Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

In new study, ancient and modern evidence suggests limits to future global warming

24.04.2006


Duke-led team ran some 1,000 computer simulations, covering 1,000 years, to get a longer-range assessment



Duke-led team ran some 1,000 computer simulations, covering 1,000 years, to get a longer-range assessmentDURHAM, N.C. -- Instrumental readings made during the past century offer ample evidence that carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases" in the atmosphere are warming Earth’s climate, a team led by Duke University scientists has reported. But by analyzing indirect evidence of temperature fluctuations over six previous centuries, the team also found that the magnitude of future global warming will likely fall well short of current highest predictions.

In making their deductions, the researchers ran some 1,000 computer simulations, covering 1,000 years, that took into account a range of modern and ancient climate records. Modern records are based on thermometer readings, while measurements derived from such sources as tree rings and ice cores served as markers of warm and cold spells over prior centuries.


The investigators evaluated the data using an "energy balance model" that they describe as a slimmed-down version of the heavy-duty computer models typically used to analyze climate trends. It is the model’s streamlined nature that enabled the researchers to perform such large numbers of simulations over such a long period in such detail, they said.

The group used thousands of different versions of this model, each version varying in some of its properties, in order to determine which variants best matched actual observations. One key property that varied was what the researchers termed "sensitivity" -- that is, how much the simulations’ temperatures would change in response to increasing greenhouse gas levels.

"What I can say very confidently is that the present-day sensitivity is not zero, meaning that there is a positive, warming response to greenhouse gases," said climate analyst Gabriele Hegerl, an associate research professor at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences. "Our work also substantially reduces the probability of very high climate sensitivities."

Hegerl is lead author of the study, published April 20, 2006, in the journal Nature. Her co-authors are Thomas Crowley, Duke’s Nicholas Professor of Earth Systems Science; William Hyde, a former Nicholas School research scientist now at the University of Toronto; and David Frame, a researcher at the University of Oxford.

Their work was supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

Many scientists expect that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will sometime this century reach double the levels that were present during preindustrial times. Because carbon dioxide traps outgoing heat energy similarly to the glass in a greenhouse, the additional human-created outputs of the gas -- mostly from fossil-fuel burning -- are expected to warm Earth’s climate. The key question is: by how much?

The commonly accepted range for how much average global temperatures will rise in response to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide is between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees centigrade, according to the researchers. But some observational studies, they noted, suggest the possibility that average temperatures might rise more than 9 degrees.

However, the new study -- using "reconstructions" of Northern Hemisphere temperatures since the year 1270 -- indicates a 90 percent probability that a doubling of carbon dioxide levels will result in temperature increases of between 1.5 and 6.2 degrees, the team reported.

In turn, the study showed a reduced likelihood that the actual maximum increase will exceed 4.5 degrees -- "from 36 percent to 15 percent or less," the researchers said. A 4.5 degree increase is the highest maximum currently predicted by the international Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Hegerl said her group confined its study largely to the Northern Hemisphere because only there have scientists collected enough data to reconstruct temperature variations over the entire past millennium.

According to Hegerl, some studies claim that preindustrial temperatures fluctuated very little until the past century, and have risen sharply since.

"But our reconstruction supports a lot of variability in the past, as well as an upward trend in the 20th century," she said. And a record with plenty of ups and downs before the modern era "shows a climate reacting then and now to a variety of ’external forcing,’" she said.

The term "external forcing" refers to all those outside influences that can perturb the climate. Understanding how temperatures responded to such forcings in the premodern era -- when the impact of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases varied relatively little -- helps scientists predict future forcings by greenhouse gases, Hegerl said.

"Looking back longer in time makes it possible to more confidently rule out responses that are very high or very low," she said.

The researchers consulted instrumental records of the various forcings that have occurred in modern times, with the aim of comparing those to actual recorded temperatures.

In order to reconstruct temperatures from the centuries before 1850, the team used various lines of indirect evidence. They looked, for example, at particulates trapped in ice cores as measures of past volcanic eruptions. Such eruptions eject clouds of particles high into the atmosphere. By reducing the amount of sunlight that can pass through the atmosphere, the particles tend to cool the climate for a time, Hegerl said.

They also consulted a number of tree ring studies that reveal hot and cold spells in ancient growth variations, as well as studies that can estimate temperatures as far back as the 1600s based on readings obtained from holes bored deep into the ground.

Although the researchers collected data spanning a full millennium, because of some technical limitations they actually simulated temperature variations over a roughly 700-year period beginning in 1270.

All in all, the researchers considered four different detailed reconstructions of past climates, including a new reconstruction done by Crowley and Hegerl, to deduce probable temperatures before reliable instruments were available.

According to Hegerl, past volcanic eruptions provided the strongest tie between past climate forcings and temperatures. "You can see downturns in temperature exactly where you see volcanic eruptions," she said.

Monte Basgall | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.duke.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Obstructing the ‘inner eye’
07.07.2017 | Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

nachricht Drone vs. truck deliveries: Which create less carbon pollution?
31.05.2017 | University of Washington

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

Im Focus: Laser-cooled ions contribute to better understanding of friction

Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision

Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA looks to solar eclipse to help understand Earth's energy system

21.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

Stanford researchers develop a new type of soft, growing robot

21.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Vortex photons from electrons in circular motion

21.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>