The NASA Climate Scientist James Hansen and an international team of researchers have very recently completed a paper for the Open Atmospheric Science Journal, concerning an in-depth analysis of Climate history at the Earth’s Polar regions, relating it to today’s warming conditions.
Published on 7th November 2008, the peer-reviewed research paper shows, by careful calculations on proxy data for the very distant past, that we should expect high Climate Sensitivity, the warming signal of the Earth in response to Greenhouse Gas accumulation above ground.
The team looked at the relative changes in Carbon Dioxide concentrations in the Earth’s atmosphere and showed that the rate of change showed strong negative “radiative forcing” clearly associated with the formation of the polar ice caps, and used that as a basis for calculating the Climate Sensitivity.
They showed that for a doubling of Carbon Dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere, we should expect fast change in the order of 3 degrees C of global warming. But there’s a further sting in the tail, as the paleoclimatological data shows that slow-moving feedback mechanisms could double that change to 6 degrees C warming in total. The summary is : we may survive, but our grandchildren may not.
It seems that besides warming and cooling events resulting from the rates of change in atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, there are also some absolute numbers. The team concluded that to prevent long-term Climate chaos, and ensure the kind of habitat that Life on Earth is accustomed to, we should ensure that atmospheric Carbon Dioxide returns to the region of 350 parts per million.
Given that last month’s preliminary measurement of the CO2 fraction was 384.75 ppm at Mauna Loa, we clearly have some Earth engineering to do, including reducing the rates of the burning of Fossil Fuels, and reducing deforestation and forest burning. We may even need to induce a cooling “kickback” to swing the Climate rapidly, to forestall warming that’s in the pipeline from accelerating emissions over the last 60 years.
One thing’s for sure : Climate Change means that we are forced to change, perhaps more completely, and more rapidly, than people have been predicting up until now. Given that our current Economies are highly dependent on Carbon Energy, it is not hard to work out all forms of wealth and many assets will be severely eroded in value if we cannot build up Renewable Energy capacity rapidly, and curb Energy demand with stringent Efficiency regimes.
As an addendum, the International Energy Agency has recently published a new report indicating a depletion in crude oil production, some commentators are reporting as up to 9.1% year on year from now on, if business carries on as usual. Taking this fact together with Hansen’s prognosis on Climate Change makes a strong case for shoring up Green Energy policy around the World.
We are already seeing the impacts of Climate Change on every Continent. Australia, for example, is suffering from extended “dryness”, which leaves the future of rainfed agriculture in extreme doubt. Parts of the Middle East, India and even the United States are enduring prolonged periods of high air temperatures in summer, and it could be, that in the near future, some areas will become uninhabitable for several months of the year, unless you have an electricity supply for air conditioning at home. Forests everywhere have been decimated by drought, pests, disease and wildfire.
Quite a few of the changes that we have suffered as a result of Global Warming are probably permanent, and although we may be able to adapt to what we have seen so far, there is no guarantee that we will be able to keep our heads above the rising sea levels. At some point, Climate Change could cause self-reinforcing warming processes, so-called “positive feedbacks”, that we could never compensate for.
As the Abstract from the research paper makes clear : “An initial 350 ppm CO2 target
may be achievable by phasing out coal use except where CO2 is captured and adopting
agricultural and forestry practices that sequester carbon. If the present overshoot of this
target CO2 is not brief, there is a possibility of seeding irreversible catastrophic effects.”
The Climate Safety team are going to explore more of the recent Climate science in the Climate Safety report, to be launched on 27th November 2008 in London, to which the public are welcome. The report will be free to download as from the launch date :-
Announcement of Hansen publication :-
Pre-announceent of Hansen publication :-
Draft copy of the new research paper : “Target atmospheric CO2: Where should humanity aim?” :-
Presented to the Geo Soc 7th October :-
Press Release for new research paper :-
Catalogue entry for new research paper :-
James Hansen’s Bibliography at NASA GISS :-
Mauna Loa Carbon Dioxide data :-
IEA commentary :-/iea_report_underlines_long_term_supply_side_challenge_for_oil/