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Carbon Emissions and Warming: First Direct Mathematical Link Identified

Dec 02, 2014 11:23 AM EST
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Most climatologists, ecologists, and even the World Bank have all reached a consensus that climate change is occurring. Experts and policymakers alike have attributed rising concentrations of carbon dioxide to net warming, but finding straightforward evidence of this can be difficult. Now, a team of researchers claims that they have identified, for the first time, how global warming is related to the amount of carbon emitted in a mathematical proof.

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Nature Geoscience, which details how a team of researchers from the universities of Southampton, Bristol and Liverpool have derived the first theoretical equation to demonstrate that global warming is a direct result of the build-up of carbon emissions.

More importantly, this equation also reveals that humanity can largely be blamed for these emissions, after net warming was mathematically found to be the direct result of carbon build-up since the late 1800s when human-made emissions began.

"Given the complexity of the climate system, it was a surprise to find out how simple the relationship is between global warming and how much carbon we emit," study author Ric Williams said in a statement.

He explained that the equation shows every million-million metric tons of carbon emitted will generate one degree Celsius of net warming. Application of this theorem also reveals that the build-up of carbon emitted over the last 200 years will then last for many centuries to millennia, even if carbon emissions are subsequently phased out.

Williams added that, naturally, "the ocean turns out to be crucial by taking up both heat and carbon, which lead to nearly compensating effects in how surface warming depends on carbon emissions."

However, human activity has led to a spike in carbon emissions that our natural carbon sinks were not prepared for.

"Our analysis highlights the nearly irreversible nature of carbon emissions for global warming," explained researcher Phil Goodwin of the University of Southampton. "Once carbon has been emitted into the atmosphere the warming effect will last many centuries, even after much of the carbon has been absorbed by the ocean. We cannot wait until after significant anthropogenic warming has occurred to reduce carbon emissions and hope the climate goes back to normal by itself, it won't."

"In terms of wider policy implications," Williams added, "our theory reiterates a simple message: the more cumulative carbon emissions are allowed to increase, the more global surface warming will also increase. This policy implication reinforces the need to develop carbon capture techniques to limit the warming for the next generations."

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