Svitlana Krakovska, Head of applied climatology lab at Ukrainian Hydrometeorologic Institute
There has not been such concentration of greenhouse gases for the last 2 million years
06.10.2023 03:40

Blossoming trees in November, Christmas at a temperature of +10, devastating fires, tropical nights in Kyiv and dust storms in Chernihiv oblast, a couple of months without rain and suddenly huge amounts of rain in the Carpathians. All of it is caused by climate change. Scientists already have scenarios for development of climate events for the next century. These scenarios are not fantasy but a simple forecast of numeric models. Humanity is unable to stop climate change, because climate cycles were strengthened by our impact on climate and everything happens fast. However, we still can contain changes and prevent our grandchildren from living in a desert. We must adapt to the changes because we have no other way. We will talk about this with one of 10 most influential scientists of the world in 2022 according to the British magazine Nature, the head of laboratory of applied climatology of Ukrainian Hydrometeorologic Institute of SES of Ukraine and NASU, leading expert of the APENA-3 EU project expert Svitlana Krakovska. 

JULY WAS THE HOTTEST OVER THE LAST 100 YEARS

– Svitlana, this summer has “heated up" public interest toward climate change in all respects. It was even reported that there was a heat record unseen for thousands of years. Is it so?

– We definitely know that July 2023 was the hottest among the last 100-150 years because instrumental measurements were conducted during this period. In a certain time in certain points of the planet measurements are made and then based on these measurements World meteorologic organization makes conclusion and issues yearly reports. These are absolutely reliable data and these measurements have been conducted since the nineteenth century.

Intergovernmental group of experts in climate change, which I participate in, conducts evaluations. Speaking about thousands of years, we do not have such data. Temperature that was before the period of instrumental measurements is defined by circles of tree trunks, sediments of lakes or rivers. It is also defined by the “ice archive” in the Antarctic, where it is possible to gather data concerning hundreds of thousands of years based on the condition of ice. 

– What was the forecast for this summer? 

– It was envisaged that it would be warmer than a couple of previous ones. Everyone has already heard about El Nino and La Nina. These are elevations of cold or warm waters near western coast of North America that impact climate. These huge streams are formed in the Pacific Ocean and have impact on weather of the whole planet and, correspondingly, Ukraine. Past couple of years we were living in a La Nina phase (cooling) and somewhere from the start of 2023 the phase started changing, water became warmer and that is why it was forecasted that summer would be warmer. The forecast came true.

“CARBON BLANKET” HAS BECOME MUCH THICKER

– The main reason of climate change is greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. How long are they stored there? 

– They have been stored there for centuries and now we have problems which were caused by our grandads.

Concentration of greenhouse gases in atmosphere has direct connection with temperature. It can also be defined by ice samples in Antarctic or by fossil remains.

According to scientific data, there have not been such concentration as now for 2 million years or even more. We definitely know that concentration increases with acceleration and has already reached 420 ppm and when the industrial period started in the nineteenth century it was only 260-270 ppm.

It is impossible not to see such difference. These are background concentrations that are measured in remote points – in Hawaii, Antarctic etc. Without a doubt, the reasons for increase in the pace of climate change is human activity. It is confirmed by conclusions of the Intergovernmental panel of experts on climate change at the UN.

– Some people are still skeptical about the conclusions on the fact that acceleration of climate change was caused by humanity. They say that climate has been changing before as well… 

– Of course, it changed. However, it took place not that fast, basically within one generation of humanity.

Of course, there was always cycle of carbon: its certain part was emitted in the atmosphere and the same part was absorbed. Climate system adapted to these processes and was stable during millions of years.

And then humanity in one “geologic moment” (during decades) raised the carbon that was hidden in the depths of the Earth in the atmosphere. And this powerful “injection” violated carbon, and correspondingly energy balance in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that contributed to origination of life on our planet as it covers it with a blanket and smooths temperature changes between day and nights and between seasons as well.

However now this “carbon blanket” has become significantly thicker and neither oceans not plants can not absorb carbon in such quantity. By the way, ocean regulates climate and now it got heated up to 2 kilometers deep. It is still able to absorb heat, however due to heating it is less capable of processing carbon. Moreover, ocean acidity increases and living organisms, primarily corals and clams, react to it. That is why it is unknown how these changes will impact the ecosystem of the whole planet. 

COOLING WAS EXPECTED INSTEAD OF WARMING

– Sceptics say that nothing special takes place right now, it is only another stage of climate change. Which arguments do scientists have to prove that climate changes not in the same way as always?

– Frequency of climate change really exists and it is caused namely by astronomic factors. For example, 60-year cycle is well demonstrated by a global temperature, average for the whole planet, even during the previous 150-180 years of observations.

However, approximately from 2000 we should have been in the descending branch of this 60-year cycle. It means that right now we are in a natural cycle of cooling in comparison with the end of the 20th century.

However, it does not happen: temperature steadily increases. It means that anthropogenic factor is significantly decreased by a natural cycle of cooling and we are lucky that we have not yet experienced climate change to the fullest.

Approximately in 2030s the warming phase will begin and cycle of warming, caused by humanity, will be strengthened, and not compensated by each other. Then everything will become much worse.

Here is the argument. That is why scientists call to take immediate actions already. Because climate change is about here and now. 

– At a famous climate conference in Paris in 2015 world leaders reached an agreement to prevent a global disaster. It is considered that when humanity exceeds temperature threshold of 1,5 degrees it will lead to start of an irreversible mechanism of climate change, due to which part of landmass will be underwater, some of the territories will turn into a scorched desert. Why 1,5 degrees exactly?

– Well. I would say that this is mostly a demonstrative indicator to make it easier to communicate and explain to people what is ahead of us.

Climate changes slowly, but when changes reach a tipping point then collapse begins. When it happens the majority of population of the planet will feel the consequences.

Recently there were 750 mm of precipitation in Greece during one day, that means 750 liters per square meter of a quite big area! This is not only threatening, it is catastrophic.

Such extreme phenomena will become more frequent in the world. 

RUSSIA WAGES A FOSSIL FUEL WAR

– You became famous outside of Ukraine when at the beginning of invasion, you called this war “a fossil fuel war” in the presence of international scientists and experts. Has it affected international community? 

– Yes, definitely. I connected climate change with war, and you know, foreign colleagues and journalists have heard me! After that I was addressed concerning interviews almost daily, I was cited in Europe and the USA.

The world started talking about the fact that fossil fuel, represented by Russia, is at war, to remain in this world and rule it and if we stop buying energy sources from Russia then it will help Ukraine.

Our enemy manipulated fossil fuel and now it manipulates food safety. Fossil fuel lobby is extremely active right now. If the world does not refuse from fossil fuel, then it will extend dependence from Russian and other dictators. Because in one way or another they rely on fossil fuel.

Of course, it will be impossible to refuse from hydrocarbons instantly. This dependence requires replacement and continuous “treatment”.

There is alternative for this in the world, which is renewable energy sources.

During last winter we all in Ukraine felt what it is like being dependent from fossil fuels. Even if you have a generator, you still need petrol or diesel. If you have no fuel then this is it.

There is and always will be sun, wind and water. Our ancestors used these energy sources. However, they were unable to accumulate and store it. We reached a level of development where we are able to accumulate energy. Our military has already appreciated advantages of solar stations at the frontline. They are quite light, quiet, do not emit exhaust, gadgets can always be charged even when the sun is behind the clouds.

It is about our energy independence and safety. 

ADAPTATION STRATEGIES FOR UKRAINE

– If we speak about climate of Ukraine in 30 or 50 years, what will be the main issues: water scarcity and droughts in the south, floodings in the west of Ukraine? Will it be required to change crops and say goodbye to ski resorts? 

– You named everything correctly. There will be droughts, and these droughts do not exclude extreme precipitation and floodings in the south – in Crimea, Mykolayiv, Kherson, Odesa, Zaporizhzhia oblasts. The trend will be similar to Greece: first everything burned, then everything was flooded.

To prevent this from happening in our mountains, Carpathians shall be preserved and trees shall not be felled there. Moreover, green tourism may bring people more money than felled and sold trees or ski runs without snow.

Climate change is not only about increase in temperature, it is also about increase in extreme weather phenomena. 

– How should we learn to live in a world of climate changes that will affect every sector of economy and each sphere of human life? 

– All that we can is, for one thing, prevent even bigger impact on a climate system, meaning decrease emissions or ramp up absorption, for example with greenery, and at the same time it is already needed to adapt to these changes that have already happened or are about to happen and the faster we start the less losses, even casualties, we will incur.

Basically, at every level, from international to individual, action plan is required that on the national level is called climate change adaptation strategy. Now within the European APENA-3 project we, together with other experts, develop climate change adaptation strategies for three pilot oblasts of Ukraine. These are first such strategies in Ukraine. Quite possible that they are first among such in Europe as well, because no country has not made such comprehensive assessments yet for the regions with various natural areas and economic sectors, and especially during war.

We have developed special methodology, collected data for lots of past years, took into consideration more than 30 parameters that characterize temperature mode, modes of wind and humidity, including snow cover, evaluated vulnerability of various sectors of economy to change of these climate impact indicators by the end of the century. Later, according to this, we will develop a list of adaptation actions that can be recommended for each region. Various recommendations will be given to different sectors, namely tourism, construction, agriculture.

And of course, we consult with specialists in these sectors, establish working groups, consult on which actions will be better for their sector.

We have already done this in Mykolayiv, Ivano-Frankivsk and now we will begin doing this in Lviv oblast. Mykolayiv oblast suffered from invaders and it is required to take care of such communities right now for their recovery to be conducted taking into consideration climate change.

This experience may be extended to other regions that suffered from the invaders.

– You say that the forecast for the next century has already been developed. Which periods does it cover exactly?

– Speaking about climate models and forecasts, we consider three time horizons: 2021–2040 (we have already entered this period), later – 2041–2060 and the latest is – 2081–2100.

We have two scenarios of events: optimistic and pessimistic, because we don’t know how people will react to climate change and whether actions will be taken. 

HOW TO DISPERSE THE CLOUDS

– Svitlana, you started your career in science from clouds. Lack of precipitation or extreme precipitation are also features of climate change. Can we manage clouds and rains?

– Yes, I entered climatology from cloud physics. I researched and studied how clouds and precipitation, namely rain, snow, hail, are formed.

It is actually possible to disperse clouds and cause rain. It is possible to intensify the processes or redistribute precipitation to certain territories, for example to areas with issues concerning water supply.

Starting from sixties of the previous century experiments concerning increase in precipitation in steppe part of Ukraine were conducted at the first experimental polygon in the world with a radar and a dense network of precipitation measurements. Precipitation formation speed depends on the quantity of cores (pieces of ice or other pieces) in a cloud on which humidity is condensed. In order to increase this quantity a cloud was seeded with silver iodide or dry ice from a plain that was flying either above or under it (depending on air vertical flows). Movement of a cloud, when it would reach the required place and when it would be needed to precipitation to fall were preliminarily defined.

I remember how we did this in Crimea in 1988-1989. The same technology was applied in the Soviet Union for parades or Olympic Games for assurance of nice weather. In the seventies even Americans came to our university to learn from our experience.

After collapse of the USSR this work went on for a while and then it deteriorated. American scientists continued their research and partly classified it. By the way, during presidency of Victor Yanukovych, somebody remembered about those experiments on “cloud dispersal” and our specialists were involved in assurance of nice weather for a parade.

Later I also had a chance to fly to “disperse clouds” for the Independence Day of Ukraine.

– How would one use such precipitation management in the current circumstances? 

– For example, we could use this method for filling water reservoirs during a period when there is precipitation to have enough water during dry period. It is also useful for protection from hail. Big hail may be extremely devastating. If a cloud is seeded in time with addition of cores then humidity will disperse on bigger quantity of particles and then it will be smaller or may even melt before falling on the ground and will turn into rain.

Lesia Moskalenko

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