26 Mar 2012

An Antarctic ice berg.  Global ice melting is on an unprecedented level particularly at the poles.  (Image Credit:  Enrique Mendez)

If you like warmer weather, more of it may be on the way.  Scientists are stating that by 2050 the global average temperatures will be between 1.4°C and 3°C (between 2.5°F and 5.5°F) higher than the average temperatures from 1960 through 1990. 

A Complex Model

Climate prediction is a very complex thing to compute and with many people's ways of life hedging on such predictions, from farmers to policy-makers, there is much pressure to get the numbers correct.  In this latest calculation many thousands of personal computers were used to refine the numbers.

Dan Rowlands, a climate scientist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom stated, "We've shown that basically we can find a much larger warming by 2050 than we had previously anticipated.  This level of warming has not necessarily been seen by a complex climate model before."    

Its in the Details and Assumptions

Scientists consider all available data on many different levels and details while making assumptions.  Some assumptions involve human behavior and greenhouse gas emissions, while others are technical.  The technical ones include processes like cloud formation around ice crystals or ocean temperature mixing.  There is still uncertainty on how some of these processes work and what contribution they actually add to climate change.

Choosing a Model

In order to refine the model to include this uncertainty on the details, Rowland and his colleagues chose one of 25 models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  They chose one called A1B, which assumes greenhouse gas emissions will continue to increase at their current levels with some reduction of of sulphate aerosols.  In a 2007 report, the IPCC made a prediction that global temperatures would rise by 1.5 to 2°C (about 2.5 to 3.5°F) by 2050.

Next, researchers ran the model thousands of times with slight changes to each climate detail, a job too tasking for any one computer so they used thousands of people to assist, running the simulation in the background for six months.  They came up with their report given to the journal Nature Geoscience, that temperatures on a global scale could be higher by 3°C (5.4°F) in 40 years than in the 60's through 90's.

This new prediction should be seen as a technological advance in computing climate change, but not the final say on global warming.  The IPCC will take new findings into another report and come up with even more accurate predictions in the future.

The Tech-Stew Take Home

Beyond what the findings show here, one thing is certain from actual data points, the Earth is warming.  The problem is that we are lacking detailed data before the last 100 years or so.  Hopefully new findings like the Mother of Pearl or nacre will be able provide us with a bigger picture of past climate change to help predict the future.  What do our findings on global warming really show?  What percentage of human based pollution is truly causing this warming?  Clearly scientists differ on these points and certain political and business factions have it their agenda to twist and manipulate the data to their favor.  The things we know for certain include the effects that will result from continued global warming, these are inevitable.  Effects such as the impact on ecosystems and human lives.  This level of global warming would lead to higher rates of coral bleaching, extinctions and melting ice. 

Already we are seeing the impacts of global warming.  Ice is melting worldwide, particularly at the poles.  Sea levels are rising faster than before over the last century.  Species like butterflies and foxes have migrated farther north to higher and cooler areas.  Weather systems have become more chaotic and precipitation has increased world-wide on average.  The global level of emissions of carbon dioxide also jumped by the largest amount on record in 2010 as well.  Also, the arctic ice has receded to levels never before seen in recent recorded history during the arctic summer.  Many feel it may be ice free within 30 years.

Sea levels are expected to rise even more, between 7 and 23 inches (18 and 59 centimeters) by centuries end (based on 2007 data).  Weather systems such as hurricanes and other localized events will grow even stronger, and floods will become more common.

Clearly, the statistics don't lie on what is occurring world-wide, but the more data we can add to the overall model, the more accurate our future predictions will be.  The time to act is now, so that perhaps, if we are able to make changes, we can reduce the human impact on global warming in the future.

Sources:  nationalgeographic.com, news.discovery.com

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