GLOBAL WARMING AND RUSSIA

GLOBAL WARMING AND RUSSIA

Carbon dioxide emissions from consumption of energy: 1.782 billion Mt (2012 est.); country comparison to the world: 5. [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Russian produces 6.6 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, compared to 22.2 percent from the United States. It ranks third in the world in carbon dioxide emissions behind the U.S. and China, with 14 percent of the world’s emissions. In the 1990s, Russia was the second largest producer of greenhouse gases after the United States. It produces 17 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. The United States, which was first, produces 36 percent. [Source: Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, United States]

In December 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill, confirming Russia’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol to take measures to reduce global-warming-causing greenhouse gases. In October, both houses of parliament ratified it.

Putin has been hailed as the man who saved the Kyoto Protocol. The pact needed Russia to take effect because it required approval of 55 nations plus industrialized countries that account for more than 55 percent of the greenhouse gas production. Since the United States has said it would not ratify it because it would not help the environment very much but would hurt the world economy it needed Russia to get over the 55 percent mark for industrialized countries The 1997 pact took effect 90 days after Russia notified the United Nations of its ratification.

The Kyoto Protocol calls for industrialized countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by an average of 5.2 percent between 2008 and 2012. Initially Russia had said it would then said it would not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. In December 2003, the Kremlin said it would not ratify it because it would hurt the Russian economy. Later it changed its position, in part because the European Union promised to support Russia’s entry to the WTO. Russia signed the agreement in 1999 but had been reluctant to ratify it after the United States refused to ratify it.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s emission of greenhouse gases fell 30 percent below 1990 levels. Its Kyoto target for 2012 was its 1990 levels. This meant it had already well below the treaty limits., allowing it gain credits from other countries.

Impact of Global Warming on the Subarctic

The average temperatures in Siberia in 1995 were 5 degrees F warmer than normal, the largest increase in the world that year. Temperatures in much of the subarctic area of Siberia, Alaska and northwestern Canada have risen 5 degrees F in the last three decades, apparently as a result of global warming. In some places temperatures have increased in the last century by 10 degrees F, ten time the global average. Thirty years the temperatures in Fairbanks topped 80 degrees F for about a week every year. Now it happened about every three weeks. The number of -40 degrees F days has been dramatically reduced.

During the 1970s, 80s and 90s in Alaska temperatures rose 4.16 F in Point Barrow; 3.54 F in Fairbanks; and 2.26 F in Anchorage. The huge forest fire in 2004 in Alaska were blamed on global warming. Fires in Siberia have also been blamed on global warming. Iceland is getting less snow.

Lakes and rivers are freezing later and thawing earlier. People are even swimming in places in Alaska that it was once unheard of to swim. The spring freshwater break up in the Northern Hemisphere occurs nine days earlier Thawing permafrost has caused the ground to subside more than five meters in some places in Alaska. The number of days in which Lake Baikal froze shrunk from 128 days in 1873 to 105 in 1992. Global warming has been blamed.

Global warming is being blamed for an earlier spring. Flowers are blooming sooner, According to one study, 31 percent of bird species laid their eggs earlier than in 1971 by an average of 8.8 days. Global warming is also being blamed for melting glaciers. In the Caucasus half of all glaciers have disappeared in the last 100 years.

Earlier arrival of spring is triggering swarms of mosquitos along the Hudson Bay in Canada, disrupting the nesting cycle of some birds. Huge swarms of mosquitos have caused some birds to abandon their eggs.

Ice and snow reflect 90 percent of the sunlight that hits them. If they melts more heat is absorbed by the earth which causes temperatures to rise further which in turn melts more ice and snow. Global warming exposes dark ground or sea water that soaks up and releases heat rather than reflects it like ice and snow.

Consequences of Global Warming on the Arctic

The extent of Arctic ice declined 10 percent between the early 1970s and the early 2000s. Around Alaska and Hudson Bay the ice is breaking up weeks earlier than it used to and sea ice has decreased by 9 percent per decade. Estimates if overall thin vary between 15 percent and 40 percent. Some predict the ice could disappear by 2100.

The weather in the Arctic has started to become very strange. Thunder and lightning, which were once rare, have become common place. Sometimes there are even thunderstorms. Strange warm winds have begun plowing up from the south. Eskimos who base their survival on sensing when storms and warm weather were imminent can longer predict the weather.

According to global warming models, warmer air will produce more frequent and powerful storms, more precipitation. The melting of sea ice in the summer can lower the water temperature and produce cooler summer temperatures.

Impact of Global Warming in Northern Areas

In northern areas, global warming is causing heavier snowfalls in the winter, longer and warmer summers, melting of the permafrost, reduction of sea ice, longer summer growing seasons, decreased summer rainfall, invasions or pests usually found in warmer climates, melting and shrinking glaciers and run-off from the melting glaciers and snow. Searing temperatures in western Russia in the summer of 2010 shrank the grain harvest by 40 percent.

Global warming could produce more arable land in Siberia and Russia. Land underlined by permafrost however would be useless for farming. Forest will move northward displacing tundra. Wild animals that live in the forest would move northward displacing tundra animals. Hotter, drier summers increases the likelihood and ferocity of forest fires. St. Petersburg is particularly vulnerable to sea level rises associated with global warming.

Global warming is expected to make winters warm and wet periods are expected to become longer, more frequent or both. Models predict that global warming will bring milder weather and more intense storms to northern Europe and the Atlantic coast and above normal precipitation to southern Europe.

Global Warming and Arctic People

Global warming and the melting of Arctic ice could spell the end for the traditional way of life of the Arctic’s indigenous people. The melting of ice makes hunting difficult plus it reduces the populations of the animals the people hunt. Some hunters have drowned by falling through the ice.

The loss of Arctic ice is bad news for animals such as seals, walruses and polar bears that rely on summer ice for hunting and feeding and places to get out of the water. The loss also affects Arctic people such as the Inuit that depend on these animals to maintain their traditional way of life.

People of the Arctic depend on the Arctic freezing over and the ice being thick enough to support a sled weighed down with a walrus, seal or even whale carcasses. If a hunter falls through the ice and he isn't cut from his clothes and placed in warm blankets he can die of hypothermia or lose limbs to frostbite.

Arctic indigenous people have urged the United States and other greenhouse-gas-producing nations to cut emissions.

Global Warming and the Arctic

The Arctic region is warming at twice the rate as the rest of the world. Temperatures in the Arctic winter rose between 1.6̊C and 2.2̊C in the 20th century, compared to an average of 1̊C elsewhere in the world. According to an eight-nation report on Arctic climate change issued in 2004: “For the past 30 years, there's been a dramatic increase in temperatures and a decrease in the thickness of ice. Western Siberia has warmed up more than almost anywhere else on earth. Temperatures there have risen 3̊C in the last 40 years. Some think the Arctic could warm by an additional 8.3̊C to 11̊C by 2100.

The Arctic also plays a global role in dispersing heat. White ice and snow reflect away large amounts of energy and heat. When they melt they exposes darker ground and water, which absorbs more heat and accelerates warming in a way that doesn't happen further south. Some think this could cause a “positive feedback loop” which could warm up the entire planet. This process doesn't happen in Antarctica so much because the ice there is so thick that even if it melts it doesn't expose much land or water.

Evidence of global warming in the Arctic includes the presence of blue mussels only 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) from the North Pole (usually they are found in warmer off France and the United States); birch trees are growing in areas, where there used to be tundra; ice melts earlier than it did in the past; places once clogged with ice are now ice free; and Eskimos above the Arctic Circle have seen robins and yellow jackets for the first time.

The Arctic has traditionally acted as net “carbon sink," absorbing carbon into it vast expanse of lakes, tundra and bogs and storing it there as if it were a freezer. One of the big worries of global warning is how this system will be compromised. The Arctic could not only stop absorbing carbon, but start releasing it.

Global Warming and Arctic Ice

The Arctic ice cap is melting. By some estimates it will melt away completely in the warmer months by th year 2100 or perhaps earlier. Sea ice around the North Pole is shrinking at a rate of about 4 percent per decade. If the melting continues at this rate there will be 80 percent less ice in 2090 than there is today.

Based on declassified sonar data from military submarines, Arctic ice thinned by as much 40 percent between 1970 and 2000. Places where the ice was 10 feet thick in 1970 are now 6 feet. Many believe the 40 percent figure is too high. They say 15 percent is probably more accurate and say the ice is thinning at a rate of about 3 percent a year.

The amount of sea ice is shrinking by 15,000 square miles a year. In 2002, the Arctic's largest ice shelf broke in half. The following summer saw record low summer ice cover. The waters in the Arctic are warmer than they used to be and the currents that bring up warm water from the south are also warmer. Once Arctic ice begins to melt it sets off a snowballing chain reaction. As more water is exposed, the upper ocean absorbs more sunshine, warming the ocean further and causing more ice to melt.

Some of the ice loss appears to be the result of natural cycles. The most dire forecasts on ice melting are based on comparisons to the 1970s, an exceptionally cold period when there was more ice than usual. It is possible that warmer weather could cause more ice than less. Ice bridges that used to last all year and keep out the colder hard ice from the north have disappeared, allowing harder, colder ice to track south.

Consequences of Global Warming and Melting Arctic Ice

The Arctic is already well on its way to becoming a different place. In 2005, the largest ever summer retreat of Arctic ice was measured. The ice cover in September 2005 was 1,295,000 square kilometers, smaller than the historical average and a 9.8 percent from perennial ice cover. Some parts that the Arctic Ocean will lose 40 percent of their ice cover and the North Pole could be ice free by 2050.

Melting Arctic ice will not have much impact on sea levels, Most of it is water-based and were it all to melt it would not raise the sea level by much in the same way ice melting in a glass does not cause the liquid in the glass to overflow. Most Arctic ice is already floating. In addition, there is not that much of it compared to Antarctic ice.

The loss of Arctic ice is bad news for animals such as seals, walruses and polar bears that rely on summer ice for hunting and feeding and places to get out of the water. The loss also affects Arctic people such as the Inuit that depend on these animals to maintain their traditional way of life.

Pretty soon the ice-clogged Northwest Passage will be ice free. This could make shipping easier; improve access to offshore oil and gas sources on the continental shelves in the Arctic; and allow the exploitation of new fisheries in the open sea. Tankers that are too large to go through the Panama Canal could save large time and money by traveling through the same Northwest Passage that left many ice-trapped men dead in the 19th century. The increase in human traffic could result in more wear and tear on the Arctic ecosystem.

In Canada ice is melting three weeks earlier than it used to. Inuit say they have observed eroding shorelines, thinning ice and fewer polar bears. Northern rivers are discharging more fresh water into the Arctic seas than they used to and this could drastically change the ecology of the region.

In June 2005, the Alaskan Eskimo village of Shishmaref on an island on the Chukchi Sea announced that it was going to move because of rising seas levels, erosion, increased storms, lack of sea ice and the thawing of permafrost associated with global warming. The villages hunted seals that were and walruses that were disappearing. The village itself was threatened by storm surges. The estimated cost of moving the village to a safe location on the mainland was $180 million.

Global Warming, Tundra and Permafrost

Much of the land in the Arctic is frozen permanently into what is called permafrost. Permafrost is essentially bog frozen hard a brick. Sometimes the permafrost is several feet under the ground. Sometimes it lies under ice and snow at the surface. Melting permafrost creates bogs and pools of stagnant water and swamps filled with lichens, mosses and berries.. In some places the permafrost is over 1,400 feet thick. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the deepest recorded permafrost (more than 4,500 deep) was recorded near the Viluy River in Siberia.

Global warming has affected the tundra is is expected to affect it more in the future. By some estimates 15 percent of the Arctic tundra gas disappeared since the 1970s. Summer warming has reduced the number of days in which the tundra is hard enough to be driven on or drilled into.

The permafrost in a beat bog the size of France and Germany is melting in Siberia. The landscape is being transformed in a series of swamps and lakes, releasing billions of tons of methane trapped in the frozen peat In other places the permafrost line has moved 80 miles northward.

Melting permafrost results in drowned forests (as the permafrost melts the land sinks and is inundated with water), the creation of silk holes, buckled and cracked roads," buildings with undermined foundations, unsafe bridges, and moving of runways.

Places that used to melt down to about 15 centimeters in the summer now melt down to 30 centimeters. Melting permafrost can expose nuclear, chemical and biological contaminants that had been buried and were thought to be safe from release in the frozen ground.

One of the biggest worries with global warming is the effect it will have on the vast methane deposits that are tied up in frozen bogs and permafrost. If the worlds’ largest frozen peat bogs in Siberia melt it will releases vast amounts of methane, which is 20 times more powerful from a global warming perspective than carbon dioxide..

To track the retreat of permafrost scientist examine plant-covered mounds called palsas that form naturally over ice in the soil of northern peat bogs. Their disappearance is sign that permafrost is melting.

Global Warming and Northern Animals

Global warming is expected to increase the biodiversity of northern regions and species that live further south migrate northward but at the same time species unique to the region risk extinction.

Animals such as polar bears and seals rely on to reach their prey. The declined numbers and poor health of walruses. seals and whales is also blamed on the disappearance of Arctic Ice. In some cases the fresh meat if these animals is rancid and dogs won’t eat it.

The strange weather associated with global warming has been accompanied decline in the number and health of polar bear and walrus populations, sighting of thousands of dead sea birds and deformed seal pups. Entire herds of reindeer have died. Salmon flesh is riddled with strange parasites and mushrooms and tundras are scare.

In some places migrating birds are returning at a rate f five days earlier a decade. Eskimos describe seeing dragonflies and moose. Other species that rely on Arctic ice for their survival are the ringed seal, the bearded seal, hooded seal, harp seal and the little auk. A lack of ice make sit hard for the seals to raise their young.

Fish could migrate to cooler waters, further away from where fishermen can catch them. Salmon already are bing found in large numbers in places much further north than they have traditionally been found. Warm Pacific water flowing into th Arctic has increased the water temperatures as much as 4 degrees C warmer than ir used to e. The water has a high oxygen contempt and this help producing large amount of plankton and even algae blooms. These provide foods for fleas-size copepods, which in turn provide th basis for the animal food chain.

See Polar Bears, European Animals

Ozone Hole

The Ozone hole over the Arctic is getting larger. The ozone layer over the Arctic, Siberia, Greenland and Scandinavia was depleted by a record of 45 percent in the winter of 1995-96 according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2016

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