Understanding Global Warming. Paul Kushner Department of Physics, University of Toronto. Oraynu Centre February 21, 2008

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1 Understanding Global Warming Paul Kushner Department of Physics, University of Toronto Oraynu Centre February 21, 2008

2 Outline Starting Points What Sets the Earth s Thermostat? Global Warming and Climate Change Present and Future Impacts Concluding Points

3 Starting Points Scientific research in climate combines observations, lab work, computer models of the climate system, and theory. High quality scientific climate predictions... + Are independently evaluated in the scientific literature (IPCC, Arctic Climate Assessment). + Come with a quantitative statement of confidence... from virtually certain to highly unlikely. Levels of certainty about key climate predictions have been increasing over the last 20 years.

4 International Climate Assessments IPCC 1996 The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate IPCC 2001 There is now new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities

5 International Climate Assessments Arctic Climate Assessment 2005 Arctic temperatures have risen at almost twice the rate of those in the rest of the world over the past few decades IPCC 2007 Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.

6 Starting Points To make sense of these broad statements, in this talk I will discuss + What controls the Earth temperature, + How human activity interferes with these controls and causes climate change, + Some of the many impacts of climate change.

7 below freezing 0 o C above freezing 32 o F

8 What Sets the Earth s Thermostat?

9 What Sets the Earth s Thermostat? 1. The Warmth of the Sun 2. The Greenhouse Effect 3. Climate feedbacks

10 Sunlight and the Greenhouse Effect IPCC 2007

11 Greenhouse Gases CO 2 Methane (CH 4 ) Water Vapour (H 2 O) CFC

12 Greenhouse Gases Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) efficiently absorb and emit longwave radiation. The GHGs are essential to life on Earth. GHG molecules are rare: less than 1% of Earth s atmosphere. They are typically not poisonous.

13 Climate Feedbacks Positive and negative feedbacks are common in nature and society. Here is a positive feedback in the context of finance: A small change is amplified This could also work the other way...

14 Snow/Ice Albedo Feedback Earth + Atmosphere Sunlight Shortwave light Earthlight: about 30% of sunlight is reflected back to space by snow, ice, clouds, etc.. This fraction (30%) is called albedo.

15 Snow/Ice Albedo Feedback Snow and sea-ice reflect a lot of sunlight ( high albedo, about 70%-90%) When snow and ice melt, they expose dark surfaces (ocean, ground) that can absorb more sunlight. Northern Hemisphere Winter Albedo

16 Snow/Ice Albedo Feedback Surface Temperature Increases Surface absorbs More Sunlight Snow and Ice Melts Surface Becomes Less Reflective

17 Water Vapour Feedback 14 o C 25 o C Warmer air can hold more water vapour. But water vapour is a greenhouse gas.

18 Water Vapour Feedback Surface Temperature Increases Greenhouse Trapping Increases Water Vapour Amount in Air Increases Water Vapour Absorbs More Longwave Light

19 Global Warming and Climate Change

20 We Are Changing GHG Concentrations Pollution and land use have really changed the GHG composition of the atmosphere. There is more CO 2 in the atmosphere now than in the previous 650,000 years, probably the previous several million years. Our current emissions are outstripping even the most severe predictions.

21 Global Warming IPCC 2006 This graphic represents the greenhouse effect and albedo effect for different pollutants. By itself, GHG increases would change the Earth s temperature by only a couple of degrees.

22 Global Warming IPCC 2006 It is positive climate feedbacks that make this pollution a true environmental problem.

23 Feedbacks Amplify Global Warming Surface Becomes Less Reflective Surface absorbs More Sunlight Snow and Ice Melts Surface Temperature Increases Greenhouse Trapping Increases Water Vapour Amount in Air Increases Polluting GHG (CO 2 ) Increases Water Vapour Absorbs More Longwave Light

24 Feedbacks Amplify Global Warming Cooperative feedbacks more than double the effects of CO 2 increases. Surface Temperature Increases Amplified Polluting GHG (CO 2 ) Increases

25 The Warming So Far The planet has warmed about C from late 19 th century. The rate of warming is increasing. Current temperatures are greater than what they have been in at least the past 500 years, probably past 1000 years.

26 What the Models Show Individual Simulations Average of Simulations Observations Models from the IPCC assessment accurately capture the global temperature rise.

27 The Warming So Far Observed Surface Air Temperature Anomalies, NASA

28 What the Models Show The models capture the warming in different regions. We can t explain current temperature trends without taking into account GHG forcing and aerosol pollution.

29 The Warming to Come? Predicted Temperature Changes from Present Day, IPCC

30 Impacts of Global Warming Global temperature is linked to many other climate variables. The current warming is tied to + Weather effects + Sea-level rise + Reduced snow cover and sea ice. + Earlier spring onset. + Hydrology changes (precipitation, evaporation, runoff).

31 Observed Changes in Heat Waves, Cold Snaps 6-8 fewer really cold nights each decade, more really warm nights each decade.

32 Impacts on the Cryosphere (Snow and Ice) As the world warms, the Arctic warms more. Arctic sea ice is melting and the evidence is increasing that models underestimate the rate of disappearance. Snow extent is decreasing and mountain glaciers are decreasing globally. Growing zones are moving upward and poleward; this is already affecting gardening in the U.S. and sensitive alpine regions.. These impacts are less pronounced in the Southern Hemisphere.

33 Last year, Arctic sea ice at the end of summer underwent a dramatic reduction. The reduction in area was much larger than the extrapolated long term trend.

34 Arctic sea ice loss is happening faster than predicted by the models. Why is there a mismatch between models and observations? GRL 2007 UCAR 2007

35 Impacts on Sea Level The projections do not include melt of the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps this remains a highly uncertain issue.

36 Impacts on Hydrology Precipitation, evaporation, runoff are challenging to observe and simulate. But the following conclusions are robust.

37 As the atmosphere warms, it is able to hold more moisture, and models are able to capture this. This is one of the sources of the statement that global warming will lead to more intense storms and flooding.

38 As the planet warms, tropical and high latitude regions are now getting more precipitation, and subtropical regions will get less. The models have predicted this for some time. This will lead to higher runoff at high latitudes. Nature 2007

39 Bad News about Droughts

40 Concluding Points I personally believe that our energy-intensive industrial way of life has brought the human race great benefits.

41

42

43 Concluding Points But I also think that there is more than enough evidence that global warming is happening and is dangerous. Business as usual means that we will have very serious warming by the end of this century. We should treat GHGs as a global environmental contaminant. We have already committed to a significant warming. The fact is that we will have to adapt to some climate change: are we capable?

44 Times Do Change...

45 Emissions required stabilize Red: 1000 ppm Blue: 750 ppm Green: 550 ppm Present Day: 7.2 Gt C/yr Year 2300: ~ 2 Gt C/yr for 750 ppm stabilization Andrew Weaver

46 An international success story The 1987 Montreal Protocol and CFCs Andrew Weaver

47 Concluding Remarks The control of ozone depleting chemicals shows that we are able to pursue common environmental goals, as long as there is solid scientific support for those goals and, equally important, as long as there remains a bond of trust between the scientific community and the general public. Thanks for the opportunity to come and for lunch!

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