A dire warning on rapid climate change

July 27, 2015 by David Funkhouser, Earth Institute, Columbia University, Earth Institute, Columbia University
A dire warning on rapid climate change
Iceberg off Antarctica. Credit: NOAA

Sea level rise from melting ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland threaten catastrophe for coastal cities within decades unless strong measures are taken to reduce CO2 emissions from the use of fossil fuels, argues climate scientist James Hansen.

Hansen's warnings about the dangers of are not new, but a new paper written by him and 16 other scientists offers some new lines of inquiry on the subject. They studied and modeled evidence from the Eemian period—modeling climate changes going on about 120,000 years ago during the last interglacial period, when temperatures were warmer than today. They conclude that the warming going on today risks setting off "feedbacks" in the climate system—changes in ocean circulation and the speed at which ice sheets may collapse—that portend irreversible changes, including rapid and more severe storms.

The paper argues that sea level could surge 10 feet within 50 to 100 years. That is beyond the predictions expressed in the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And, Hansen says, the stated goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels is not enough to stop it. Hansen is an adjunct professor at The Earth Institute and director of the Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions.

Hansen told reporters in a conference call Monday that the paper was based on studies of paleoclimate, model simulations and observations on what's going on today.

The catch is that the paper has yet to be peer-reviewed; it was posted online July 23 as a "discussion paper" by the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, with the intention of prompting that review at the same time the public has a chance to see it.

Hansen spoke about the findings in a press conference and on the call with reporters Monday—three days before the paper was actually released online. This is unusual: scientific findings are more typically reviewed by other scientists before publication, and the public reporting holds off until that happens. Reporters in the conference call questioned how the paper should be received under these circumstances. Hansen replied that the paper will be reviewed, and should be judged by the science and not his reputation as a strong advocate for policy responses to climate change.

Climate reporter Andrew Revkin does a good job parsing the issue in a blog post published Thursday, with comments from some other . There are other reports on the paper, some with comments from other scientists, some without, around the media.

Explore further: New paper by prominent scientists suggests ocean levels will rise much faster than predicted

More information: The paper is available online: www.atmos-chem-phys-discuss.ne … pd-15-20059-2015.pdf

Related Stories

Ex-NASA expert issues call for climate solutions

December 3, 2013

Longtime NASA expert James Hansen has issued a call for new approaches to stop global warming, saying solutions are needed and that currently accepted targets are too dangerous.

Ice sheet collapse triggered ancient sea level peak

June 10, 2015

An international team of scientists has found a dramatic ice sheet collapse at the end of the ice age before last caused widespread climate changes and led to a peak in the sea level well above its present height.

Top NASA climate change expert retiring

April 2, 2013

Pioneering NASA climatologist James Hansen, one of the first scientists to raise the alarm about global warming, is retiring after 46 years, a colleague confirmed to AFP on Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Matter waves and quantum splinters

March 25, 2019

Physicists in the United States, Austria and Brazil have shown that shaking ultracold Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) can cause them to either divide into uniform segments or shatter into unpredictable splinters, depending ...

Study suggests trees are crucial to the future of our cities

March 25, 2019

The shade of a single tree can provide welcome relief from the hot summer sun. But when that single tree is part of a small forest, it creates a profound cooling effect. According to a study published today in the Proceedings ...

How tree diversity regulates invading forest pests

March 25, 2019

A national-scale study of U.S. forests found strong relationships between the diversity of native tree species and the number of nonnative pests that pose economic and ecological threats to the nation's forests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.