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Most Places on Earth to Experience Radically Different Climate by 2047

Oct 09, 2013 02:55 PM EDT

Should greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise based on current trends, most places on Earth will experience a radically different climate by 2047, a new study led by researchers from the University of Hawaii, Manoa shows.

Should greenhouse gas emissions stabilize, the global mean climate departure -- the point at which the mean climate of any given location will shift outside the most extreme records within the past 150 years -- will occur by 2069.

"The results shocked us. Regardless of the scenario, changes will be coming soon," lead author Camilo Mora said in a statement. "Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past."

What does that mean exactly?

"Go back in your life to think about the hottest, most traumatic event you have experienced," Mora told The New York Times. "What we're saying is that very soon, that event is going to become the norm."

First to be hit, researchers found, will be the tropics. This is problematic due to the fact that tropical species are unaccustomed to climate variability, and many studies show that some -- such as corals -- are already hitting their limits, the scientists explain.

"This 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 Department of Global Ecology, and who was not involved in this study. "Some ecosystems may be able to adapt, but for others, such as coral reefs, complete loss of not only individual species but their entire integrity is likely."

The data used in the study came from 39 Earth System Models, each developed independently by 21 climate centers in 12 different countries.

"This paper is unusually important. It builds on earlier work but brings the biological and human consequences into sharper focus," said Jane Lubchenco, former Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and now of Oregon State University. Like Caldeira, Lubchenco was not involved in the study. "It connects the dots between climate models and impacts to biodiversity in a stunningly fresh way, and it has sobering ramifications for species and people."

While Mora admits the results of the study can be daunting, he argues that they are not a signal that all is lost.

"Rather, they should encourage us to reduce emissions and slow the rate of climate change," he said. "This can buy time for species, ecosystems, and ourselves to adapt to the coming changes."

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