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Abrupt Change – Past, Present
and Future
The Hard Reality, and the Silver Lining,
in a Sustainable Future
Jim White, Direc...
Context
• We are in the midst of climate change, but
HOW climate changes will be critical to
adaptation.
• In adapting to ...
Defining abrupt climate change
• No universally accepted definition.
• In general, one needs:
– A fast change (much less t...
Abrupt Impacts of
Climate Change:
Anticipating Surprises
New study from the
US National Academy
of Sciences:
Follow on fro...
This report also
considers abrupt
climate impacts:
Steady changes in
climate and/or
environment that
trigger abrupt shifts...
Abrupt Change: abrupt climate
change and abrupt impacts
• Scale in time and magnitude are relative to, and
faster and larg...
Change won’t always be obvious:
Timing and tipping points
• Abrupt changes, tipping
points… a point of no return is
crosse...
On the edge already
• The earth is more vulnerable to abrupt change
today
– We have altered the earth’s energy balance and...
How did this sneak up on us?
Reason #1: Population
You are here
Reason #2: Use per capita, the
multiplier
Low income is 3.5
times below middle
income, and 7 times
less than high income
T...
Abrupt change: the past
• Abrupt change is a common and natural feature of the
Earth’s climate system
• Up until the 1990’...
NEEM
Ice core sites
Abrupt events: the ice core view
Green is Greenland temperature
Blue is sea level
Dansgaard-Oeschger events
Last ice age
Abrupt change: the early story
Younger Dryas Termination
Willi Dansgaard
Sigfus
Johnsen
Dansgaard, White and Johnsen, Natu...
Abrupt
climate
changes: the
story evolves
•>10˚C increase in Greenland
temperature in 50 years
•Double snow in 1 to 3 year...
d-excess comparison among three cores across 350 years:
NGRIP and GISP2
and NEEM
NEEM - NGRIP synchronizing match points (...
How abrupt is abrupt?
-380
-360
-340
-320
-300
-280
-260
-240
11500 11600 11700 11800 11900 12000
Younger Dryas Terminatio...
Stunningly abrupt: Bølling warming in
northern Greenland
NGRIP and NEEM
NEEM - NGRIP synchronizing match points (S.O. Rasm...
Not all abrupt changes are equally abrupt everywhere
A climate threshold in northern Greenland?
Abrupt change: the present
• We are experiencing abrupt change today
– Arctic sea ice
– Groundwater loss
– Species extinct...
Abrupt Climate Changes and Impacts Now
Underway
• Disappearance of
summer time Arctic
sea ice
– Faster than
anticipated
• ...
Abrupt change is happening NOW
Arctic Sea IceWWW.climate.gov (NOAA)
Ice melt in water is highly non-linear
Lake Erie ice melts
…in 2 weeks… that’s ~27,000 sq
km (Massachusetts, or 6.8
Rhode ...
The new frontier!
Abrupt changes now: Groundwater loss
Trends in groundwater storage: 2002-2010 GRACE
Abrupt change: the future
• Many thresholds of interest…
– Sea level rise rate
– Species loss, marine and terrestrial
– Dr...
It is normal on earth to trade sea
water for land ice… very simple
physics
Foster and Rohling, PNAS
The surprising
reality of sea
level change
Credit: PBS: ExtremeIce
The dynamic range of sea level change
is difficult for ...
Sea level rise (SLR) rate
• The rate of SLR is currently such that
we expect about 1m of SLR by 2100.
– Rates of 3 to 5 ti...
Sea level is rising: 1
meter by the end of
this century is
current estimate…
and it won’t stop
there…
The reality of sea l...
Marine based ice
• West
Antarctica
is a Marine
Ice Sheet…
its bedrock
is well
below sea
level
Importance of Grounding Line
The long, slow, losing battle
Abrupt points:
• Federal flood insurance
• Property values
• Key infrastructure
• Fresh wate...
Political tipping points?
Are the troops on the frontlines getting restless?
“Deep time” sea level and temperature: Ultimate SLR
David Archer
Last time
Earth had
400 ppm
CO2
How far?
“Deep time” sea level and temperature: Ultimate SLR
Foster and Rohling, PNAS
~14 m is the sea water
stored in West
Antarct...
What does 13 meters of sea level rise look like?
All maps: Flood.firetree.net
What does 13 meters of sea level rise look like?
What does 20 meters (65 feet) of sea level rise look like?
What does 20 meters (65 feet) of sea level rise look like?
Is it all about how you frame the conversation?
From Dawgsports.com
Need For Action
• It is time to take concrete steps; an early
warning system is needed
– Useful vehicle towards action
– B...
Final (positive!) thoughts…
A water world
Ours is a water planet and it takes time to
heat up the water:
– The impacts (warmer) come after the
causes ...
The good news
Ethics and sustainability
My 3 simple rules of
sustainability:
1. Everything must cycle
2. Population must b...
Abrupt Impacts of
Climate Change:
Anticipating
Surprises
National Academy Press
www.nap.edu
Committee Members
• James White (Chair)
– University of Colorado at Boulder
• Richard Alley
– Pennsylvania State Universit...
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Abrupt Climate Change - Past, Present, and Future - Stefansson Lecture - 2014

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The hard reality and silver lining in a sustainable future.

Noted climatologist James W. C. White delivers the annual Stefansson Memorial Lecture for 2014. Drawing on results from ice core research over the past twenty years, as well as a new NRC report on abrupt climate change, the talk addresses abrupt change as seen in past climates, as seen today in key environmental systems upon which humans depend, and what may be coming in the future.

A webcast video is available at http://cirescolorado.adobeconnect.com/p4g9tolukv9/ (talk begins at 30 min.)

Published in: Environment
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Abrupt Climate Change - Past, Present, and Future - Stefansson Lecture - 2014

  1. 1. Abrupt Change – Past, Present and Future The Hard Reality, and the Silver Lining, in a Sustainable Future Jim White, Director, INSTAAR University of Colorado Boulder 2014 Stefansson Memorial Lecture Vilhjálmur Stefansson
  2. 2. Context • We are in the midst of climate change, but HOW climate changes will be critical to adaptation. • In adapting to change, “speed kills.” • So understanding, and preparing for abrupt change is critical.
  3. 3. Defining abrupt climate change • No universally accepted definition. • In general, one needs: – A fast change (much less than a human lifetime) – A big change (in average or in variability) – A change that seems out of proportion (too big) relative to the suspected cause Moon Lake, ND, (Laird et al, 1996)
  4. 4. Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises New study from the US National Academy of Sciences: Follow on from 2002 NRC report
  5. 5. This report also considers abrupt climate impacts: Steady changes in climate and/or environment that trigger abrupt shifts in related human and natural systems Abrupt Climate Impacts
  6. 6. Abrupt Change: abrupt climate change and abrupt impacts • Scale in time and magnitude are relative to, and faster and larger than expectations and ability to adapt, including economic ability – Air conditioning example – New York City subway example?
  7. 7. Change won’t always be obvious: Timing and tipping points • Abrupt changes, tipping points… a point of no return is crossed resulting in large, inevitable change. • The“canoe on the Niagara River” type events: strong positive feedbacks
  8. 8. On the edge already • The earth is more vulnerable to abrupt change today – We have altered the earth’s energy balance and changed climate – We cause 10 times more erosion than all natural processes – We make more nitrogen fertilizer than all bacteria on land – We make more sulfate than all ocean phytoplankton
  9. 9. How did this sneak up on us? Reason #1: Population You are here
  10. 10. Reason #2: Use per capita, the multiplier Low income is 3.5 times below middle income, and 7 times less than high income The Nasty Dilemma: we want others to live well, but if they do, the energy and resource needs will be staggering
  11. 11. Abrupt change: the past • Abrupt change is a common and natural feature of the Earth’s climate system • Up until the 1990’s we thought of climate change as mostly “gradual”, forced primarily by sun-earth changes • Greenland ice cores and ocean sediment cores changed that view…
  12. 12. NEEM Ice core sites
  13. 13. Abrupt events: the ice core view Green is Greenland temperature Blue is sea level Dansgaard-Oeschger events Last ice age
  14. 14. Abrupt change: the early story Younger Dryas Termination Willi Dansgaard Sigfus Johnsen Dansgaard, White and Johnsen, Nature, 1989
  15. 15. Abrupt climate changes: the story evolves •>10˚C increase in Greenland temperature in 50 years •Double snow in 1 to 3 years •Sea ice retreat in 1 to 2 years •CH4 up 50% in 50 years •N2O up 10% in 50 years Copenhagen to Gibraltar is 10˚C Atlanta to Minneapolis is 9˚C
  16. 16. d-excess comparison among three cores across 350 years: NGRIP and GISP2 and NEEM NEEM - NGRIP synchronizing match points (S.O. Rasmussen) 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 14500 14550 14600 14650 14700 14750 14800 14850 Bølling WarmingDeuteriumexcess GICC05 age (b2k) Shift in 1 to 2 years Multiple cores: signal versus noise Recent breakthroughs in analytical systems allow us to look at sub-annual variations in multiple cores rapidly and more accurately
  17. 17. How abrupt is abrupt? -380 -360 -340 -320 -300 -280 -260 -240 11500 11600 11700 11800 11900 12000 Younger Dryas Termination D GICC05 age (b2k) NGRIP GISP2 ~1˚C per year for 5 years in each step… 100 times faster than current warming
  18. 18. Stunningly abrupt: Bølling warming in northern Greenland NGRIP and NEEM NEEM - NGRIP synchronizing match points (S.O. Rasmussen) -380 -360 -340 -320 -300 -280 -260 -240 14500 14600 14700 14800 14900 15000 Bølling warming D GICC05 age (b2k) Isotope change in 1 to 2 years in 2 cores…Rate of inferred warming at northern sites 5-10 C per year!!! Up to 1,000 times faster than current warming
  19. 19. Not all abrupt changes are equally abrupt everywhere A climate threshold in northern Greenland?
  20. 20. Abrupt change: the present • We are experiencing abrupt change today – Arctic sea ice – Groundwater loss – Species extinction – Ocean acidification
  21. 21. Abrupt Climate Changes and Impacts Now Underway • Disappearance of summer time Arctic sea ice – Faster than anticipated • Impacts on Arctic ecosystems, changes to shipping, coastal erosion
  22. 22. Abrupt change is happening NOW Arctic Sea IceWWW.climate.gov (NOAA)
  23. 23. Ice melt in water is highly non-linear Lake Erie ice melts …in 2 weeks… that’s ~27,000 sq km (Massachusetts, or 6.8 Rhode Islands) Lake Erie example from 1973
  24. 24. The new frontier!
  25. 25. Abrupt changes now: Groundwater loss Trends in groundwater storage: 2002-2010 GRACE
  26. 26. Abrupt change: the future • Many thresholds of interest… – Sea level rise rate – Species loss, marine and terrestrial – Droughts and floods (water extremes) – Oceanic oxygen minima zones • Others concerning, but not abrupt – Permafrost carbon Pika corals
  27. 27. It is normal on earth to trade sea water for land ice… very simple physics Foster and Rohling, PNAS
  28. 28. The surprising reality of sea level change Credit: PBS: ExtremeIce The dynamic range of sea level change is difficult for people to grasp. Over 500 feet of ocean is traded for land ice and vice versa Major glaciations (20,000 years ago) = 400 feet lowering Melt Greenland and Antarctica = 170 feet higher
  29. 29. Sea level rise (SLR) rate • The rate of SLR is currently such that we expect about 1m of SLR by 2100. – Rates of 3 to 5 times faster are common in the past record. – Abrupt change: 1m in 100 years is fundamentally different than 1m in 30 years, or 20 years. • The 3 “hows”: – How fast? – How far? – How inevitable?
  30. 30. Sea level is rising: 1 meter by the end of this century is current estimate… and it won’t stop there… The reality of sea level rise Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine said the city is too valuable to lose, with real estate worth more than $23 billion and tourism revenue over $9 billion. Washington Post, 23/4/14
  31. 31. Marine based ice • West Antarctica is a Marine Ice Sheet… its bedrock is well below sea level
  32. 32. Importance of Grounding Line
  33. 33. The long, slow, losing battle Abrupt points: • Federal flood insurance • Property values • Key infrastructure • Fresh water How inevitable?
  34. 34. Political tipping points? Are the troops on the frontlines getting restless?
  35. 35. “Deep time” sea level and temperature: Ultimate SLR David Archer Last time Earth had 400 ppm CO2 How far?
  36. 36. “Deep time” sea level and temperature: Ultimate SLR Foster and Rohling, PNAS ~14 m is the sea water stored in West Antarctica and Greenland How far?
  37. 37. What does 13 meters of sea level rise look like? All maps: Flood.firetree.net
  38. 38. What does 13 meters of sea level rise look like?
  39. 39. What does 20 meters (65 feet) of sea level rise look like?
  40. 40. What does 20 meters (65 feet) of sea level rise look like?
  41. 41. Is it all about how you frame the conversation? From Dawgsports.com
  42. 42. Need For Action • It is time to take concrete steps; an early warning system is needed – Useful vehicle towards action – Builds on existing systems – Helps arguments for continued monitoring – No need to argue attribution
  43. 43. Final (positive!) thoughts…
  44. 44. A water world Ours is a water planet and it takes time to heat up the water: – The impacts (warmer) come after the causes (increased GHGs) by 50 years or more – Leads to intergenerational inequity
  45. 45. The good news Ethics and sustainability My 3 simple rules of sustainability: 1. Everything must cycle 2. Population must be controlled (equality of the sexes), and vary inversely with resource use per capita 3. Equity must be considered and acted upon
  46. 46. Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises National Academy Press www.nap.edu
  47. 47. Committee Members • James White (Chair) – University of Colorado at Boulder • Richard Alley – Pennsylvania State University • David Archer – The University of Chicago • Anthony Barnosky – University of California, Berkeley • Jonathan Foley – University of Minnesota • Rong Fu – The University of Texas at Austin • Marika Holland – National Center for Atmospheric Research • Susan Lozier – Duke University • Johanna Schmitt – University of California, Davis • Laurence Smith – University of California, Los Angeles • George Sugihara – University of California, San Diego • David Thompson – Colorado State University • Andrew Weaver – University of Victoria, British Columbia • Steven Wofsy – Harvard University

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