Global warming has been on hiatus for nearly the past two decades, according to global temperature records — and new research predicts this so-called “pause” in warming could last another decade or so.
But this news has not stopped climate scientists from issuing even more dire predictions about the Earth’s future if no international agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions is reached.
“Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reduction in snow and ice, and in global mean-sea-level rise; and it is extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” reads a draft Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report obtained by The New York Times.
“The risk of abrupt and irreversible change increases as the magnitude of the warming increases,” the draft report reads.
The United Nations climate bureaucracy report is the latest in a series of reports since September 2013, when the international body released its fifth climate assessment.
The draft obtained by the Times warns that rising greenhouse gas emissions are harming political efforts to deal with the issue, and raise the risk of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” in the coming decades.
The IPCC warns that if the vast majority of fossil fuels aren’t kept unused in the ground, the world could warm more than 2 degrees Celsius — the upper limit of what countries and international bodies have agreed to keep warming under.
But the IPCC’s draft report became news as the world has now gone about 214 months — nearly 19 years — without warming, according to satellite data. More than half the satellite record shows no warming trend since the late 1990s, contrary to predictions made by the IPCC in 1990.
The IPCC’s first climate assessment (made in 1990) predicted global temperatures would rise by 1 degree Celsius by 2025, or 2.8 degrees Celsius per century. Despite lots of confidence in their models at the time, the warming has not been as severe as the IPCC predicted.
“[W]e have substantial confidence that models can predict at least the broad-scale features of climate change.,” the IPCC said in 1990. “There are similarities between results from the coupled models using simple representations of the ocean and those using more sophisticated descriptions, and our understanding of such differences as do occur gives us some confidence in the results.”
Global temperatures, however, have only risen 0.34 degrees Celsius in the 24 years since the IPCC’s first report, or about 1.4 degrees per century. In fact, temperature data shows there has been a slight cooling trend in the 2000s.
Scientists have been baffled by the long “pause” in global warming, offering about thirty explanations of why global temperatures stopped rising. The latest explanation is that the Atlantic ocean has been trapping the heat that would have gone off into the atmosphere.
A study published in the journal Science argues that the “slowdown is mainly caused by heat transported to deeper layers in the Atlantic and the southern oceans, initiated by a recurrent salinity anomaly in the subpolar North Atlantic.” The study says that these cycles last up to 35 years.
But this explanation is just one among many for the “pause.” Other explanations range from increasing volcanic activity to solar cycles to Chinese coal plant emissions.
“You don’t have to look very deeply at the science to realize that, despite the headlines, no one has come up with an answer to the ‘pause,’” writes Dr. David Whitehouse, an astrophysicist and science writer with the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
“Some place their faith that there is a major driver – the Atlantic or the Pacific for instance – that can explain most of it,” Whitehouse added. “Others admit that there will not be any one cause for the ‘pause’ and that it is likely to be the result of a patchwork of influences. If so then they have to explain why such a patchwork has for 17 years kept the global surface temperature statistically flat in the face of rising greenhouse gas concentrations – surely one of the most remarkable balancing acts in the history of science.”
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