Sunday, August 14, 2016

Climate Inertia - by Bart Verheggen

As I wrote before:  Postponing meaningful mitigation action until the shit hits the fan comes with considerable risk, because many changes in climate are not reversible on human timescales.  Once you notice the trouble, it’s only the beginning, because of the inertia in the various systems (energy system, carbon cycle and climate system).  The conundrum is thus that those who caused the problem are in the best position to solve it, but since the full consequences will not materialize until much later, they have the least incentive to do so.

Over at Bits of Science two Dutch science journalists, Rolf Schuttenhelm and Stephan Okhuijsen, published an interesting piece that focuses on the same issue:  we only see a portion of the warming that we have committed ourselves to, due to the thermal inertia provided by the oceans.  Just as a pot of water doesn’t immediately boil when we turn on the stove, the oceans take time to warm up as well.  And since there’s a lot of water in the oceans, it takes a lot of time.

Observed and eventually expected (“real”) temperature at concurrent CO2 concentration  (Credit: Bits of Science) Click to Enlarge.
They included the following nifty graph, with the observed surface temperature but also the eventually expected temperature at the corresponding CO2 concentration (which they dub the ’real global temperature’), based on different approaches to account for warming in the pipeline:

This is a nice way to visualize the warming that’s still in the pipeline due to ocean thermal inertia.  From a scientific point of view the exact execution and framing could be criticized on certain aspects,
but the underlying point, that more warming is in store than we’re currently seeing, is both valid and very important.

Timescales, timescales, timescales.  Why art thou missing from the public discussion about global warming?

Read more at Climate Inertia

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