Many of the impacts of climate change may not be felt for hundreds of years, but according to a new report from the National Academy of Sciences, some of the biggest changes will be "abrupt," and we would be well advised to start preparing for them.
In the paper, titled "Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises," the researchers argue that in the coming decades, global warming will bring a several nasty surprises. Some of the near-term risks mentioned in the report should not be too surprising since they are happening already. Those include the rapid decline in Arctic sea ice, the outbreak of mountain pine beetles that has ravaged forests in the west, and widespread extinction of plant and animal species.
Other less likely risks were outlined by Justin Gillis at The New York Times:
Another risk, judged to be moderately likely over the coming century, is that rising heat in the upper ocean could result in reduced oxygen in the deep. The worst-case scenario would be the creation of huge zones with too little oxygen for sea creatures to survive, with unknown consequences for the overall ecology of the ocean, the panel said.
It considered the possibility that a collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, believed to be especially vulnerable to a warming ocean, would greatly increase the rate of sea level rise. It found that risk, in the near term, to be “unknown but probably low.”
The paper offered two small bits of consolation. One is that scientists don't believe that climate change is likely to shut down the Atlantic jetstream, a possibility that some scientists had discussed. Second, they don't believe that large, rapid emissions of methane from ice and Arctic soil will pose a serious threat in the short term, as had been considered previously.
If we take meaningful steps now, we can prepare for and mitigate the risks that climate change is bringing. What we need, the researchers argue, is an early warning system to monitor abrupt impacts.
(via NY Times)