Global Warming? Observed climate trends

23 October 2007 | 04:55 Code : 15729 Geoscience events
Across the northern Great Plains, average temperatures have risen more than 2....

  Across the northern Great Plains, average temperatures have risen more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century with increases of up to 5.5 degrees in parts of Montana, southern North Dakota and South Dakota. Temperatures were highest during the decade of the 1930s across the northern Great Plains including North Dakota, but statistics indicate the average summertime temperature in North Dakota has risen 2 degrees since 1895, including a spike of more than 1 degree during the ’30s.From 1993 through August 2007, the average summertime temperature in North Dakota was 66.5 degrees compared to an average temperature from 1895 through 1909 of 64.4 degrees. From 1929 through 1943, North Dakota experienced an average summertime temperature of 67.4 degrees.From 1890 to 2000, the mean annual temperature in Dickinson went from 39 to 42 degrees.Adnan Akyuz, the state climatologist and assistant professor of climatology in North Dakota State University’s soil science department, explains that statistics are consistent with scientific theories. According to Akyuz, during the period of the Dust Bowl years and slightly beyond, there was a prolonged drought including lack of winter snowfall, which in turn warmed the earth faster in the spring causing the temperature to rise quickly and remain higher throughout the summer and into autumn.“When the soil is dry, all of the solar radiation is used to heat the atmosphere just above the land causing a positive feedback, which heats the atmosphere even further,” Akyuz said. “The bad news does not stop there. Prolonged feedback provided opportunity for a local high-pressure center to linger in the area for a long time, deflecting storm systems elsewhere, in turn causing the dry period to last longer.”Summer temperatures in WardCounty have shown a similar trend, but with a markedly different outcome this past summer, according to statistics from NDSU. Since 1895, the average July temperature in WardCounty has been 68 degrees, but in July 2007, the average was 73 degrees. From 1929 through 1943, the average temperature was 67.8 degrees.But other seasonal temperatures in the northwest have increased since statehood as well, NDSU statistics revealed. The normal December temperature for WardCounty is 12 degrees. In 2006, the average temperature was 19 degrees. Normally, WardCounty experiences an average April temperature of 41 degrees, and 2007’s average was right on that mark. However, a normal September temperature of 43 was 56 degrees in WardCounty in 2006.“It’s really interesting to see the changes, even since the early 1980s,” said Will Gosnold, chair of geology and geological engineering at the University of North Dakota. “There was a dramatic warming of the ground, but it’s the last decade or two that temperatures have increased at the greatest rate. We can quantify greenhouse gases.”North Dakota has warmed up enough that the National Arbor Day Foundation has moved nearly all of the state into a Zone 4 in the hardiness scale of how plants grow in a certain climates. The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers much of North Dakota in Zone 3 with pockets around the state in Zone 4. However, the Arbor Day Foundation lists most of the state in Zone 4, except some areas in Bottineau, Rolette, Towner and Cavalier counties, which remain in Zone 3. Three localized areas west of the Missouri River in Mercer, Grant and Sioux counties also remain in Zone 3.In 1990, only those areas south of Interstate 94 and a narrow path parallel to the Red River were in Zone 4. The rest of the state was Zone 3.And since increased temperatures bring longer periods of drought, North Dakota could be seeing the beginning of prolonged drought not seen since the Dust Bowl years, according to the National Wildlife Federation. In fact, over the last 100 years, North Dakota’s annual precipitation has decreased 10 percent.If North Dakota’s average temperature continues to increase at its present pace, it will rise 6.75 degrees by 2100, which would result in lower streamflows for lakes and rivers and increase evaporation, which would in turn significantly reduce viable habitat, the agency said.The Wildlife Federation said North Dakota is home to 318 species of birds, 85 mammals, 15 reptiles, 87 fish and 12 amphibians. Rising temperatures will likely change the makeup of the entire ecosystems, forcing wildlife to shift its ranges or adapt.Loss of wildlife and habitat could mean a loss of tourism dollars, according to the federation. In 2001-2002, sports enthusiasts spent more than $468 million hunting and fishing in North Dakota. Gross business volume was $1 billion supporting more than 13,000 jobs.Carmen Miller with North Dakota Climate said her organization, in cooperation with the National Environmental Trust, wants to focus on advocacy, education and public awareness regarding global warming. Miller said there are campaigns in many states, but North Dakota’s efforts are to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions through market-based solutions.“The overwhelming majority in science see this as a major issue,” Miller said. “We’re taking a look at kids and people at all levels who are interested. There’s real opportunities here for teachers – not on the problem, but on how people can help, and scientists will be the best sources on the issue.”Based in Bismarck, North Dakota Climate disseminates information about global warming in North Dakota primarily through its Web site at ( The site offers explanations of what it calls a growing threat, solutions for North Dakota, news items and ways to help.How can this rise in temperature be stopped? The North Dakota Farmers Union has already implemented a plan that is becoming extremely popular in North Dakota and has spread to several other states, according to Deborah Williams, a professor and founder of Alaska Conservation Solutions, an environmental agency in Anchorage aimed at bringing awareness to climate change in Alaska and the rest of the nation. Williams said the Farmers Union’s carbon credit program has seen 833,000 acres enrolled, saving 320,000 tons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere. The Chicago Climate Exchange, the agency that pays producers to put its land in the carbon credit program, reimburses a farmer or rancher $1.50 per acre for no tilling on their cropland, $2.50 per acre for seeding grass and from $4-$12 for initiating forestry. Dale Enerson is the manager of the Farmers Union’s program. He said it has been so successful that the Farmers Union, or more specifically his office, has become the national fiscal agent for the carbon credit program. The popularity of this program is expected to continue.According to Miller, a summer roundtable discussion with members of the Farmers Union revealed that carbon trading and invasive pests not seen in the state before are important rural issues. She said North Dakota producers are taking a close look at the carbon credit program because, ultimately, the future of farming as we know it hangs in the balance unless something is done to stabilize the climate. “North Dakota farmers are getting involved in this because they recognize the problem and want to be part of the solution,” Miller said. “Farmers are taking a look at this and see the economic impact.”Another alternative is in wind energy. In recent years, wind generators have been popping up across the prairie, providing electricity to several communities. With the potential of wind energy in North Dakota, one third of the nation’s electricity demand could be produced here. The state now has an installed capacity of 66 megawatts with a potential of more than 1.3 trillion kilowatt hours.Gosnold believes the answer is geothermal.“All alternatives (to fossil fuels) should be explored, but my favorite is geothermal,” Gosnold said. “We have an enormous untapped resource that could replace much of the fossil fuel that we use, especially for space heating and cooling. If the United States would step up to use ground-source heat pumps, we could reduce our electric power usage by 75 percent.”Gosnold suggested consumers are reluctant to go into geothermal because of initial high-end costs. “But the payback time for a geothermal or ground-source system is less than five years,” he said. “Economics always plays a key role. That’s the first thing people look at.”

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