Photos provided by Keoki Stender of Marinelifephotography.com
By Cindy Knapman, University of Hawai’i Sea Grant
A new climate study from University of Hawai’i Sea Grant found that temperatures across the globe will likely experience unprecedented changes as early as 2047. On October 10, 2013 an article titled “The projected timing of climate departure from recent variability” appeared in the journal Nature which was hailed by many as the most important paper on climate change of this year.
The research analyzed large data sets from 39 of the world’s foremost climate models to pinpoint when specific areas will experience a climate unlike anything on record, since 1860. The findings were sobering.
"The coldest year in the future will be warmer than the hottest year in the past" -Camilo Mora, lead scientist
We won’t be waiting long for these temperatures to hit. Under a business-as-usual scenario, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow at their current pace, most places will experience temperatures consistently warmer than any on record by 2047. Even if we take action and reduce those emissions now, the unprecedented conditions will be reached by 2069. Perhaps most shocking of all, this study revealed that the tropics are the most vulnerable region, and could start to experience climates unlike they have in the past in as little as seven years.
Indonesia, for example, is expected to reach this point by 2020, which will have severe impacts on human populations, critical habitats, and biodiversity in the area. Abby Frazer, a graduate student in geography at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and coauthor of the study, explained “The tropics have a small natural climate variability. Their climate is relatively stable, so it doesn’t take much in terms of absolute changes to exceed those small bounds of natural variability.”
Plants and animals in the tropics, like the coral pictured above, are accustomed to a narrow temperature range. Even relatively small changes in temperature could drive them to extinction. Copyright: Keoki Stender
Cities across the U.S. will be expected to reach this point approximately 20-25 years later, with areas such as Honolulu, Los Angeles, and New York City reaching these temperatures in 2043, 2047, and 2048 respectively. By the year 2050 it is expected that five billion people around the world will be experiencing unprecedented climates.
Jane Lubchenco, former NOAA Administrator and now a distinguished professor at Oregon State University, noted in a recent USA Today article “This research is unusually important. It builds on earlier work but brings the biological and human consequences into sharper focus. It connects the dots between climate models and impacts to biodiversity in a stunningly fresh way, and it has sobering ramifications for species and people.”
One of the most important aspects of the study is how it brings often overwhelming and complex climate data into an accessible and understandable format. In addition to pinpointing the year and location on the Earth, the authors created an interactive map which displays when and where the temperature will exceed the historical precedents. In addition, the research resulted from one of Dr. Mora’s class projects, giving the students an outstanding opportunity to tackle a real-world problem while also coauthoring a critically important paper in one of the most prestigious scientific journals of our time.
The study was funded by the University of Hawai‘i Sea Grant College Program through a grant it received from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and The University of Hawaii at Manoa.