Wully Davidson: Developments in Global Climate Change 2022

drought

‘Nothing provokes societal unrest more than hunger… It seems likely that we will see an increase in social unrest.’

Polar heat anomalies

March saw quite extraordinary temperatures at both the Antarctic and Arctic, described by scientists as ‘unprecedented’. In Antarctica, a new world record for the largest temperature excess above normal (+38.5 C/+69.3 F) ever measured at an established weather station, was recorded. This was caused mainly by an inflow of warm, moist air, from the ocean south of Australia, although Antarctic sea ice extent was also the lowest on record, at the time, with an ice sheet the size of New York City collapsing. The event was described as so anomalous, that it could be compared to Washington D.C. breaking its all time heat record in November! Now, that’s anomalous.

iceberg melts

Iceberg Melts – Image by Markus Kammermann from Pixabay

In the Arctic, an atmospheric river of warm, moist air, surged from the North Atlantic, well into the Arctic Ocean, just east of Greenland. This was associated with a powerful mid latitude cyclone that produced the lowest atmospheric pressure ever recorded in Greenland, 934.1 mb. Temperatures rose close to freezing point at the North Pole, at 30 C (54 F) above normal.

drought

Dumbassman, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Global drought

Much of the western US has now been experiencing ‘megadrought’ conditions for the past 22 years. It’s the driest 22 year period in the last 1,200 years. 18 of those 22 years have been drier than usual, and only 4 wetter. Scientists are of the opinion that it no longer makes sense to call it a ‘drought’, as the word, ‘drought’, implies that it will end, and the local climate will revert to more normal conditions. That now seems unlikely. We have a new climate regime.

European drought

Summer 2018 was devastating for European farmers. Rainfall levels across much of central Europe were up to 80% less than normal, and temperatures soared to record breaking levels. Across much of Europe, crops produced their lowest yields for decades. Very dry conditions returned in 2019 and 2020. Reviewing records of European rainfall, going back to 1766, scientists have concluded that this three year drought was he most intense in Europe in the past 250 years. Using climate model simulations, researchers have predicted that future European droughts could last for 8 years, under an intermediate greenhouse gas emissions scenario, and 25 years in a worst case scenario, which really doesn’t bear thinking about.

People living in northern Italian towns now face 500 euros fines for wasting water, as mayors ration water during a severe drought. Italy has had one of its driest winters in the past 65 years, with rainfall 80% lower than the seasonal average. The Po, the country’s longest river, is at its lowest winter level, since 1972. The winter drought followed an intense, protracted heat wave across Italy, last summer. In August, Siracusa, in Sicily, broke the European high temperature record, when it recorded 48.8 C (120 F).

Southern Hemisphere temperature record equalled

On January 13, a ferocious heat wave in Western Australia sent the mercury soaring to 50.7 C (123.3 F). This tied the previous all time heat record for the hottest temperature in the southern hemisphere, set in January 1960, in South Australia. Three stations in Western Australia exceeded 50 C on January 13. Before this, Australia had only recorded four instances of temperatures exceeding 50 C in records going back to 1910.

forest fire

South American heat wave

Around the same time as the Australian heat wave, many weather stations in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and southern Brazil recorded new heat records. Uruguay tied its national heat record on January 14, with 44 C (111.2 F), and Paraguay beat its record, with 45.6 C (114.1 F). Buenos Aries, in Argentina, recorded its second hottest day in history, with 41.5 C (106.7 F). The temperature might have been even higher, had the city not been covered in wildfire smoke.

The region is a major grain exporter. For example, Argentina is the world’s top soybean exporter, with 41% of total exports, and is also the third largest corn exporter. It is expected that crop yields will be significantly reduced, due to the heat wave.

US drought

The US drought is threatening winter wheat production, just as the Ukraine crisis negatively impacts global wheat exports. Normally, Russia and the Ukraine account for 29% of global wheat exports. Winter wheat represents nearly half of US wheat production, and is harvested in June or July.

Chinese winter wheat

China’s agricultural minister has stated that China’s winter wheat production could be the ‘worst in history’, due mainly to abnormally heavy rain, which delayed planting. However, a good harvest of summer grain is anticipated.

Drought in the Horn of Africa

The Horn of Africa is facing one of the worst droughts on record. Some 14 million people across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya are suffering from severe hunger and water shortages. The region is heavily dependent on grain imports, particularly from Russia and the Ukraine.

Summary

There is going to be an unprecedented shortfall of global grain exports this year, due to a combination of the effects of global warming, and the war in the Ukraine. Nothing provokes societal unrest more than hunger, and it was a main driving force in the ‘Arab spring’ uprisings. It seems likely that we will see an increase in social unrest.

Wully Davidson, April, 2022

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