Extreme climate to affect most of earth with 34 years, new study predicts

Tipping point will come in 2047, much sooner than expected, study concludes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 2:06pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 October, 2013, 3:42am


Earth may experience a radically different climate within 34 years, forever changing life as we know it, says a study that aims to bring the dangers of global warming into sharper focus.

On current trends of greenhouse-gas emissions, 2047 will mark the year at which the climate at most places on earth will shift beyond documented extremes, it says.

This date is pushed back to 2069 under a scenario in which fossil-fuel burning emissions are stabilised, says an analysis of climate projections published in the journal Nature.

"The results shocked us," lead author Camilo Mora, of the University of Hawaii's geography department, said of the findings. "Within my generation, whatever climate we are used to will be a thing of the past."

Most climate studies predict average, global shifts by a randomly chosen cut-off date like 2100.

The new study took a different tack by distinguishing between different areas of the world and seeking to identify the year in which climate change will cross the threshold where weather events once viewed as extreme become the norm. It looked at effects such as air and sea surface temperature, rainfall and ocean acidity.

"Regardless of the scenario, changes will be coming soon," said Mora. These would force species to adapt, move or die out.

"The work demonstrates that we are pushing the ecosystems of the world out of the environment in which they evolved into wholly new conditions that they may not be able to cope with. Extinctions are likely to result," said Ken Caldeira, of the Carnegie Institution for Science's global ecology department.

The tropics may be hit soonest and hardest. They are home to the bulk of the world's population and contribute significantly to global food supply.

"In predominantly developing countries, over one billion people under an optimistic scenario and five billion under a business-as-usual scenario, live in areas that will experience extreme climates before 2050," study co-author Ryan Longman said.