Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Like it or not, uncertainty and climate change go hand-in-hand

29.10.2007
Despite decades of ever more-exacting science projecting Earth's warming climate, there remains large uncertainty about just how much warming will actually occur.

Two University of Washington scientists believe the uncertainty remains so high because the climate system itself is very sensitive to a variety of factors, such as increased greenhouse gases or a higher concentration of atmospheric particles that reflect sunlight back into space.

In essence, the scientists found that the more likely it is that conditions will cause climate to warm, the more uncertainty exists about how much warming there will be.

"Uncertainty and sensitivity have to go hand in hand. They're inextricable," said Gerard Roe, a UW associate professor of Earth and space sciences. "We're used to systems in which reducing the uncertainty in the physics means reducing the uncertainty in the response by about the same proportion. But that's not how climate change works."

Roe and Marcia Baker, a UW professor emeritus of Earth and space sciences and of atmospheric sciences, have devised and tested a theory they believe can help climate modelers and observers understand the range of probabilities from various factors, or feedbacks, involved in climate change. The theory is contained in a paper published in the Oct. 26 edition of Science.

In political polling, as the same questions are asked of more and more people the uncertainty, expressed as margin of error, declines substantially and the poll becomes a clearer snapshot of public opinion at that time. But it turns out that with climate, additional research does not substantially reduce the uncertainty.

The equation devised by Roe and Baker helps modelers understand built-in uncertainties so that the researchers can get meaningful results after running a climate model just a few times, rather than having to run it several thousand times and adjust various climate factors each time.

"It's a yardstick against which one can test climate models," Roe said.

Scientists have projected that simply doubling carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from pre-Industrial Revolution levels would increase global mean temperature by about 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit. However, that projection does not take into account climate feedbacks – physical processes in the climate system that amplify or subdue the response. Those feedbacks would raise temperature even more, as much as another 5 degrees F according to the most likely projection. One example of a feedback is that a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, which in itself is a greenhouse gas. The increased water vapor then amplifies the effect on temperature caused by the original increase in carbon dioxide.

"Sensitivity to carbon dioxide concentration is just one measure of climate change, but it is the standard measure," Roe said.

Before the Industrial Revolution began in the late 1700s, atmospheric carbon dioxide was at a concentration of about 280 parts per million. Today it is about 380 parts per million and estimates are that it will reach 560 to 1,000 parts per million by the end of the century.

The question is what all that added carbon dioxide will do to the planet's temperature. The new equation can help provide an answer, since it links the probability of warming with uncertainty about the physical processes that affect how much warming will occur, Roe said.

"The kicker is that small uncertainties in the physical processes are amplified into large uncertainties in the climate response, and there is nothing we can do about that," he said.

While the new equation will help scientists quickly see the most likely impacts, it also shows that far more extreme temperature changes – perhaps 15 degrees or more in the global mean – are possible, though not probable. That same result also was reported in previous studies that used thousands of computer simulations, and the new equation shows the extreme possibilities are fundamental to the nature of the climate system.

Much will depend on what happens to emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the future. Since they can remain in the atmosphere for decades, even a slight decrease in emissions is unlikely to do more than stabilize overall concentrations, Roe said.

"If all we do is stabilize concentrations, then we will still be risking the highest temperature change shown in the models," he said.

Vince Stricherz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.washington.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Dune ecosystem modelling
23.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht Understanding animal social networks can aid wildlife conservation
23.06.2017 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>