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Possible Effects of Global Warming
by tyler Sunday February 01, 2004 at 12:51 AM

Section 1 of Perspectives on Global Warming: A Primer

Possible Effects of Global Warming

Global warming deserves attention because of the extreme results of even a seemingly small change in temperature. As most people are now aware, the human race produces huge amounts of "greenhouse gases," carbon dioxide and methane, for example, which cause heat to be trapped within the atmosphere, instead of radiating back into space, as it would if the gases were not present. This acceleration of the "greenhouse effect" could, and perhaps already does, raise the overall temperature of the earth. A change of even a few degrees has a surprising effect on weather patterns and climate zones. This article will attempt to give a brief summary of possible effects of global warming which various scientists have predicted.

A change of even a few degrees in the overall global temperature could cause dramatic changes in all climate zones. Even the most skeptical scientists acknowledge that an increase in temperature would cause some changes. Namely, the sea level would rise faster, there would be more occurences of heat waves and droughts, as well as extreme storms and floods, and a wider spread of infectious diseases like malaria. Some claim that most climate zones could change dramatically, becoming inhospitable to the species which had previously existed there. Rainforest areas (central Africa, Amazon) will probably be the least dramatically affected, since their proximity to the equator makes their temperatures relatively constant, though they probably will experience less precipitation, which would cause a dramatic loss in species diversity. Desert and tundra areas (southwest United States, Sahara; northern Canada, Siberia) may recieve more rain, which could make them more valuable as cropland. But temperate zones (midwest United States, Europe) could become drier, even desertified. Also, the distribution of forests and other habitats could change at a faster rate than species can adapt. Some scientists have recently predicted that 25% of existing species could go extinct by 2050 if global warming is not quickly curbed.

Some scientists predict even worse results. The claim is highly disputed, and scientists do not have much reliable evidence to support it yet, but some believe there is a possibility for "run-away" global warming. They say that if the temperature of the earth rises enough, the polar ice caps will melt, which would increase the temperature of the oceans. A significant rise in the temperature of the oceans could cause huge bodies of methane under the ocean floor to become gaseous and escape into the atmosphere. Since methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas, this could potentially raise the temperatures even more. There would surely be severe drought caused by this, so there would be a high likelihood of massive forest fires. Because forests trap huge amounts of carbon dioxide, their destruction would not only release more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but also eliminate one of the elements which helps offset gas emissions. And from there the earth would become warmer and warmer. If this scenario were to come to pass, the earth would essentially become uninhabitable.

The general effects of global warming range from mildly inconvenient for some, to catastrophic for all, depending on which view one ascribes to. Since every ecosystem is slightly different, however, every region will experience different effects. In the Great Lakes region, the damage that global warming could cause is extensive. Crop yields are predicted to increase by 5-40%, depending on the type, but the crops would be less nutritious. Groundwater and lake levels are expected to decrease, while some streams and wetlands may dry up. More extreme weather patterns will create more flooding and more droughts, while a general increase in temperature will drive out native animals and encourage the spread of potentially destructive invasive species like gypsy moths. Changes in forest composition may also pose grave problems for the many migratory birds that pass through the region, and lower lake, stream, and wetland levels will surely be disastrous to aquatic biodiversity. Rapid and erratic changes in the growing season may cause problems for farmers, though economic benefits like lower heating costs and a longer shipping season could also occur. In addition, a greater number of hot days will greatly increase the danger of ozone.

There is much debate surrounding the possible effects of global warming, but even the less extreme possibilities will be unpleasant for many people, including those in the northeast Ohio area, while the more dramatic predictions are outright frightening.


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