BY: CAROLINE ROLF
New research shows that previous studies aimed to combat global warming have massively underestimated the risk that unrelenting carbon dioxide emissions pose to our planet. Climate scientists warned on Tuesday that if warming continues at the current rate, the outcome could be catastrophic.
In 2009, nations agreed that maintaining planetary warming to 2 degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the preindustrial level would stabilize global warming. But what was once an ambitious goal has quickly become a dangerous threshold as Earth has already warmed about half this amount.
In findings released Tuesday, 19 scientific theorists have raised some serious questions about the 2°C target being strict enough to save our world from disaster. Despite previous efforts, the climate appears to be weakening with nearly all the world’s surface ice beginning to melt into the rapidly rising oceans. At the rate that we are burning fossil fuels and dumping trash in our water and gas into the atmosphere, research foresees society undergoing an abrupt climate shift in the near future.
The influential group of authors, including former NASA scientist James Hansen, predicted the catastrophic consequences would involve a killer storm more severe than we’ve ever experienced, the disappearance of land ice and a rise in sea levels so high that most of the world’s costal cities and their history would be lost forever.
What San Francisco’s coastline could look like with a sea level rise of 20 feet.
What has ensued from the paper’s release is a high-profile debate. Because of the extraordinary claims and Hansen’s reputation as a published climate scientist and political activist (which has led to multiple arrests at rallies), fellow scientists question if his research is ever skewed for political purposes.
Despite any uncertainties they may have about “Ice melt, sea level rise and superstorms,” there is one thing scientists can agree on with Hansen, which is that society is clearly not moving quickly enough to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that threaten the very existence of our planet.
NASA’s Oceans Melting Greenland field campaign is collecting data to understand how warm ocean water is speeding the loss of Greenland’s glaciers.
Stratification, the main idea in the new paper, means that warm ocean water could reach the base of ice sheets that sit below sea level and melt them from below. The repetition of this process causing mass amounts of melting ice could lead to an eventual halt of circulation in the Atlantic Ocean, due to an abundance of fresh water in the North Atlantic. The combination of cooling temperatures in the North Atlantic region and the warming equatorial region could create more extreme cyclone storms. These storms could create enormous waves large enough to hurl boulders in some locations.
The paper predicts what may occur in the upcoming years but also dwells on the past – about 120,000 years ago. This was the last time the temperatures on Earth warmed so drastically that much of the polar ice melted and sea levels rose nearly 30 feet.
Climate scientists agree that humanity at present could cause a rise in sea level greater than before. It was widely believed that this would take centuries, but the evidence in this paper argues that a climate shift could happen much more rapidly, say a several foot rise in sea level within the next 50 years. Take this as a useful reminder that rapid and significant changes are possible and what those changes might mean if we pass the point of no return.