Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UK Essays.
Limiting global warming by the threshold of 1.5°C: The changing hydrosphere
Hydrosphere-atmosphere interactions play an integral part in the Earth system; for example, 25% of carbon dioxide (CO₂) is absorbed by the ocean alone (Canadell et al., 2007, as cited by Seijo et al., 2016, p.1). Thus water bodies on Earth act as major carbon sinks. However, global warming, caused by exponentially rising anthropogenic carbon emissions, is disrupting the equilibrium of many earth systems, including the hydrosphere. The aim of the 2015 Paris Agreement is to keep global warming below 1.5°C of pre-industrial levels and is important because this temperature is considered a ‘tipping point’ of the Earth system and for humans are irreversible effects. This essay will look into how some hydrosphere reservoirs including the oceans and cryosphere, and hydrologic fluxes are changing, using sources drawn from the 2018 IPCC Special Report.
Oceans constitute 97.5% of water reservoirs (Skinner & Murck, 2001), and play a dominant role in hydrosphere processes. Table 1 (Bittermann et al., 2017, p.5), shows that by 2050, a temperature stabilisation of 1.5°C will correspond to a global mean sea level (GMSL) rise of 19cm. In comparison, a 2°C rise in temperature would cause a 24cm rise. By 2150 however, the GMSL rise for 1.5°C and 2°C, is estimated to be 49cm and 67cm respectively, which is 1.4 times the 1.5°C projection. This variation in GMSL emphasises that global warming should be limited to 1.5°C as the initial small differences in GMSL projections increases over time, having significant implications in the future.
Table 1.Temperature projections associated with GMSL rise. Source: Bitterman et al., (2017, p.5)
With rising temperatures, the ocean is undergoing thermal expansion, which is thought to make up 55-70% of GMSL rise (Vermeer & Rahmstorf, 2009). By 2100, the resulting coastal flooding global annual flood costs under 1.5°C and 2°C scenarios could increase by US$ 1.4 trillion per year (Jevrejeva et al., 2018), and insurance may rise from 50-160% to 20-150% respectively, showing that economic and tangible losses to homes and industry could also rise considerably above the threshold of 1.5°C (Kopp et al., 2015, p.705). However, this does not include the additional increased intensity of storms. Warmer air ocean surface temperatures increase evaporation rates and produce more frequent low pressure systems, which results in storm surges in more intense storms and extreme weather events (Skinner & Murck, 2011). Lowe et al., (2001, p.186) highlights the significance of “meteorological forcing” by comparing areas of the UK where ocean-atmosphere interactions increase local storm surge height.
Being low-lying, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are particularly vulnerable to GMSL rise. Storm surges threaten infrastructure, and increase the risk of salt-water inundation, which contaminates the islands’ freshwater and irrigation supplies (Storlazzi et al., 2015), rendering the islands’ populations without food or water. Additionally, empirical evidence from Kopp et al., (2015) suggests that higher magnitudes and frequency of storm surges in North Carolina are likely to increase from GMSL rise and hydro-meteorological events, so after 2050 1-in-10 year floods occur annually and 4-5 1-in-100 year floods occur each century. Land within 1m of sea level houses more than 100 million people (Douglas & Peltier, 2002); so GMSL rise and associated flooding is significant. Bittermann et al., (2017) argue that the present conditions of global warming will have a long-term effect on the oceans so that coastal management will still need implementing beyond 2100. The above case studies are localised, but their wide spatiality indicates a future global increase of storm surges along coasts. Although the future ability of the oceans to store carbon is unknown, it is thought that increased temperatures may decrease its carbon-storage capacity (Holden et al., 2018). Therefore, based on ‘high confidence’ rise in current temperature and carbon absorption rates (IPCC, 2018), flooding will be felt in most coastal areas. Based on the above, it is clear that the oceans play a prominent role in the effects of hydrosphere change.
Another key impact of rising global temperatures is on the cryosphere in the form of melting ice, particularly at the poles. Analysis by Sigmond et al. (2018, p.1) suggest the difference between a 1.5°C and 2°C increase in temperature equates to an ice-free Arctic from “once in every five to once in every forty years”. The melted ice contributes to GMSL rise, which as previously discussed, threatens human populations globally, as well as disrupting the hydrologic cycle. Additionally, further melting creates a positive feedback loop as melted ice water has a lower albedo than ice, so absorbs more radiation, inducing further warming. The freshwater influx from melting ice sheets, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere affects the thermohaline circulation, and is thought to be weakening the Gulf Stream (Skinner & Murck, 2011). The significance of a thermohaline circulation shutdown has a global impact; because it moderates European climate, temperatures could reduce by 5°C (Vellinga & Wood, 2008). If this cooling effect were limited to just 1°C increase above pre-industrial levels, it would have a serious global impact. For primary industry, increased crop-failure would likely occur and by 2100, world GDP could be reduced by up to 0.08% (Tol., 2002). Furthermore, Link & Tol (2004) suggest widespread disease and other health issues may arise, resulting in a large outmigration from Europe. As these results were only modelled for a 1°C rise only, it is imperative that global warming should not exceed 1.5°C of pre-industrial conditions if such consequences are to be avoided.
Niederdrenk & Notz (2018) conclude that ice-free Septembers in the Arctic are highly likely for rises of 1.7°C and above. Therefore, the target of 1.5°C would ensure the Arctic maintains its ice-cover year-round. However, other evidence suggests that freshwater influx from Greenland into the northern Atlantic Ocean acts as a mechanism to offset the positive feedback induced by the melting ice’s reduced albedo and to help the system return to a steady-state. The extent of this effect on future temperature increases varies according to the model being used (Palter et al., 2018). Therefore, it is unclear how higher temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere could contribute to this “regional stabilizing effect” (Palter et al., 2018, p. 823).
Global warming has localised effects that alter the hydrosphere. Extremes of flooding and drought are caused by regional changes in precipitation and evaporation fluxes. There is ‘medium’ to ‘low confidence’ concerning future trends in relation to global warming (IPCC, 2018) due to other changes in the region over time, such as urbanisation or changes in river regimes which can affect a location’s vulnerability to such events. James et al., (2017) identify that precipitation will increase significantly with a 0.5°C increase in temperature, whereas for drought, there are regional variations. Moreover, a 1.5°C temperature rise compared to 2°C reduces high magnitude flooding events by 20-80% (Rasmussen et al., 2018, as cited by IPCC, 2018, p.3-144). The current evidence points towards other global warming factors that increase vulnerabilities. For instance, isostatic readjustment and river engineering are having a negative effect in deltas of Bangladesh and India, and threaten the coastal urban populations in particular (Brown et al., 2018). Bangladesh and India’s geography and development coupled with the effects of global warming, is accelerating the rate of GMSL rise, which increases the risk of flooding. The opposite effect can be seen in the Sahel region in Africa, where repositioning of the ITCZ, caused by warmer temperatures, has reduced precipitation over the Sahel, increasing evaporation rates by up to 10% (Ngaira, 2007). Furthermore, Ngaira (2007) argues that currently, with under 1°C of warming, coupled with human influence from past decades such as overgrazing, which leads to soil erosion and further desertification; exceeding temperatures of 1.5°C, the magnitude of these changes is expected to increase. Therefore, extremes of water surplus and deficit, with naturally or human driven environmental change are affecting the hydrosphere, which varies with location.
In conclusion, it is evident that changes to the hydrosphere have occurred due to global warming. The 2018 IPCC Special Report attributes a ‘high confidence’ towards global warming as the cause of these changes, together with warning that these trends will occur in the future with increased climatic change. Oceanic GMSL rise is the current dominant change in the hydrologic cycle, caused by thermal expansion and polar ice melt. Coastal populations are most at risk from this hydrosphere alteration due to increased flooding risk. Despite the ‘low’ to ‘medium’ confidence attached to extremes of water surplus and deficit being the cause of global temperatures, observations highlight the extent to which extremities in fluxes occur, and the potential sensitivity of such extremities to small temperature rises. Therefore, populations in continental interiors also suffer socio-economic losses as a result of global warming. For these reasons, it is imperative that global temperatures must not exceed 1.5°C due to the significant changes already made to the hydrological cycle and the impact on human environments, which would likely be far greater if carbon emissions are allowed to increase at the current or at any faster rate.
- Brown, S., Nicholls, R., Lázár, A., Hornby, D., Hill, C., Hazra, S., Appeaning Addo, K., Haque, A., Caesar, J. and Tompkins, E. (2018). What are the implications of sea-level rise for a 1.5, 2 and 3 °C rise in global mean temperatures in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and other vulnerable deltas?. Regional Environmental Change 18(6),1829–1842. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10113-018-1311-0 on 25 November 2018.
- Bittermann K., Rahmstorf S., Kopp R.E. & Kemp A.C. (2017) Global mean sea-level rise in a world agreed upon in Paris. Environmental Research Letters 12(12), Art 124010. Retrieved from http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa9def on 21 November 2018.
- Douglas B.C. & Peltier W.R. (2002) The puzzle of global sea level rise. Physics Today 55(3), 35-40. Retrieved from http://ruby.fgcu.edu/courses/twimberley/EnviroPhilo/PuzzleOf.pdf on 24 November 2018.
- Holden J., Brown L.E., Chapman P.J. Gilvear D.J., Grace J., Heal K.V., James T.D., Jeffries R., Kirkby M., Krom M.D., Lawson I., Lockwood J.G., Masselink G., McClatchey J., McDonald A.T., Murray T., Peacock J., Schattner U., Smith B., Taylor K.G. & Thomas D.S.G. (2017). Coasts. In An Introduction to Physical Geography and the Environment, 4th edn. (Holden J. ed), Pearson, Harlow, pp.584-624.
- IPCC (2018).Chapter 3: Impacts of 1.5ºC global warming on natural and human systems. In IPCC 2018 Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (Marengo J.A., Pereira J., Sherstyukov B., eds), Cambridge & New York, Total Pages 243. Retrieved from http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/special-reports/sr15/sr15_draft.pdf on 24 November 2018.
- James R., Washington R., Schleussner C., Rogelj, J.& Conway, D. (2017). Characterizing half-a-degree difference: a review of methods for identifying regional climate responses to global warming targets. WIREs Climate Change 8(2), Art e457. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wcc.457 on 25 November 2018.
- Jevrejeva, S., Jackson, L., Grinsted, A., Lincke, D. & Marzeion, B. (2018). Flood damage costs under the sea level rise with warming of 1.5 °C and 2 °C. Environmental Research Letters 13(7), Art 074014. Retrieved from http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aacc76/meta on 22 November 2018.
- Kopp, R.E., Horton, B.P., Kemp, A.C. & Tebaldi C. (2015) Past and future sea-level rise along the coast of North Carolina. Climatic Change 132(4), 693–707. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-015-1451-x on 22 November 2018.
- Link P.M. & Tol R.S.J. (2004) Possible economic impacts of a shutdown of the thermohaline circulation: an application of FUND. Portuguese Economic Journal 3(2), 99-114. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1007/s10258-004-0033-z on 24 November 2018.
- Lowe J., Gregory J. & Flather R. (2001) Changes in the occurrence of storm surges around the United Kingdom under a future climate scenario using a dynamic storm surge model driven by the Hadley Centre climate models. Climatic Change 18(3-4), 179–188. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s003820100163 on 22 November 2018.
- Ngaira J.K.W. (2007) Impact of climate change on agriculture in Africa by 2030. Scientific Research and Essays 2(7), 238-243. Retrieved from https://academicjournals.org/journal/SRE/article-full-text-pdf/3681DEA13377 on 25 November 2018.
- Niederdrenk, A. and Notz, D. (2018). Arctic Sea Ice in a 1.5°C Warmer World. Geophysical Research Letters 45(4),1963-1971. Retrieved from https://agupubs-onlinelibrary-wiley-com.elib.tcd.ie/doi/10.1002/2017GL076159 on 24 November 2018.
- Palter J.B., Frölicher T.L., Paynter D., & John J.G. (2018) Climate, ocean circulation, and sea level changes under stabilization and overshoot pathways to 1.5K warming. Earth System Dynamics 9(2) 817–828. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-9-817-2018 on 22 November 2018.
- Sigmond, M., Fyfe J.C., Swart N.C. (2018) Ice-free Arctic projections under the Paris Agreement. Nature Climate Change 8(5), 404-408. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-018-0124-y on 24 November 2018.
- Skinner, B. J., Murck, B. W. & Porter, S. C (2011). The World Ocean. In Blue Planet An Introduction to Earth System Science, 3rd edn. (Skinner B.J. & Murck B.W. eds), New York, Wiley, pp.287-314.
- Storlazzi, C. D., Elwin, E. P. L., & Berkowitz, P. (2015). Many atolls may be uninhabitable within decades due to climate change. Scientific Reports, 5, Art 14546. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1038/srep14546 on 25 November 2018.
- Tol R.S.J. (2002) Estimates of the Damage Costs of Climate Change, Part II. Dynamic Estimates Environmental and Resource Economics 21(2), 135-60. Retrieved from https://link-springer-com.elib.tcd.ie/article/10.1023%2FA%3A101453941459 on 24November 2018.
- Vellinga M. & Wood R.A (2002) Global Climatic Impacts of a Collapse of the Atlantic Thermohaline Circulation. Climatic Change 54(3), 251-267. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1016168827653 on 24 November 2018.
- Vermeer, M. and Rahmstorf, S. (2009). Global sea level linked to global temperature. National Academy of Sciences 106 (51), 21527-21532. Retrieved from http://www.pnas.org/content/106/51/21527 on 22 November 2018.
Table 1: Bittermann K., Rahmstorf S., Kopp R.E. & Kemp A.C. (2017) Global mean sea-level rise in a world agreed upon in Paris. Environmental Research Letters 12(12), Art 124010, p. 5. Retrieved from http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa9def on 21 November 2018.
UKEssays have over 500 professional essay writers, ready and waiting to help you with your studies.Find out more
Cite This Work
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:
Related ServicesView all
DMCA / Removal Request
If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have the essay published on the UK Essays website then please: