Thursday, October 10, 2013

In the News: Timeline for a Changing Climate

Are you convinced that climate change won't happen in your lifetime? A new study published this week in the journal Nature might make you rethink your stance. Using historical data and a compilation of 39 different climate models, the authors of the study have put a timeline on when we can expect our climate to "depart from historical variability," and their conclusions might surprise you.

What does it mean to "depart from historical variability"?  The authors explain that climate change will cause average annual temperatures to increase to the point where the average temperature of the coolest year in the future will exceed the average temperature of the hottest year for the historical period of 1860-2005. Simply, this means that a "hot year" from 1860-2005 would be considered a "cool year" in the future, once the climate crosses that temperature threshold. We would be facing a brand new climate completely unlike what we're used to.

The tropics are expected to reach "climate departure" the soonest - in just over a decade.  The authors note that this is particularly worrisome as these regions have the highest biodiversity, and also tend to have some of the poorest countries which are least able to cope with, and adapt to, climate change.

So what does this mean for those of us in the Seattle area? The authors of the paper predict that under a business-as-usual scenario where global greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase each year, Seattle will cross the threshold and reach "climate departure" by the year 2055.  If we stabilize greenhouse gas emissions, we'll be able to stave off this dubious milestone until the year 2082.

After doing a little research, I found some data pertaining to average temperatures in Seattle on (I intended to find this information on the National Climactic Data Center website, but unfortunately it is offline due to the government shutdown... so I settled for a site that listed the NCDC as their data source). 

According to the site, the average annual temperature for Seattle is currently 51.8 degrees F, with average high temp of 59 degrees and average low temp of 44 degrees.  Now just imagine a future where our average low temperature is 59 degrees. This could be devastating on many levels, and would affect our mountain snowfall, summertime water supply, agriculture and growing seasons, weather patterns, wildfire susceptibility, etc and would require our region to come up with adaptation strategies to deal with these difficult situations.  Could this be the future that the Seattle area is facing by the year 2055? Frighteningly, for many of us, this is within our lifetime!  Although this is only one study, it is further evidence that climate change is not the problem of our children or grandchildren: it is our problem. Now.

1 comment:

  1. I read an article about this subject matter in the Seattle Times newspaper and was astonished at the content. Your article brings even more clarity and urgency to a subject matter that most would prefer to ignore. Why? Because let's face it, it's very uncomfortable having to anticipate such a change, and even more uncomfortable being asked to do something about it. Thank you for providing more awareness.