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Published: Wednesday, 4/9/2003

Winters could get much warmer

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Winters could be as much as 12 degrees warmer in the Great Lakes region by the end of the century, according to a report issued yesterday by a Midwestern team of climate researchers.

And that would accelerate the evaporation rate of the Earth's largest supply of fresh surface water. It also would cripple cold-weather businesses, such as skiing and ice-fishing, the researchers said.

Ohio, one of the top agricultural states, could end up with drier soils and more droughts. Yields of some crops, such as soybeans, corn, and wheat, could be improved by a longer growing season.

Yet the frequency of severe rainstorms and flooding could make production more difficult. It could even lead to expensive irrigation in some areas of the state, the report said.

“Overall, extreme heat will be more common,” according to the report, which predicts end-of-the-century temperatures will be 7 to 12 degrees warmer in the winter and 6 to 14 degrees hotter in the summer.

Lead author George Kling, of the University of Michigan, said a summer in Illinois could feel like a summer in Oklahoma within three decades. “Climate change will alter the character of the Great Lakes region, presenting challenges to the environment, economy, and the people who live there,” Dr. Kling, a UM biology professor, said.

The report was based on a two-year study by Dr. Kling and two other researchers from UM, plus scientists from the University of Illinois, University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin, and University of Toronto. It was published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Cambridge, Mass., and the Ecological Society of America, based in Washington.

A growing consensus of experts view climate change as inevitable, although they may disagree on the cause and the magnitude of the problem.

Similar predictions were made in October, 2000 by a team of 35 Midwestern scientists, the first of its kind for the White House.

In that report, officials said global warming could cause a 2-to-5-foot drop in the Great Lakes by the end of the century, potentially costing the shipping industry - and ultimately the consumer - billions of dollars. Fishing and recreational boating, two of the strongest elements of the region's economy, also were expected to take big hits.

The new report reaffirms that climate change is inevitable, based on the burning of fossil fuels which have released tons of carbon dioxide and other so-called “greenhouse gases” into the atmosphere for decades.

The report calls for cutbacks in emissions of those heat-trapping gases. For Ohio, that would mean more efficient coal plants.

For the automotive industry, that would mean developing more efficient automobiles, including a new breed that operates on hydrogen-powered fuel cells. In their most efficient form, the latter would emit only water vapor - but they are not expected to be produced for years.

David Friedman, senior vehicles engineer for the Union of Concerned Scientists, predicted that consumers would embrace those cars as much as they did airbags.

“I think the public is ready to make these choices. The problem is they don't have them now,” he said.

The group hopes the latest global warming forecast helps spur President Bush to become more aggressive about reducing emissions. Although the President said in his State of the Union address that he supports funding for fuel cells, his administration has been widely criticized by environmentalists for its air pollution policies.

In November, the Bush administration announced a relaxation of clean air rules that will benefit coal-fired electric utilities, chemical factories, and oil refineries. And shortly after Mr. Bush took office in 2001, he rejected the Kyoto Protocol signed by 178 nations.

That act would have committed the United States to work with other industrialized countries in reducing emissions.

“Obviously, there hasn't been much happening at the national level,” Rich Hayes, Union of Concerned Scientists spokesman, said.



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