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Study in Nature Reveals Urgent New Time Frame for Climate Change

Study in Nature Reveals Urgent New Time Frame for Climate Change

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Published by COMPASSonline
Addressing a gap in the climate science literature, researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa describe when and where climate will depart from what we’ve experienced over the past 150 years. Published in the October 10, 2013 issue of Nature, the scientists developed a comprehensive index to describe the timing of climate change. They found the global average departure date under a business-as-usual scenario is 2047; under an alternative emissions stabilization scenario, that year is pushed to 2069. A significant finding was that tropical regions – which hold most of the world's biodiversity and many of the world's poorest countries – will experience novel climates first. Those regions, unaccustomed to large or rapid changes in climate, could face catastrophic consequences. This systematic study highlights the importance of timing as well as absolute measures and shows we are closer than we realized to unprecedented climates.
Addressing a gap in the climate science literature, researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa describe when and where climate will depart from what we’ve experienced over the past 150 years. Published in the October 10, 2013 issue of Nature, the scientists developed a comprehensive index to describe the timing of climate change. They found the global average departure date under a business-as-usual scenario is 2047; under an alternative emissions stabilization scenario, that year is pushed to 2069. A significant finding was that tropical regions – which hold most of the world's biodiversity and many of the world's poorest countries – will experience novel climates first. Those regions, unaccustomed to large or rapid changes in climate, could face catastrophic consequences. This systematic study highlights the importance of timing as well as absolute measures and shows we are closer than we realized to unprecedented climates.

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Published by: COMPASSonline on Oct 09, 2013
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11/05/2014

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MediaContacts:
LizNeeley,COMPASS+1(206)954-1150,lizneeley@compassonline.orgLisaShirota,UniversityofHawaiiatManoa+1(808)956-2340,lshirota@hawaii.edu
Studyin
Nature
RevealsUrgentNewTimeFrameforClimateChange
Theseesawvariabilityofglobaltemperaturesoftenengendersdebateoverhowseriouslyweshouldtakeclimatechange.Butwithin35years,eventhelowestmonthlydipsintemperatureswillbehotterthanwe’veexperiencedinthepast150years,accordingtoanewandmassiveanalysisofallclimatemodels.Thetropicswillbethefirsttoexceedthelimitsofhistoricalextremesandexperienceanunabatedheatwavethatthreatensbiodiversityandheavilypopulatedcountrieswiththefewestresourcestoadapt.
Ecologicalandsocietaldisruptionsbymodernclimatechangearecriticallydeterminedbythetimeframeoverwhichclimatesshift.CamiloMoraandcolleaguesintheCollegeofSocialSciences’DepartmentofGeographyattheUniversityofHawaii,Manoahavedevelopedonesuchtimeframe.Thestudy,entitled“Theprojectedtimingofclimatedeparturefromrecentvariability,”willbepublishedintheOctober10issueof
Nature
andprovidesanindexoftheyearwhenthemeanclimateofanygivenlocationonEarthwillshiftcontinuouslyoutsidethemostextremerecordsexperiencedinthepast150years.Thenewindexshowsasurprisingresult.Areasinthetropicsareprojectedtoexperienceunprecedentedclimatesfirst–withinthenextdecade.Underabusiness-as-usualscenario,theindexshowstheaveragelocationonEarthwillexperiencearadicallydifferentclimateby2047.Underanalternatescenariowithgreenhousegasemissionsstabilization,theglobalmeanclimatedeparturewillbe2069.“Theresultsshockedus.Regardlessofthescenario,changeswillbecomingsoon,”saidleadauthorCamiloMora.“Withinmygeneration,whateverclimatewewereusedtowillbeathingofthepast.”Thescientistscalculatedtheindexforadditionalvariablesincludingevaporation,precipitation,andoceansurfacetemperatureandpH.WhenlookingatseasurfacepH,theindexindicatesthatwesurpassedthelimitsofhistoricalextremesin2008.Thisisconsistentwithotherrecentstudies,andisexplainedbythefactthatoceanpHhasanarrowrangeofhistoricalvariabilityandbecausetheoceanhasabsorbedaconsiderablefractionofhuman-causedCO
2
emissions.
 
Thestudyfoundthattheoverarchingglobaleffectofclimatechangeonbiodiversitywilloccurnotonlyasaresultofthelargestabsolutechangesatthepoles,butalso,perhapsmoreurgently,fromsmallbutrapidchangesinthetropics.Tropicalspeciesareunaccustomedtoclimatevariabilityandarethereforemorevulnerabletorelativelysmallchanges.Thetropicsholdtheworld’sgreatestdiversityofmarineandterrestrialspeciesandwillexperienceunprecedentedclimatessome10yearsearlierthananywhereelseonEarth.Previousstudieshavealreadyshownthatcoralsandothertropicalspeciesarecurrentlylivinginareasneartheirphysiologicallimits.ThestudysuggeststhatconservationplanningcouldbeunderminedasprotectedareaswillfaceunprecedentedclimatesjustasearlyandbecausemostcentersofhighspeciesdiversityarelocatedindevelopingcountriesRapidchangewilltamperwiththefunctioningofEarth’sbiologicalsystems,forcingspeciestoeithermoveinanattempttotracksuitableclimates,stayandtrytoadapttothenewclimate,orgoextinct."Thisworkdemonstratesthatwearepushingtheecosystemsoftheworldoutoftheenvironmentinwhichtheyevolvedintowhollynewconditionsthattheymaynotbeabletocopewith.Extinctionsarelikelytoresult,”saidKenCaldeiraoftheCarnegieInstitutionforScience’sDepartmentofGlobalEcology,andwhowasnotinvolvedinthisstudy.“Someecosystemsmaybeabletoadapt,butforothers,suchascoralreefs,completelossofnotonlyindividualspeciesbuttheirentireintegrityislikely.”Thesechangeswillaffectoursocialsystemsaswell.Theimpactsonthetropicshaveimplicationsgloballyastheyarehometomostoftheworld’spopulation,contributesignificantlytototalfoodsupplies,andhousemuchoftheworld’sbiodiversity.Inpredominatelydevelopingcountries,overonebillionpeopleunderanoptimisticscenario,andfivebillionunderabusiness-as-usual-scenario,liveinareasthatwillexperienceextremeclimatesbefore2050.Thisraisesconcernsforchangesinthesupplyoffoodandwater,humanhealth,widerspreadofinfectiousdiseases,heatstress,conflicts,andchallengestoeconomies.“Ourresultssuggestthatcountriesfirstimpactedbyunprecedentedclimatesaretheoneswiththeleastcapacitytorespond,”saidcoauthorRyanLongman.“Ironically,thesearethecountriesthatareleastresponsibleforclimatechangeinthefirstplace.”“Thispaperisunusuallyimportant.Itbuildsonearlierworkbutbringsthebiologicalandhumanconsequencesintosharperfocus,”saidJaneLubchenco,formerAdministratoroftheNationalOceanicandAtmosphericAdministrationandnowofOregonStateUniversity,whowasnotinvolvedinthisstudy.“Itconnectsthedotsbetweenclimatemodelsandimpactstobiodiversityinastunninglyfreshway,andithassoberingramificationsforspeciesandpeople.”Whilethestudydescribesglobalaverages,theauthorshavevisualizedtheirdataonaninteractivemapdisplayingwhenclimatewillexceedhistoricalprecedentsforlocationsaroundtheworld.“Wehopethatwiththismappeoplecanseeandunderstandtheprogressionofclimatechangeintimewheretheylive,hopefullyconnectingpeoplemorecloselytotheissueandincreasingawarenessabouttheurgencytoact,”saidcoauthorAbbyFrazier.Theindexusedtheminimumandmaximumtemperaturesfrom1860-2005todefinetheboundsofhistoricalclimatevariabilityatanygivenlocation.Thescientiststhentookprojectionsforthenext100yearstoidentifytheyearinwhichthefuturetemperatureatanygivenlocationonEarthwillshiftcompletelyoutsidethelimitsofhistoricalprecedents,definingthatyearastheyearofclimate

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