Current trends and the future of climate change

Greenland - Photo by Gary Comer
Greenland – Photo by Gary Comer

The passion exuding from the scientists in Ballroom B was palpable as they explained how important a year 2014 is for climate change.

The latest reports of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the U.S. National Climate Assessment are both being released by this spring.

These two reports highlight new findings on climate change presented at American Association for the Advancement of Science on-going meeting in Chicago.

The program, “Research Challenges in Climate Change: What’s New and Where Are We Going?,” led by IPCC co-author Donald Wuebbles of the University of Illinois, presented predictions or more severe storms combined with more severe droughts as temperatures rise due to global warming.

The scientists discussed weather, the rise in sea levels, ice mass loss in Greenland and Antarctica – and they were all were far from optimistic.

The general consensus was that we are likely to experience more severe storms, a decrease in soil moisture and an increased risk of both short-term floods and draughts in the upcoming years. Michael Wehner of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory also explained that we should expect more hot days.

Even if we began to change our habits we would not be able to reverse the dire course of climate change already rolled into warming that is related to greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuels. It would take years before our climate started to get back on track, the scientists said.

“Climate is going to change and we are going to have to adapt,” said Ben Kirtman of the University of Miami.

Toward the end of the seminar, Christopher B. Field, of the Carnegie Institution for Science and Stanford University, brought up a troubling question about adaption.

“Our rates for climate change [occurring] are much faster than ever before. How fast can plants and animals adapt and move with the change? What will happen with the rapid velocity of climate change in relation to the slower rate of change of plants and animals?”

The term “warming hiatus” was also discussed. “It’s a warming plateau,” Kirtman said. The recent pause in increasing temperatures is not proof that global warming has been averted, Kirtman urged. “We expect that to happen,” every few years.

New challenges facing scientists involve modeling for more accurate expectations.

“Current climate models are inadequate” for regional analysis, Wuebbles said. The tools scientists have today, the panelists explained, are limited. More advanced computers are needed to better represent what is going on.

The panel almost pleaded with the audience to grasp the importance of how important it is to understand current trends in climate change. All the scientists agreed that policy makers are listening, but they aren’t doing much about what they hear.