LCSC professor: Climate Change is real, but Superstorm Sandy not necessarily a result
Superstorm Sandy is still wreaking havoc in the Northeast and some climatologists are saying it may be due to a shift in weather patterns attributed to climate change.
Dr. Nancy Johnston, Adjunct Professor of Chemistry at Lewis-Clark State College, says while climate change is real, it is not necessarily to blame for the powerful storm that developed as a hurricane in the south Atlantic and eventually slammed into the northeast coast of the U.S.
"Climate change is real," said Johnston. “Carbon dioxide levels are at an all-time high and the earth has been warming over the past century. Scientists are highly certain that changes in temperature are due to the increase of carbon dioxide gas from fossil fuel emissions which enhance the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is a known process of absorption and re-radiation of heat into the atmosphere by gases like water, carbon dioxide, and methane. The more concentrated the greenhouse gases, the more heat is retained in the lower atmosphere."
Johnston, who earned a PhD in Atmospheric Chemistry from University of California Irvine under direction of Nobel Prize Laureate F. Sherwood Rowland (who discovered that CFCs deplete the ozone layer), measured atmospheric pollutants and studied carbon dioxide sequestration in the context of climate change. She says the severity and frequency of storms like Hurricane Sandy can be affected by climate change, but she cautions against concluding that Sandy is the direct result of changes in the global climate.
"It is not wise to attribute any one storm or other weather anomaly to climate change," Johnston said. "Yes, warmer oceans may fuel more tropical storms or hurricanes, but scientists must look at the long-term trends and changes in climate, not seasonal or day to day changes, which may be the due to natural weather variability."
Johnston added that, while a storm like Sandy may or may not be a spinoff of climate change, this past summer’s wildfires in the western U.S. seem to be an indicator of what lies ahead and she said more severe weather events and trends are likely.
"Warmer, dryer conditions can cause more wildfires, which in turn, rapidly release more carbon dioxide. Other consequences include sea level increase, melting ice sheets and glaciers, changes in livestock and agricultural productivity, water reallocation, and more severe weather related events. For example, the extent of the Arctic ice melt has just reached new records and less ice means increased warming of the oceans."
Johnston said scientists predict that unless carbon dioxide levels are reduced, the current trends will lead to sustained warming.
"Humans, animals, and plants will all be affected by a warmer, changing world,” said Johnston. “We are approaching a point where we have to take action, or reap the consequences. The earth is warming, there is no doubt. What should we do? Now that is the real question."