Climate Change Will Be 'Catastrophic' by 2100, Raising Sea Levels By 'Many Meters,' According To New Study

By Ben Wolford on December 31, 2013 3:38 PM EST

Global Warming
A new study in the journal Nature raises the predicted severity of climate change by 2100. Photo: Shutterstock

Over the years, developing the perfect model for predicting climate change has not been easy — predicting tomorrow's weather is hard enough, and decades and centuries include many, many more variables. Scientists have to consider, among other things, greenhouse gas emissions, compound effects, deforestation, and weather patterns, including cloud cover. The result is usually a temperature range, generally suggesting the earth will warm between 2.7 and 9 degrees Fahrenheit (or 1.5 to 5 degrees Celcius) by 2100.

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Now, scientists in England say they've created a better model. The amount of warming, they found, is going to be toward the top of that range: 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4 degrees Celcius. "Four degrees Celsius would likely be catastrophic rather than simply dangerous," author Steven Sherwood, professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia, told The Guardian. "For example, it would make life difficult, if not impossible, in much of the tropics, and would guarantee the eventual melting of the Greenland ice sheet and some of the Antarctic ice sheet." The result would be devastating sea level rise.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, is the body created to conduct reports and warnings for the United Nations. It says any increase above 2 degrees Celsius would be dangerous. The authors of this new study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature, say that unless carbon emissions are significantly reduced, the global temperature could rise to double what the IPCC hoped to never see.

The accuracy of the report relies on the authors' newly discovered understanding of clouds. Clouds have always been a confusing wild card for climate change researchers because their absence or presence affects the convection of warm air. For example, scientists testing in different areas can experience different results because of clouds, making it hard to verify data. Sherwood and his team believe they have discovered a method for mitigating the variations by 50 percent, based on testing of 43 different models.

Basically, they learned new details about how clouds form. According to The Guardian, the scientists needed to know the likelihood of water vapor to simply dissipate and fall back to earth or to continue to rise and form clouds, which reflect sunlight. What they found is that low clouds lose water vapor at an increasing rate as the climate warms, suggesting diminishing cloud cover. "This study breaks new ground twice: first by identifying what is controlling the cloud changes and second by strongly discounting the lowest estimates of future global warming in favor of the higher and more damaging estimates," Sherwood told the newspaper.

As more countries enter their own industrial ages, the amount of carbon dioxide released into the air has increased at a growing rate, with 2013 setting new records. China and the United States lead the pack, with India quickly making up ground. Global temperatures have risen just 1.44 degrees Fahrenheit (about 0.8 degrees Celcius) since 1880, but Sherwood told The Sydney Morning Herald that's because air pollution is actually reflecting sunlight. In fact, it will catch up to us, he said. ''We've been hoping for the best and not planning for the worst,'' Sherwood said. ''And now it's looking like the best is not very likely.''

Image above courtesy of Shutterstock.

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