Imagine the noontime sky suddenly growing dark as night. Street lights kick on. Suddenly, visibility drops dramatically. It hurts to stand in the wake of blowing dust and soot. You cannot keep your eyes open. It becomes difficult to breathe. You are standing in the midst of a modern-day dust bowl.
Arizona and Texas residents have firsthand knowledge of what individuals in the 1930s experienced when dust storms rose up and blanketed the area. While these storms are common in Arizona, climate change threatens to add new ferocity to these events. Part of the reason lies with its effects on drought.
July 2011 saw nearly 12 percent of the lower 48 states in the grip of exceptional drought, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center. Seven states recorded area percentages over 80 percent. These findings fall inline with a November 2011 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that warns of an increase in such extremes if climate change continues its present-day course.
As scientists delve deeper into climate change, another finding has emerged. The effects of climate change also contain a latitude variable. While many southern states saw heat waves, researchers observed cooling effects in northern U.S. and Canada forests affected by deforestation in areas above 45 degrees north latitude. Coniferous forests dominate these regions, with pockets of broadleaf trees.
Scientists concluded that deforestation allows an increase in reflected sunlight, in a study published in the November 17, 2011 issue of Nature. Trees, on the other hand, absorb sunlight, which accounts for the difference in temperature. The effects appeared to be localized rather than widespread. This study was the first to demonstrate these occurrences.
These findings add complexity to defining and modeling climate change. They also add an uncertainty that can increase confusion as the general population tries to make sense of the facts. What is clear is that science is identifying specific consequences of climate change with more certainty. It shows that solutions to climate change may be as varied as the effects caused by it.