(ENS) WASHINGTON -- Buried in a regular report on federal climate research delivered to Congress this week is evidence that President George W. Bush has modified his long-standing resistance to recognizing the human contributions to global warming that has kept the United States from ratifying the Kyoto Protocol to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
The evidence comes in the fact that the report was signed by Dr. John H. Marburger, III, science adviser to the President and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, as well as by the secretaries of the Departments of Energy and Commerce.
The report, "Our Changing Planet: The U.S. Climate Change Science Program for Fiscal Years 2004 and 2005," describes scientific research on climate and global change funded by 13 federal government departments and agencies.
While never explicitly stating that human emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide is responsible for global warming, the report does say, "Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the largest single forcing agent of climate change, and methane (CH4) is also a significant contributor."
Carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels -- coal, oil and natural gas -- for electricity and transportation.
Global warming could last for thousands of years, researchers have found, because the atmosphere "acts as a long-term 'reservoir' for certain trace gases that can cause global changes."
"The long removal times of some gases, such as CO2 (more than 100 years) and perfluorocarbons (more than 1,000 years)," the report states, "imply that any associated global changes could persist over decades, centuries, and millennia - affecting all countries and populations."
CO2 and perfluorocarbons are regulated by the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty governing the emission of six gases by industrialized nations.
In the past, President Bush and his officials have emphasized the uncertainties of climate science and called for more study in place of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and taking action to limit greenhouse gas emissions. "Our Changing Planet" details the results of some of these government funded studies.
On detecting a human influence on North American climate, research "shows that North American temperature changes from 1950 to 1999 were unlikely to be due only to natural climate variations."
"Observed trends over this period are consistent with simulations that include anthropogenic forcing from increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases and sulfate aerosols," the report states, meaning that human emissions of greenhouse gases have forced the increase of temperatures over North America.
Rail systems help Metro-Dade County, Florida reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transportation. (Photo by Walter Marks courtesy Metro-Dade Transit Authority) "However," the report says, "most of the observed warming from 1900 to 1949 was likely due to natural climate variation."
Arctic surface temperatures have been warming over the 20 years from 1981 to 2001, analysis of satellite data has shown, with the greatest degree of warming happening over the high latitudes of North America.
"The Arctic warmed at an annual average rate of 0.3íC per decade over sea ice (considering those portions of the Arctic Ocean where 80 percent of ocean surface is covered by ice), 0.5íC per decade over the high latitude (poleward of 60íN) region of Eurasia, and 1.0íC over the high latitude region of North America," the report states.
Simultaneously, sea ice in the Arctic is declining at a rate of nine percent per decade and scientists report that in 2002 summer sea ice was at record low levels. Early results indicate this persisted in 2003.
There has been a corresponding change in the freshwater balance of the Atlantic Ocean. "Our Changing Planet" reports, "shifts in the oceanic distribution of fresh and saline waters are occurring in ways that may be linked to global warming and possible change in the global water cycle. Parallel changes in ocean salinity and temperature are occurring in other oceans as well."
"The rate and causes of 20th century global sea level rise are subjects of intense debate," the report acknowledges. "Direct observations, based on tide gauge records, suggest that the rate of sea level rise is between 1.5 and 2.0 mm per year (0.6 to 0.8 inches per decade).
The two largest contributors to sea level rise are thought to be volume changes due to ocean warming (thermal expansion) and the addition of mass due to the melting of polar ice sheets.
U.S. scientists are at work producing information to help states and cities to plan for sea level rise. During FY 2004-2005, coastal elevation maps will be produced showing areas vulnerable to sea level rise.
Planning maps will be created that synthesize current state and local baseline plans for sea level rise along the U.S. Atlantic Coast. This work will improve understanding of the sensitivity and adaptability of coastal ecosystems and human systems and provide resources to support decisionmaking.
Conservation officials will be able to use the maps to determine whether current policies ensure sufficient wetland migration, and identify areas where additional wetland migration is feasible. Local governments can focus infrastructure in areas where shores are certain to be protected. Ecologists assessing potential environmental consequences of climate change will have a better idea whether tidal habitat will shift inland or be replaced with seawalls.
Recent research links severe droughts across the United States, the Mediterranean region, and Southwest Asia from 1998 through 2002 with a persistent climate state that was strongly influenced by the tropical oceans.
Unusually cold sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the eastern tropical Pacific -- persistent La Nina conditions -- that occurred together with sustained above normal sea surface temperatures in the western tropical Pacific and Indian Oceans, are responsible for the droughts, the report states. "The persistence of this abnormal tropical SST pattern was unprecedented in the instrumental record."
Strong links between land cover and climate mean that changes in land use and land cover can be important contributors to climate change and variability, the report points out. "The combination of climate and land-use change may have profound effects on the habitability of the Earth in more significant ways than either acting alone. While land-use change is often a driver of environmental and climatic changes, a changing climate can, in turn, affect land use and land cover."
Global warming will likely mean increased production for U.S. forests, according to research detailed in "Our Changing Planet."
A new national assessment of a range of climate scenarios and ecological responses found that, under several scenarios, "economic welfare in the forest and agricultural sectors would be increased" due to "an overall increase in U.S. forest productivity that boosts long-term timber inventory and allows more timber harvests."
A more recent study of U.S. agriculture showed that, by the year 2060, the benefits of climate change to American croplands could be less than previous work had indicated. A team of scientists found that "finer scale simulations tend to reduce projected benefits and increase projected losses for a wide range of crops across most parts of the nation."
Much of the climate research is focused on reducing uncertainties, but the Bush administration is not waiting for all uncertainties to be resolved before making decision. Instead, research centers for decisionmaking under uncertainty are being established.
During FY 2004, the process of establishing a set of centers focusing on decisionmaking under uncertainty (DMUU) associated with climate variability and change will be completed, the report states The DMUU centers will function into 2008, and will conduct fundamental research on decisionmaking associated with climate change and variability.
Center research programs are intended to advance basic understanding about decision processes dealing with issues such as inter-temporal choice, risk perception, hazards, disaster reduction, tradeoffs, equity, framing, and probabilistic reasoning associated with risky phenomena.
The centers will develop tools that people, organizations, and governments can use to better understand the risks associated with climate variability and change and the options they have to address those risks.
The report makes no mention of the Kyoto Protocol, but says the Bush administration is working with the countries responsible for 75 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, which means the large developing nations such as China, India, and Brazil. These nations are not now governed by the protocol, but future negotations limiting their emissions are expected.
"Our Changing Planet" emphasizes the importance of continuing scientific research, especially on a global scale with the Global Earth Observing System of Systems to which many nations are contributing.
August 27, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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