By Jim Taylor, Editor MACS ACtion Magazine
A study recently published in the journal “Science” could be seen as softening some of the predictions made by other study groups. An international team of researchers, led by Andreas Schmittner of Oregon State University, has published “Climate Sensitivity Estimated from Temperature Reconstructions of the Last Glacial Maximum.”
Their overall conclusion is that our “global thermostat” that regulates temperatures might be less sensitive to increasing levels of CO2 than previously believed. Right at the top, the group notes that Earth’s climate is changing—they don’t dispute that—but they submit that the changes may take longer than predicted and may not be as severe.
Their study attempted to determine a value for “climate sensitivity”, or how quickly the atmospheric temperature would rise if the amount of carbon dioxide doubled. To get a baseline, they used “paleoclimate” data going back more than 20,000 years, well before humans had any effect on the atmosphere at all.
Using data from ice cores and other physical objects plus a sophisticated computer climate model, researchers found it had not been as cold during the late Ice Age as previously thought. (We call it an Ice Age; they call it a Glacial Maximum.) In explaining the study, Dr. Schmitter said, “This implies that the effect of CO2 on climate is less than previously thought.” The new results will be used to refine future climate modeling programs, the team said.
Putting it all in numbers, the study used the 2007 IPCC report as a reference. That study predicted that if CO2 concentrations doubled from “pre-industrial” levels, Earth’s surface temperature would increase by approximately 3.6 – 8.1° F ( 2.0 – 4.5° C) with a statistical mean of about 5.4° F.
Using the new data and climate models, researchers now say that based on the same doubling of CO2, they would expect temperatures to rise 3.1 – 4.7° F (1.7 – 2.6° C) with a mean of 4.2° F. Still not good, but not as bad. Or as soon.
A member of the research team, Antoni Rosell-Mele (Autonomous University of Barcelona) explained that the results do not mean that the threat from human-induced climate change should be treated any less seriously. “But it does mean that to induce large-scale warming of the planet, leading to widespread catastrophic consequences, we would have to increase CO2 more than we are going to do in the near future,” he said.
As with any scientific study, other researchers were quick to pounce. One scientist at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland noted that these results reflected the use of only one climate model and that others should be used to validate the data.
A German researcher at the Potsdam Institute stated that the conclusions might be too strong for the data in hand. He said the relationship between CO2 and surface temperatures was likely to be different during very cold periods, and it might be best to analyze warmer eras in the planet’s history to get a better picture.
Will we know who was right in a hundred years?
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