Masters: “The Great Russian Heat Wave of 2010 continues…. Thousands of deaths, severe fires, and the threat of radioactive contamination”
Prior to this year, the hottest temperature in Moscow’s history was 37.2°C (99°F), set in August 1920. The Moscow Observatory has now matched or exceeded this 1920 all-time record five times in the past eleven days, including today….
… soil moisture in some portions of European Russia has dropped to levels one would expect only once every 500 years.
That’s meteorologist Jeff Masters writing about “One of the most remarkable weather events of my lifetime.” The impact of the decline in soil moisture, along with the epic heat and fires, has been devastating, causing Russia to ban wheat exports. Coupled with extreme weather around the globe, it has helped nearly double wheat prices since June.
Sharp and long-lasting declines in soil moisture over much of the planet’s habited landmass are a major prediction of climate science, something I’ve called “DUST-BOWL-IFICATION” (since readers pointed out to me that many deserts really aren’t so bad). Here’s what the recent scientific literature says we face in the second half of the century if we stay anywhere near our current emissions path:
Met Office’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research projects moderate drought over half the habited land, plus the loss of all inland glaciers that provide water to many tens of millions.
“The unexpectedly rapid expansion of the tropical belt constitutes yet another signal that climate change is occurring sooner than expected,” noted one climate researcher in December 2007. A 2008 study led by NOAA noted, “A poleward expansion of the tropics is likely to bring even drier conditions to” the U.S. Southwest, Mexico, Australia and parts of Africa and South America.”
In 2007, Science (subs. req’d) published research that “predicted a permanent drought by 2050 throughout the Southwest” “” levels of aridity comparable to the 1930s Dust Bowl would stretch from Kansas to California. And they were only looking at a 720 ppm case! The Dust Bowl was a sustained decrease in soil moisture of about 15% (“which is calculated by subtracting evaporation from precipitation”).
A NOAA-led study similary found permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe on our current emissions trajectory (and irreversibly so for 1000 years). And as I have discussed, future droughts will be fundamentally different from all previous droughts that humanity has experienced because they will be very hot weather droughts (see Must-have PPT: The “global-change-type drought” and the future of extreme weather).
I should note that even the “moderate drought over half the planet”³ scenario from the Hadley Center is based on 850 ppm (in 2100). Princeton has done an analysis on “Century-scale change in water availability: CO2-quadrupling experiment,” which is to say 1100 ppm. The grim result: Most of the South and Southwest ultimately sees a 20% to 50% (!) decline in soil moisture.
We risk such high emissions concentrations on our current emissions path (see U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm “¦ the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” “” 1000 ppm).
See also Australian Scientists: Contrary to media reports, “our paper does not discount climate change as playing a role in this most recent drought, the ‘Big Dry’. In fact, there are indications that climate change has worsened this recent drought.”
More from Masters on Russia:
Thousands of deaths, severe fires, and the threat of radioactive contamination
The extreme heat has led to thousands of premature deaths in Russia. According to Yevgenia Smirnova, an official from the Moscow registry office, “We recorded 14,340 deaths in Moscow in July, that is 4,824 deaths more than in July, 2009.” Undoubtedly thousands of additional premature deaths have occurred in the rest of Russia as a result of the heat. The heat has also caused the worst drought conditions in European Russia in a half-century, prompting the Russian government to suspend wheat exports.
The drought has caused extreme fire danger over most of European Russia (Figure 3), and fires in Russia have killed at least 50 people in the past week and leveled thousands of homes. The fires are the worst since 1972, when massive forest and peat bog fires burned an area of 100,000 square km and killed at 104 people in the Moscow region alone. Smoke from the current fires spans a region over 3,000 km (1,860 miles) from east to west, approximately the distance from San Francisco to Chicago. Dozens of flights were canceled at Moscow’s airports today, thanks to visibilities of 300 meters in smoke. Also of concern is fires that have hit the Bryansk region of western Russia, which suffered radioactive contamination from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in nearby Ukraine. There are fears that fires may burn through the contaminated area, releasing harmful radiation into the atmosphere.
Finally, Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson writes“Fueled by the buildup of fossil fuel pollution, the world’s out-of-control climate is destabilizing many of the nations that control nuclear weapons, including Russia, China, North Korea, India, and Pakistan. Thousands have died in fires and floods, millions left homeless, and crops failed in the withering heat, the greatest the modern world has ever faced:”
RUSSIA Moscow has reached 102.2° F, after never before even breaking the 100-degree mark in recorded history. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitri Medvedev have flooded the airwaves in response to outrage over the wildfires and droughts caused by the global heat wave, as officials are forced to admit the situation is out of control. The Russian government has recommended people evacuate Moscow, banned wheat exports, diverted flights, fired senior military officers, and warned the fires could pose a nuclear threat if they reach areas contaminated by Chernobyl. Medvedev called the linked disasters “evidence of this global climate change,” which means “we need to change the way we work, change the methods that we used in the past.”
CHINA The worst flooding ever recorded in northeast China, caused by weeks of torrential rain with no end in sight, has caused nearly $6 billion in damage to water projects there, In addition, “52 people are reported to have died and an additional 20 are missing following rain-triggered floods in central China’s Henan Province.” “In the southwestern province of Yunnan, at least 11 people died and 11 were missing following a landslide caused by heavy rain.”
INDIA “Record temperatures in northern India have claimed hundreds of lives in what is believed to be the hottest summer in the country since records began in the late 1800s.” “The death toll in flashfloods that hit the remote mountainous region of Ladakh in Indian-held Kashmir has risen to 103.”
NORTH KOREA “Flooding last month caused serious damage in North Korea, destroying homes, farms, roads and buildings and hurting the economy,” the secretive dictatorship of North Korea admitted yesterday. “About 36,700 acres of farmland was submerged and 5,500 homes and 350 public buildings and facilities were destroyed or flooded,” the official Korean Central News Agency said. “The news agency had previously reported heavy rains fell in the country in mid- to late July, but those earlier reports did not mention flooding or damage. State media in the impoverished, reclusive nation often report news days or weeks after an event takes place.”
PAKISTAN “Islamist charities, some with suspected ties to militants, stepped in on Monday to provide aid for Pakistanis hit by the worst flooding in memory, piling pressure on a government criticized for its response to the disaster that has so far killed more than 1,000 people.” “Thousands of people are fleeing Pakistan’s most populous areas as devastating floods” that have already affected more than 3 million people “sweep towards the south.” Fatima Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto’s niece, lashed out: “The floods are just the latest, most tragic example of how inept the Pakistani state truly is.”
As warming-fueled disasters grow more intense and more frequent, they put greater pressure on the governments of these nuclear states. This threat to global security was brought to the White House’s attention as far back as 1979, when top scientists warned that global warming “would threaten the stability of food supplies, and would present a further set of intractable problems to organized societies.” As the CNA Corporation wrote in 2007, “climate change is a threat multiplier in already fragile regions, exacerbating conditions that lead to failed states “” the breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism.” The Pentagon’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review recognized that global warming impacts and disasters will “act as an accelerant of instability or conflict.”
In Bonn, international climate negotiations have stalled. Record global temperatures, forest fires in Russia, lethal floods in Pakistan “are all consistent with the kind of changes we could expect from climate change, and they will get worse if we don’t act quickly,” said US negotiator Jonathan Pershing.