canada and 80% of the province is at risk of fire – so don’t even think about having any camping fires.

It’s not good for ice either. According to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Centre, the Arctic sea ice seems to have melted faster in June 2010 than ever measured in 30 years of satellite observation data but it seems to have slowed down in July – maybe because the thicker ice is now melting.

Arctic Sea Ice July 2010. Image courtesy National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The ice coverage could still be less than the record sea-ice loss measured in 2007 when the ice melted from 5.4 million sq. miles (14 million sq. km) at the end of the winter to about 1.66 million sq. miles (4.3 million sq. km) by September 2007. Hudson Bay is already clear of ice when it is usually still full of ice in July. Ice coverage in late-summer 2008 (1.81 million sq. miles, 4.7 million sq. km) and 2009 (2.1 million sq. miles, 5.4 million sq. km) were the lowest recorded after the 2007 minimum.

Soon it will be bikini and t-shirts only in the Arctic – not good! But hey, why not take advantage of all that nasty melting ice? The Canadian and US governments are. They are taking the ice-free opportunity to make surveys of the ocean bed to survey for potential mineral resources as well as build-up a case for their respective Arctic territory claims!

Ocean Dead Zones. Image courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

Oh, by the way, did I mention the size and number of marine dead zones where deep-water oxygen levels suffocate fish and sea creatures have increased significantly over the last half-century? Many of them occur near high-density human population centers near coastal regions and where there is enormous run-off of agricultural fertilizers. These fertilizers cause large algae blooms which die and are eaten by microbes whose numbers increase and use up much of the oxygen. This isn’t good news for fish lovers, nor the many people of the world who depend upon fish for their daily nourishment.

Even though the world is rapidly changing, I can't understand why so many people around the globe continue to insist upon acting as if it is still business as usual.