terça-feira, 14 de maio de 2013

A Change in Temperature or What Will a Doubling of Carbon Dioxide Mean for Climate?

Since 1896, scientists have been trying to answer a deceptively simple question: What will happen to the temperature of the earth if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubles?
Some recent scientific papers have made a splash by claiming that the answer might not be as bad as previously feared. This work — if it holds up — offers the tantalizing possibility that climate change might be slow and limited enough that human society could adapt to it without major trauma.
Several scientists say they see reasons to doubt that these lowball estimates will in fact stand up to critical scrutiny, and a wave of papers offering counterarguments is already in the works. “The story is not over,” said Chris E. Forest, a climate expert at Pennsylvania State University.
Still, the recent body of evidence — and the political use that climate contrarians are making of it to claim that everything is fine — sheds some light on where we are in our scientific and public understanding of the risks of climate change.
The topic under discussion is a number called “climate sensitivity.” Finding this number is the holy grail of climate science, because the stakes are so high: The fate of the earth hangs in the balance.
The first to take a serious stab at it was a Swede named Svante Arrhenius, in the late 19th century. After laborious calculations, he declared that if humans doubled the carbon dioxide in the air by burning fossil fuels, the average temperature of the earth would rise by something like nine degrees Fahrenheit, a whopping figure.
He was on the high side, as it turned out. In 1979, after two decades of meticulous measurements had made it clear that the carbon dioxide level was indeed rising, scientists used computers and a much deeper understanding of the climate to calculate a likely range of warming. They found that the response to a doubling of carbon dioxide would not be much below three degrees Fahrenheit, nor was it likely to exceed eight degrees.
In the years since, scientists have been pushing and pulling within that range, trying to settle on a most likely value. Most of those who are expert in climatology subscribe to a best-estimate figure of just over five degrees Fahrenheit.
That may not sound like a particularly scary number to many people — after all, we experience temperature variations of 20 or 30 degrees in a single day. But as an average for the entire planet, five degrees is a huge number.
The ocean, covering 70 percent of the surface, helps bring down the average, but the warming is expected to be higher over land, causing weather extremes like heat waves and torrential rains. And the poles will warm even more, so that the increase in the Arctic could exceed 10 or 15 degrees Fahrenheit. That could cause substantial melting of the polar ice sheets, ultimately flooding the world’s major coastal cities.

Source/Fonte: New York Times                           Read more here/Leia mais aqui.

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