Decisive action needed as warming predictions worsen, says expert

Feb 14, 2009

Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are rising more rapidly than expected, increasing the danger that without aggressive action to reduce emissions the climate system could cross a critical threshold by the end of the century, warns a leading member of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Studies indicate that greenhouse warming could trigger a vicious cycle of feedback, in which carbon dioxide released from thawing tundra and increasingly fire-prone forests drives global temperatures even higher.

Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology and co-chair of the IPCC Working Group 2, will address these issues at a symposium titled "What Is New and Surprising since the IPCC Fourth Assessment?" at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago.

The IPCC Fourth Assessment, for which Field was a coordinating author, was published in 2007. As co-chair, Field will oversee the Working Group 2 Report on the predicted impacts of climate change for the IPCC Fifth assessment, scheduled to be published in 2014. The Fifth Assessment will incorporate the results of new studies that predict more severe changes than did previous assessments.

"The data now show that greenhouse gas emissions are accelerating much faster than we thought," says Field. "Over the last decade developing countries such as China and India have increased their electric power generation by burning more coal. Economies in the developing world are becoming more, not less carbon-intensive. We are definitely in unexplored terrain with the trajectory of climate change, in the region with forcing, and very likely impacts, much worse than predicted in the fourth assessment."

New studies are also revealing potentially dangerous feedbacks in the climate system that could convert current carbon sinks into carbon sources. Field points to tropical forests as a prime example. Vast amounts of carbon are stored in the vegetation of moist tropical forests, which are resistant to wildfires because of their wetness. But warming temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns threaten to dry the forests, making them less fireproof. Researchers estimate that loss of forests through wildfires and other causes during the next century could boost atmospheric concentration of CO2 by up to 100 parts per million over the current 386 ppm, with possibly devastating consequences for global climate.

Warming in the Arctic is expected to speed up the decay of plant matter that has been in cold storage in permafrost for thousands of years. "There is about 1,000 billion tons of carbon in these soils," says Field. "When you consider that the total amount of carbon released from fossil fuels since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is around 350 billion tons, the implications for global climate are staggering."

"The IPCC fourth assessment didn't consider either the tundra-thawing or tropical forest feedbacks in detail because they weren't yet well understood," he says. "But new studies are now available, so we should be able to assess a wider range of factors and possible climate outcomes. One thing that seems to be certain, however, is that as a society we are facing a climate crisis that is larger and harder to deal with than any of us thought. The sooner we take decisive action, the better our chances are of leaving a sustainable world to future generations."

Source: Carnegie Institution

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User comments : 12

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Modernmystic
3.6 / 5 (14) Feb 14, 2009
FTA "One thing that seems to be certain, however, is that as a society we are facing a climate crisis that is larger and harder to deal with than any of us thought. The sooner we take decisive action, the better our chances are of leaving a sustainable world to future generations."

During the PETM mammals flourished, even if the're right about AGW (which they're not), and even if the predictions are off by a factor of ten the world is NOT coming to an end....
deatopmg
3.5 / 5 (13) Feb 14, 2009
"SEND MONEY", SAYS EXPERT
superhuman
4.3 / 5 (6) Feb 15, 2009
"The IPCC fourth assessment didn't consider either the tundra-thawing or tropical forest feedbacks in detail because they weren't yet well understood,"


And how we can trust models which don't include things we don't understand? Why wasn't China and India properly taken into account, it was pretty obvious they are growing and need more energy? Every change no matter which direction undermines credibility of those predictions.

There is one thing I believe would really help convince many people to put more trust into climate models. Climatologists should produce a single model capable of tracing a significant portion of recent Earth's history and show that it correctly predicts past climate, then we can see what it has to say about the future.

This is the only way model are validated on science - feed real data into them and compare predictions with known results. If models fail in this test they are useless and basing any decisions on them is irresponsible.

While I am certain we have significant impact on climate and the general science behind global warming is sound, I have serious doubts about accuracy of our models and would like to see some proof that they have any real predictive power.

Besides even if Earth would significantly warm it's not the end of the world, it will mean that large populations have to settle in different areas but it's hardly an apocalypse and increasingly alarmists tones are harming this cause not helping it.
superhuman
3 / 5 (2) Feb 15, 2009
This is the only way model are validated on science

Should read
This is the only way models are validated in science
MikPetter
3 / 5 (2) Feb 15, 2009
Paleocene%u2013Eocene Thermal Maximum
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum)

Climate change during the last 65 million years. The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum is labeled PETM and is likely to be understated by a factor of 2 or more due to coarse sampling and averaging in this data set.The Paleocene/Eocene boundary, 55.8 million years ago, was marked by the most rapid and significant climatic disturbance of the Cenozoic Era. A sudden global warming event, leading to the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM, alternatively "Eocene thermal maximum 1" (ETM1), and formerly known as the "Initial Eocene" or "Late Paleocene Thermal Maximum",[1] (IETM/LPTM)), is associated with changes in oceanic and atmospheric circulation, the extinction of numerous deep-sea benthic foraminifera, and a major turnover in mammalian life on land which is coincident with the emergence of many of today's major mammalian orders.

The event saw global temperatures rise by around 6 °C over 20,000 years, with a corresponding rise in sea level as the whole of the oceans warmed.[2] Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations rose, causing a shallowing of the lysocline. Regional deep water anoxia may have played a part in marine extinctions. The event is linked to a negative excursion in the %u03B413C isotope record, which occurs in two short (~1,000 year) pulses. These probably represent degassing of clathrates ("methane ice" deposits), which accentuated a pre-existing warming trend. The release of these clathrates, and ultimately the event itself, may have been triggered by a range of causes. Evidence currently seems to favour an increase in volcanic activity as the main perpetrator.
GrayMouser
3.7 / 5 (6) Feb 15, 2009
Is nothing is done we will worsen our predictions until something is done!
p1ll
3 / 5 (2) Feb 15, 2009
vulvox... at TRIPOD.com?? LOL can't the company afford a $49.95 per year web host?? investors must be pounding the door down with excitement!
Roach
5 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2009
If it's the predictions that are getting worse along with the "science" supporting them, then mayhaps we should investigate fast acting alternatives? Kill the messenger? It would make the predictions less severe.
Arkaleus
3 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2009
We don't know why, and we don't know when, but dammit there's an EMERGENCY and a CRISIS and we need AGRESSIVE action.

Immediately turn in all firearms, surrender all books printed before 1980, and submit to national ID chip implantation. Carbon taxes will be imposed on all human respiration, combution, and every decatherm will be tracked by centeral IPCC Tax Authority.

Only this can save our mother earth, can't you hear her crying?
Arkaleus
4 / 5 (4) Feb 20, 2009
C'mon guys, let's stop allowing this sort of nonsense into our culture.
Entropic_Dreaming
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 21, 2009
PHYSORG, STOP WASTING MY BRAINCELLS ON WORTHLESS ARTICLES.
RAL
1 / 5 (1) Feb 22, 2009
Every year that the doom predictions don't turn out they are doubled in intensity.

All this running about flapping wings could have been bolstered by a single sentence documenting how much higher global temperature was in 2008 than 1998, given all the carbon that's been poured into the atmosphere in the interim. Funny they never seem to list that.

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