One of the major topics the general public is largely mis- or under-informed about is climate science, in particular as it relates to global climate change.

Unfortunately, much of this misunderstanding is by design.

In this question-and-answer article, you will learn the facts about global climate change.

Q&A on the Release of Climate Science 2009-2010

by Kelly Levin

Today, WRI releases Climate Science 2009-2010, the latest installment in our periodic review of the state of play of the science of climate change. Co-authors Kelly Levin and Dennis Tirpak describe some of the latest climate science developments.

What is the Climate Science series?

The Climate Science series summarizes research highlights from the latest climate change science, from leading universities and laboratories. We have been writing the review since 2005. While not comprehensive, it aims to review scientific breakthroughs that have significant implications for communities, ecosystems, and the advancement of climate science more generally.

We think it’s important to review the most recent science findings on climate change for a few reasons. First and foremost, it’s helpful for policymakers, businesses, and the public to have an up-to-date picture of how the climate is changing and how scientists think it will change in the future. Also, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last came out with its assessment report in 2007, and the next one is due in 2013/2014. This review helps track scientific progress in the interim. We have tried to make the science more accessible by summarizing not only the research methods and findings but also the implications of the research.

What are the key findings of this scientific review?

We divide up the report according to changes to physical, hydrological, and ecological systems, as well as advances in technologies. As a whole, the literature paints a bleak picture. We are continuing to see accelerating change in many systems, with some changes happening much faster than initially envisioned.

Some of the key findings:

  • 2000-2009 was the warmest decade on record since 1880 (NASA).
  • The climate system has a number of different feedback mechanisms built into it, some of which are better known than others. New evidence suggests that as temperature rises, there may be positive feedbacks (processes that reinforce processes) through less cloud cover and in changes in aerosols, soils, peatlands, and Arctic ice cover, which can accelerate climate change impacts.
  • Observations show that multi-year winter sea ice area decreased by 42 percent between 2005 and 2008 and that there was a thinning of ∼0.6 m in multi-year ice thickness over the same 4 years (average thickness of the seasonal ice in midwinter is ∼2 m) (Kwok et al.).
  • Ocean acidification – caused by the buildup of carbon dioxide concentrations – was only recently recognized as a threat to coral in areas such as the Great Barrier Reef (and is happening much more quickly than anticipated (De’ath et al.). It is now recognized as having implications for the entire ocean food web which is critical to whales, fish, and mollusks (snails and scallops) (Munday et al., Gooding et al. and Comeau et al.).
  • The rate of mass loss in the East Antarctic Ice Sheet may be greater than previously estimated (Chen et al.).
  • Based on physiological estimates, a global average temperature increase of 7° C, which is toward the extreme upper part of the range of current projections, would make large portions of the world uninhabitable to humans (Sherwood et al.).

What are some of the main areas in which scientists are making progress in advancing our understanding of climate change?

We found that there is new and abundant literature on four topics: climate feedbacks where the literature generally suggests positive feedbacks from many different processes, triggering an acceleration of climate impacts; sea level rise where the evidence indicates that previous estimates of sea level rise are likely to be revised upward; ocean acidification where new science is confirming the potential global implications of an ocean that is already 30 percent more acidic than about 100 years ago; and on climate impacts to ecological systems, where the literature base now provides more evidence of changes to a variety of species, including lizards, tigers, and butterflies.

Is there anything that surprised you about the research covered in this report?

In light of all the bad news about climate change, a surprise would have been to find out that we are much better off than we thought. But for the most part, we’ve seen impacts around the world in line with – and in many cases worse than – projections.

There are two stories that particularly stand out. First, recent literature (Yin et al.) suggests that sea level rise will likely not be even around the globe. In other words, sea level rise does not occur just like water being added to a bathtub. As a result, the northeast coast of the United States may be especially affected by changes in sea level due to changes in ocean circulation.

The latest research (Francis et al. and Petoukhov et al.) also suggests that recent “winter weather” experienced in temperate Northern Hemisphere could be connected to climate change. As winter sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean disappears, it can create a pressure and temperature gradient that sucks heat out of Europe. Therefore, recent extreme winter weather is not inconsistent with increases in global average temperature.

What lessons will readers take away from this report?

There are two main lessons. First is the urgent need to proceed with mitigation – with rapid and deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. One of the papers we covered (Allen et al.) shows that models indicate that cumulative total anthropogenic (human-caused) carbon emissions need to be limited to one trillion tons if global average temperature rise is to remain below 2°C, the current long-term goal agreed to by the international community in the UNFCCC Cancun Agreements. And we have already emitted half of that amount (by 2060 we will have emitted the other half, and would need to immediately eliminate all carbon dioxide emissions after that date to limit warming to 2°C).

The other main lesson is that we need to enhance our capacity to adapt to climate change’s impacts. What we see already from the literature is a rapidly changing world, throughout physical, hydrological, and ecological systems. Even if we were to stabilize concentrations of greenhouse gases today, we’d still see warming, due to the heat trapping capacity of the oceans, and resultant impacts. We will need not only to be able to respond to extreme events but also proactively prepare for heightened variability and long-term change.

What’s next for climate science?

The next major milestone for climate change science is the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This report, produced by the world’s leading scientists, will present the next “state of knowledge” of climate science since the Fourth Assessment Report was published in 2007. It will be a bit different from previous assessments, with greater emphasis on describing climate impacts to regions, communicating risks and uncertainties, and exploring socio-economic aspects of climate change and its impacts, among other changes. The reports will be published over the course of 2013-2014. In the meantime, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is also publishing a special report on “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation” later this fall.

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37 Responses to “Climate Science Answers”

  1. regaudraga says:

    . . ENVIRONMENT: GLOBAL WARMING AND CLIMATE CHANGE: Koch Brothers Accidentally Fund Study That Proves Global Warming . . Koch Brothers Accidentally Fund Study

  2. Holding global warming to 2C increase still possible if nations act ( — A new published in Nature Climate Change, by an international… –

  3. goronh wiromither says:

    What most people don’t understand is that scientist’s we’ll say the sky is falling if you give them a billion dollar grant to go study it for the next 20 years.There are way more scientist’s (climatologist’s) that say the there is no huge problem with the climate and it’s not man made.We’ve had higher temps in the medevil period and higher co2 levels in the past so we really should worry about real pollution issues and dumping in oceans and rivers,producing food not corn fuels and killing taxes!

  4. schwegenay says:

    Arctic Baron: The year is 2022 and global warming is threatening the very existence of mankind. Scientists put “… –

  5. lmaoo sorry bro i thank God for wetin global warming dey do for this side, this time last yr twas snowing here

  6. yay..the inevitable will happen no matter what we “think”…that is why educating the seeds we plant is the best plan, so that they may be better equipped to handle what we thought of as impossible. As long as we keep thinking that “our” way is right just because we understand the logic behind it, we’ll be impeding progress. Why focus on knowledge when it is only based on a non-holistic polar perspective? This is ignorance. We must instead cultivate wisdom. This challenge we all face.

  7. ham hegden says:

    On 28 November 2011 South Africa will replace Mexico as President of the 17th session of the Conference of (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). As the incoming Chair of the COP, South Africa is uniquely positioned to help shape the future architecture of the global climate change regime – one of the most politically divisive and complex areas currently under discussion within the multilateral fold.

  8. The firms are among 340 world-leading companies that are the 2-Degrees Challenge Communiqué, sending a message at COP17 to urge governments to deliver a global climate change deal.

  9. leer dick says:

    Global Climate Change Global Climate Change, popularly and erroneously known as “Global Warming”, is a serious and accelerating problem. Rapid shifts in climate have been responsible for major extinction events in the history, such as the one that eradicated dinosaurs. We are in the midst of a similarly rapid and large-scale shift in… –

  10. chad giamblendo says:

    OMG! This makes me wanna cry! I remember when this song was new and I was screaming over Miley Cyrus and the Jonas. She was my very first I miss the old Miley Cyrus. But we all had to grow up…including me. I miss the old days but cherishing the new ones.

  11. Love Columbia’s 74′ weather? You can thank Global Warming! And me! I invested $800 in gas, dumped it in Lake Murray, and set it on fire!

  12. Holy! A Youtube video that’s one-hour long?! I was hoping to have all of the information driven into my skull in four-minutes.

  13. November 2011 marked the 33rd consecutive year that Roy Spencer and John Christy at the University of Alabama (UAH) have computed global atmospheric temperatures using data collected by NASA weather satellites. They marked this anniversary with a press release propagating much of the same misinformation about global climate change as they have throughout their careers at UAH. Spencer and Christy not only made a number of misleading statements in the UAH press release and in subsequent blog posts about it, they also ignored a body of scientific literature that contradicts their views on global climate change. Downplaying Climate Change Risks The press release off with a rather subjective and claim by John Christy: “While 0.45 degrees C of warming is noticeable in climate terms, it isn’t obvious that it represents an impending disaster” This statement is true, but misleading. By itself, 0.45°C warming of the lower atmosphere does not obviously represent an impending…

  14. zlandbawde ais says:

    it’s 40+degrees in iowa; global climate change makes it a little warmer and homier for us tropical folks dispersed to climes –

  15. I know global climate change is bad and all but I’m finding it really hard not to enjoy these 60 degree January days.

  16. This is nothing but misinformation
    Plenty things could happen
    I could win the lotto, i never do
    Thinking i could win the lotto should i spend the money now?
    Well i could win the lotto so i count on it happening? Of course not!!!
    None of this is based on proven science.
    It is all hypothetical.
    Since when do we make disicions based on hypothetical scenarios.
    We are better and than this!
    We need to look at the people who claim these things, and why they are claiming them.

  17. i said ” uhhh no – shut up never know it may help global warming or just my head ache”

  18. crepillmer says:

    Snow this weekend … -___- and 70 on monday. Yep we’re going to die. And some people still don’t believe in global warming

  19. frichmount says:

    Viet Nam News foretells Dr Nguyen Chu Hoi, mind from the regulating body from the Mangroves for future years programme by former US leader Bill Clinton in 2006 to safeguard seaside eco-systems in Viet Nam.What’s the need for seaside areas?A seaside area is where where water and land meet one another and it has diverse eco-systems.Seaside areas allow many economic development pursuits like aquaculture, salt making, tourism, and marine services, mining, seaside economic, industrial and
    Post from: VietNam Today

  20. “We are the best” — A music video from the Best promoting Jon Gnarr for Mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland, set to the tune of Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best”. Why am I posting this? Because this is the most amazing political story ever. Gnarr is a comedian and his The Best won the city council elections with 34.7 percent of the vote,… –

  21. paulendonn reichmani says:

    Scott Walker secretly believes in the Global Warming hoax & hangs out with ManBearPig aka Al Gore in his cave

  22. biellena gorman says:

    So, when Global Climate Change includes warm, sunny, fair weather into November, what does one do? How do I complain about this? –

  23. mullindren tylese says:

    C02 doesnt produce global warming.If there ws no C02 in th atmosphere u n i wldnt be alive n we wldnt be having this conversation!

  24. We can now admit it: global climate change is one big hoax. Seriously. And the special effects guys are good.

  25. By Daniel Rirdan, Author of The Blueprint: Global Collapse Get Real is a grassroots organization whose goal is the reduction of our ecological footprint on the planet — to an extent sufficient to an eventual collapse of the various ecosystems, and also, indirectly, the caving-in of the manmade world. It is not just the threat […]

  26. stemannach mcwhea says:

    The U.S. of Energy today said it would use IBM’s 10-petaflop Blue Gene supercomputer to help researchers design ultra-efficient electric car batteries, understand global climate change and dig up space exploration mysteries.

  27. strickowsk ple says:

    State Dept had no $ for Consulate Security, but it did have $$ for: 469 million for global climate change.

  28. Disappointed Obama didn’t halt global warming? Then you should definitely punish him by giving Paul Ryan the keys to you …

  29. The ethics of global climate change / edited by Denis G. Arnold.: Publisher: Cambridge ; New York :Cambridge Uni… –

  30. humm karitchman says:

    knock yourself out. I’m convinced global warming…oops I mean climate change is a political canard. Don’t want to debate it.

  31. merosaland ching says:

    HAVANA (AP) — Cuban scientists calculate that median sea levels around the Caribbean nation will rise more than 30 inches by the end of the century due to global climate change, official media said Friday….

  32. Our guest blogger is Brian DeVore, Land Stewardship Project. In 1989, I worked for a farm magazine that claimed global climate change, if real, would actually be good for agriculture since rising carbon dioxide levels would act as some of mega plant growth promoter. During the past seven days, I’ve seen firsthand what happens […]

  33. announces, a new market research is available in its vast collection:ICT Energy Efficiency: Commercial and global energy consumption is high and rising, conventional fuel sources are becoming increasingly scarce and expensive. emissions resulting from the use of fossil fuels have been linked to global climate change and, within a rising number of countries, are subject to regulation. Consequently, governments, businesses and consumers around the world are …

  34. rands sandeani says:

    John Kerry said the US must play a key role in slowing the effects of climate change in his confirmation hearing Thursday. Climate change has been a central focus of Sen. John Kerry’s political career.

  35. Sorry, global climate change is far more serious than any economic or other health considerations. It will destroy our economy.

  36. mulhaus says:

    The Pew Center on Global Climate Change takes a look at the seven keys to low-carbon innovation and how four companies — HP, Daimler, JCI and Alstom — are using them to unlock growth

  37. himicharti says:

    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A successful outcome for the next global climate change conference in Durban would be to get everything in place for a legally binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol in less…

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