By ANDREW DAMPF, Associated Press Writer
TURIN, Italy - Global warming (news - web sites) is threatening the world's ski resorts, with melting at lower altitudes forcing the sport to move higher and higher up mountains, according to a United Nations (news - web sites) study released Tuesday.
Downhill skiing could disappear altogether at some resorts, while at others, a retreating snow line will cut off base villages from their ski runs as soon as 2030, warned the report by the U.N. Environment Program.
"Climate change is happening now. We can measure it," said Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the U.N. program. "This study shows that it is not just the developing world that will suffer."
The report focused on ski resorts in Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Australia, the United States and Canada, using temperature forecasts produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of some 2,000 scientists.
The panel estimated temperatures will rise by a range of 2.5 degrees to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100 unless dramatic action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Many scientists believe that carbon dioxide and other so-called "greenhouse" gases trap heat in the atmosphere.
"It appears clear that many resorts, particularly the traditional, lower altitude resorts of Europe, will be either unable to operate as a result of lack of snow or will face additional costs, including artificial snowmaking, that may render them uneconomic," the report said.
U.N. officials presented their findings at an environmental conference of the International Olympic Committee (news - web sites), or IOC, hosted by organizers for the Turin 2006 Olympics.
The findings prompted Pal Schmitt, head of the committee's Sport and Environment Commission, to say that global warming will "probably affect how the IOC chooses host cities for future Winter Games."
Schmitt said that the IOC still prefers new candidate cities, but it may be forced to return to sites of recent games to avoid having to build structures that could be obsolete in the near future.
The magic number for ski resorts right now is an altitude of 4,265 feet, according to Rolf Buerk, an economic geographer at the University of Zurich who led the research behind the report.
At that level and above, there is reliable snowfall. In the future, however, global warming is going to push the regular snowfall altitude to between 4,900 feet and 6,000 feet, Buerk said.
"In Switzerland, several low-lying resorts are already having problems getting bank loans," he said.
One likely casualty is the scenic Austrian village of Kitzbuhel, Buerk said. The village is 2,493 feet above sea level and will eventually be cut off from its ski slopes. That's because, according to the report, Austria's snow line is expected to rise by 656 to 984 feet over the next 30-50 years.
The director of Kitzbuhel's tourism office was not immediately available for comment, but other ski resort areas expressed concern.
"We see this as a long-term threat," said Eduardo Zwissig, marketing manager of the upscale Swiss resort at Gstaad, which is at 3,465-foot level and has skiing from 4,950 to 9,900 feet.
He said authorities are looking for ways to "minimize economic risk," with plans including new hiking trails that can be used in summer and winter, as well as convention centers.
Asked about Swiss banks' reported wariness to lend money to resorts, Zwissig said: "We certainly feel this pressure."
Doris Scholl, of Grindelwald Tourist Office in Switzerland, said the resort was actively trying to expand non-skiing alternatives. But, she said, there have been investments in new ski lifts this year and more are planned.
"The situation isn't as tragic as that," Scholl said.
Buerk, the economic geographer, said artificial snow is not the answer.
"The main reason is it's too expensive," he said, explaining that it costs $600,000 in installation fees and $60,000 each year for each mile of artificial snow. "And if it's warmer than (freezing), it requires a lot of energy," Buerk added.
Researchers behind the U.N. study said they hoped the report would spur resorts into action.
And David Chernushenko, a scientist on the climate change panel based in Canada, cited examples in North America where resorts have begun to take steps to be more environmentally friendly.
The "Sustainable Slopes" program in Aspen, Colo., is a "world leader in running efficient ski centers," with a new ski lift run entirely on power generated by windmills, he said.
In Whistler, British Columbia, site of alpine events for the 2010 Olympics, the "entire town (is) moving toward environmental conservation," he said.
Ultimately, however, Chernushenko said the onus was on governments. "The ski, hotel and resort industry is a multinational one," he said. "And if they act together they can apply pressure on politicians."
On the Net:
U.N. Environment Program: http://www.unep.org
An average rise of just 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit is HUGE. That might not seem like a big rise in temperature, but it's enough to accelerate the melting of polar ice caps, and to threaten every coastal area in the world. The recent hurricane showed what an ocean swell of just a couple feet can do to areas such as the Inner Harbor.
A slight rise in temperatures can lead to a vicious cycle which is already being witnessed. The polar ice caps in the Arctic affect climate across the world -- changing the flow of currents in the ocean and affecting how much light is reflected back into space. As the highly reflective snow and ice of polar caps begin to melt (as they have been doing year by year), there is less surface area reflecting light, and more energy is absorbed by the oceans. This causes a rise in temperatures that accelerates the melting of the ice caps.
You can witness the effect of small changes in climate by looking back on the late 90's when this region was affected by El Nino. El Nino is a result of a small shift in the jet stream caused by unusually warm currents in the tropical Pacific. In the Mid-Atlantic region, El Nino obliterated the ski season for most of the local resorts. Snowmaking was of no help, since temperatures hovered in the 50's. Even in this region, the effects were diverse -- West Virginia resorts fared OK because they drew down lake effect snow. But resorts such as Whitetail were barely able to stay or keep open. No Mid-Atlantic resort could sustain more than a few seasons like that without running out of business.
This is a serious issue that, unfortunately, too many politicians are willing to ignore or play down or mortgage off as a problem for our children and grandchildren.
(Humbly climbing off my soapbox...)
"Climate Change and Winter Sports: Environmental and Economic Threats"
By Rolf Bürki, Hans Elsasser, Bruno Abegg
It is 9 pages long. If these findings turn out to be correct, there may be no skiing east of the Allegheny Front in 50-100 years. Sad. As Scott mentioned, even a 2 degree F change in regional temperatures here could spell doom for skiing. We're definitely living on the edge of viable skiing. The report, however, is talking about a 1.4-5.8 C change over the next 100 years. That's HUGE. Given this report, I'd be very reluctant to build a new ski area in this region--especially one with a base under 3200 feet.
"Global mean temperature has increased by about 0.6 - 1°C over the last 100 years (IPCC 2001). The years at the end of the nineties were the warmest over the last centuries. Global temperature will increase in the future. Of course, there are a lot of uncertainties and the range of scenarios of the future warming is quite big. However, IPCC estimates a temperature increase of 1.4 to 5.8° until 2100."
"Banks are (now) only prepared to grant very restrictive loans to ski resorts at altitudes below 1500 m, which are not particularly profitable."
[This message has been edited by johnfmh (edited 12-03-2003).]
That's one problem in their study which could point to their 2.5 degree number, while still being large, as being on the higher end of a potential spectrum of climate change rather than the lower end. Numerous other flaws have been pointed out in the IPCC reports, for instance modification of their reports *after* peer review has occurred to make the results seem more certain and extreme than those that their peer's saw. Climate change modeling is also, to say the least, an evolving art, and how much or if man is contributing to current climate change is open to question: temperature movements to the best of our knowledge over the last three centuries do not correlate with industrialization. The fewer determinate causalities we find for climate change, the less certain we can be of current trends continuing.
"When hell freezes over I'll ski there too."
It is true that accurate temp readings only go out 150 yrs or so. But we have vastly more data than that to base the conclusion of a global warming.
If you'd like to read more about this topic, I have found this web site which seems to be largely apolitical and accessible to the layman, like you and me...
I found it to be sobering, if not somewhat depressing.
As I understand it, the role of the carbon cycle and various other gases is well understood in global temp regulation, and we have measurements that go back 100s of thousands of years thanks to core ice sample analysis. Also we have accurate data to show how much of this stuff we humans have contributed as well. Ice ages, come and go, and in between are warm periods. The last ice age ended about 20k years ago and the next would be about 80k years from now. So we are in a warm period already.
BUT at the moment there's a disturbing uptick in temps across the globe, melting of glaciers and various other things that are outside the range predicted by the natural gases alone. That leads one to ask why. The science has been done to a degree that the why has been largely answered.
Science, a popular journal, published an article about a year ago describing the results of an ice core analysis done by Ohio State university.
Using ice core analysis, they were able to show that there were catastrophic droughts in the tropics 8,300, 5,200, and 4,000 years ago.
Ice core analysis is similar to tree ring analysis. Roughly each year, trees add a new ring. By examining the structure and composition of each ring, it's possible to make relatively definitive assessments about the health of the tree that year. For example, a robust ring means that the tree experienced healthy, moist conditions that year. A stunted ring means the tree may have experienced a drought. You can also tell when forest fires threatened (but didn't wipe out) a tree through ring analysis.
Tree ring can be spot-on accurate for dating archaeological artifacts going back hundreds of years -- sometimes, more accurate than carbon dating. How? Let's say you're studying the Anasazi Indians. You find the remains of an adobe house which had timber used as part of its construction. You can study the tree rings on that timber, and pick out patterns. For example, let's simplify things and say a "1" means the tree had a very healthy year, and a "0" means the tree had a stressful year. You might generate a string like the following:
So the tree had mostly healthy years early in its life, but experienced a four-year drought late in its life.
By using other tree artifacts in the area, you can begin to "line up" these strings, putting them together where they match. Another artifact might line up like the following:
(The two above strings aren't lining up since this isn't using a monospaced font, but if you slide the bottom line to the right a certain amount you can get the two lines to match.)
I'm simplifying things, but hopefully you get the point. (There's actually a lot more levels than zeroes and ones, so it's easier to definitively line up different trees. Each individual tree ring is like a fingerprint.)
At one end of this "link," you might know an exact date based on other evidence (carbon dating, external records, etc). Once you're able to determine an exact date along one of those columns (possibly far to the right of the original tree), you can work your way back and tell *exactly* how old the original tree artifact is -- thus pointing to the exact year that Anasazi structure was built. Scientists have successfully lined up dozens of trees this way.
What's fascinating about these techniques is that you're never looking directly at the answer. You're getting a glimpse of the past by piecing together different clues. This, of course, can lead to debate among scientists over the interpretation of clues, and that's part of the scientific process.
finsoutc and jeffb714 are right to warn that topics such as global warming can become politically charged and degenerate. With that warning, I think we're all on guard to make sure that doesn't happen here. More generally, climate change -- whatever the reason -- can have a broad impact on Mid-Atlantic skiing and boarding. Even a drought, as we had a couple years ago, can affect the water supplies available to resorts for snowmaking. I'm fascinated by science, so it doesn't take much for me to launch off on a scientific tangent (as I've done in this message ). A secret dream of mine is to spend a season in the Antarctic documenting the research going on there. Their summer is our winter, so I might be able to do that without DCSki missing a beat.
What's ironic is that even though the elevation of the South Pole is around 10,000 feet above sea level, and the place is covered with snow, and it rarely gets above 0 degrees Fahrenheit, the skiing is pretty bad. It's the highest (coldest, dryest) desert on the planet.
[This message has been edited by Scott (edited 12-03-2003).]
I think the major point of concern for us in the Mid-Atlantic is that we currently live on the edge of viable skiing. Therefore, if the UNEP global warming predictions are true, we are going to feel the effects first. It seems ludicrous for me to write this missive one night before a possible 24 inches of powder falls on our mountains, but hey, I remember all too well the winter of 01-02 and so I tend to take reports by UNEP a bit more seriously than I might have a few years ago.
I checked the background of the climate chart on the first page of the article that KevR linked to. In the FAQ section, they point out that their readings are concentrated in populated areas with sparse measurements from less populated regions such as the interior of Africa and Antarctica. This raises questions of heat islands, as Andy brought up. Sea data was largely based on voluntary observations and mostly confined to popular sea navigation channels. The article does not address satellite temperature measurements that cover far larger swaths of the earth and show little change in temperature since 1979.
Speaking of localized climates, I've reviewed historic temperatures in the mid-Atlantic area since about 1941. The readings I looked at were taken from areas that are somewhat outside the immediate urban heat bubbles but nonetheless were susceptible, I'd suspect, to warming trends relative to urbanization. Yet these records have shown a slight *decrease* in temperature since 1941, on the order of about a half degree F. Whatever global warming may be occurring, it doesn't appear to be having much land temperature impact here.
When forecasting, the best thing one can do to validate a model is backtest. For instance, in order to forecast prices, financial analysts use past data in their models to see if they could accurately forecast the prices that occurred over a historic period of time. Models that do a poor job of doing that are revamped or trashed. I have read that climactic models have not been very successful with backtesting. At the very least, agencies charged with forecasting climate change should (if government funded) be required to demonstrate the validity of their models through backtesting.
People could then concentrate on model assumptions, most particularly assumptions about future human activity. Because there is uncertainty over future human activity, a broad range of possibilities would have to be tested which could have a large impact on temperatures (or perhaps not). The IPCCs assumptions, however, were a bit outside the mainstream and treated in their forecasts as normal. Additionally, how deviations from normalcy in exogenous variables such as El Nino, sunspots, etc. interact with the range of human activity adds a potentially dizzying level of complexity to climate forecasts.
Finally, Discover Magazine chronicled a study being undertaken by the NOAA at Woods Hole, Massachusetts. It appears that over the last four decades-- possibly as a result of ice melt in the polar regions-- a large and growing mass of cold freshwater has been overspreading the North Atlantic. It is believed by Woods Hole scientists that *if* this freshwater reaches a critical mass, it could subvert the Gulf Stream and result in a dramatic downward shift (of up to 10 degrees F) in temperatures across much of eastern North America and western Europe.
Whether this happens or not, while the article KevR pointed us to was useful in documenting positive feedback mechanisms in global climate change, it did not highlight negative feedback mechanisms at all. How does global climate change contain itself? Does the process speed up as greenhouse gases increase? It's not obvious we understand nature's self-regulation at all.
Hey man, atleast that's how it looked on Land of the Lost.
I think as the sun burns more and more, the sun should lose mass and therefore attract the earth less and less therefore making us fly further and further away from the sun and making us colder. If this process isn't happening fast enough to counteract SUV greenhouse gas emissions, we could always make a bunch of rockets, anchor them to california some how and launch it into space, therefore decreasing our mass and sending us further from the sun and colder...counteracting greenhouse effects. That is unless the rockets emmit enough gases themselves to counteract any effect that the loss of mass of cali would induce.
Sure, the land of the lost was hot and stuff but didn't they get there by falling into the earth through a large crack. Therefore they may have just been in the core of the earth somehow and dinosaurs are actually hiding there. Either way, it didn't look like a good place for snowboarding.
Lastly, has anyone ever been around a massive forest fire? I was around one in Florida a few years back and you couldn't see Wal-Mart from the parking lot from Orlando to Daytona. If we are emmiting anything near as much greenhouse gases as these fires do I'd be surprised. Volcanoes do a number too. I think the planet will constantly warm up regardless of our contribution independently of the earth's relation to the sun. If we are indeed cyclical with our orbit and will eventually be further away or closer or whatever then it probably won't matter a bit what everyone's Hummer spews.
Andy-- don't worry yet about the Gulf Stream. As wonderful as it'd be for the ski season it's only a theory. In the meatime, "Carpe carp"-- seize the fish.
To whomever asked sortof -- the planet gets a major "glacial" every 100k years of "changes in the eccentricity of the Earth's orbit (a fact first discovered by the astronomer Johannes Kepler, 1571-1630). "
The last such ice was approx 20k years ago and so we are now in a general warming period today... relatively speaking. Of course its not constant and it bobbles around a bit -- with some stretches of years being warmer or colder.
650K years ago there was the largest identified glaciation, which helped form some familiar geographics features around the world such as fjords -- the sea level supposedly dropped a whopping 400 ft from all the ice buildup, and the global average temp went down 9 degress -- for 50000 yrs!
NOW -- look it's snowing out! Perhaps the beginning...
Or so I have read.
I as half way joking about the Land of the Lost... all I have read does seem to indicate that it was MUCH hotter when the dino's were around - after all how is a giant lizard going to stay warm??
Maybe a lizardologist type guy can comment on this. I am assuming dino's were cold blooded, and as far as I know there were no "Carvosaurus".