A Harvard researcher is pointing toward a new reason to worry about the effects of climate change — national security.
A new report co-authored by Michael McElroy, the Gilbert Butler Professor of Environmental Studies, and D. James Baker, a former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, connects global climate change, extreme weather, and national security. During the next decade, the report concludes, climate change could have wide-reaching effects on everything from food, water, and energy supplies to critical infrastructure and economic security.
The study was conducted with funds provided by the Central Intelligence Agency. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the CIA or the U.S. government.
"Over the last century, the trend has been toward urbanization — to concentrate people in smaller areas," McElroy said. "We've built an infrastructure — whether it's where we build our homes or where we put our roads and bridges — that fits with that trend. If the weather pattern suddenly changes in a serious way, it could create very large problems. Bridges may be in the wrong place, or sea walls may not be high enough."
Possible effects on critical infrastructure, however, only scratch the surface of the security concerns.
On an international scale, the report points to recent events, such as flooding in Pakistan and sustained drought in eastern Africa, that may be tied to changing weather patterns. How the United States responds to such disasters — whether by delivering humanitarian aid or through technical support — could affect security.
"By recognizing the immediacy of these risks, the U.S. can enhance its own security and help other countries do a better job of preparing for and coping with near-term climate extremes," Baker said.
The report suggests that climate changes could even have long-reaching political effects.
It's possible, McElroy said, that climate changes may have contributed to the uprisings of the Arab Spring by causing a rise in food prices, or that the extended drought in northern Mexico has contributed to political instability and a rise in drug trafficking in the region.
"We don't have definitive answers, but our report raises these questions, because what we are saying is that these conditions are likely to be more normal than they were in the past," McElroy said. "There are also questions related to sea-level rise. The conventional wisdom is that sea level is rising by a small amount, but observations show it's rising about twice as fast as the models suggested. Could it actually go up by a large amount in a short period? I don't think you can rule that out."
Other potential effects, McElroy said, are tied to changes in an atmospheric circulation pattern called the Hadley circulation, in which warm tropical air rises, resulting in tropical rains. As the air moves to higher latitudes, it descends, causing the now-dry air to heat up. Regions where the hot, dry air returns to the surface are typically dominated by desert.
The problem, he said, is that evidence shows those arid regions are expanding.
"The observational data suggest that the Hadley circulation has expanded by several degrees in latitude," McElroy said. "That's a big deal, because if you shift where deserts are by just a few degrees, you're talking about moving the southwestern desert into the grain-producing region of the country, or moving the Sahara into southern Europe."
The report is the result of the authors' involvement with Medea, a group of scientists who support the U.S. government by examining declassified national security data useful for scientific inquiry. In recent decades, the group has worked with officials in the United States and Russia to declassify data on climatic conditions in the Arctic and thousands of spy satellite images. Those images have been used to study ancient settlement patterns in the Middle East and changes in Arctic ice."I would be reluctant to say that our report is the last word on short-term climate change," McElroy said. "Climate change is a moving target. We've done an honest, useful assessment of the state of play today, but we will need more information and more hard work to get it right. One of the recommendations in our report is the need for a serious investment in measurement and observation. It's really important to keep doing that, otherwise we're going to be flying blind."
Peter Reuell | EurekAlert!
Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT
Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy