Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Security risks of extreme weather and climate change

Date:
February 11, 2013
Source:
Harvard University
Summary:
A new study, conducted specifically to explore the forces driving extreme weather events and their implications for national security planning over the next decade, finds that the early ramifications of climate extremes resulting from climate change are already upon us and will continue to be felt over the next decade, directly impacting US national security interests.

Hurricane Katrina. Predicted changes in extremes include more record high temperatures; fewer but stronger tropical cyclones; wider areas of drought and increases in precipitation; increased climate variability; Arctic warming and attendant impacts; and continued sea level rise as greenhouse warming continues and even accelerates.
Credit: NOAA

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.

"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."

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.

Report: Climate Extremes: Recent Trends with Implications for National Security at www.environment.harvard.edu/climate-extremes


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Harvard University. "Security risks of extreme weather and climate change." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 February 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130211135015.htm>.
Harvard University. (2013, February 11). Security risks of extreme weather and climate change. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130211135015.htm
Harvard University. "Security risks of extreme weather and climate change." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130211135015.htm (accessed October 23, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

San Diego Zoo's White Rhinos Provide Hope for the Critically Endangered Species

San Diego Zoo's White Rhinos Provide Hope for the Critically Endangered Species

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 22, 2014) — The pair of rare white northern rhinos bring hope for their species as only six remain in the world. Elly Park reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Trick-or-Treating Banned Because of Polar Bears

Trick-or-Treating Banned Because of Polar Bears

Buzz60 (Oct. 21, 2014) — Mother Nature is pulling a trick on the kids of Arviat, Canada. As Mara Montalbano (@maramontalbano) tells us, the effects of global warming caused the town to ban trick-or-treating this Halloween. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) — He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Detroit's Money Woes Led To U.N.-Condemned Water Cutoffs

How Detroit's Money Woes Led To U.N.-Condemned Water Cutoffs

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) — The United Nations says water is a human right, but should it be free? Detroit has cut off water to residents who can't pay, and the U.N. isn't happy. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins