The Science of Abrupt Climate Change: Should we be worried?
By Jeffrey Masters, Ph.D. — Director of Meteorology, Weather Underground, Inc.
We generally consider climate changes as taking place on the scale of hundreds or even thousands of years. However, since the early 1990s, a radical shift in the scientific understanding of Earth’s climate history has occurred. We now know that that major regional and global climate shifts have occurred in just a few decades or even a single year. The most recent of these shifts occurred just 8200 years ago. If an abrupt climate change of similar magnitude happened today, it would have severe consequences for humans and natural ecosystems. Although scientists consider an abrupt climate change unlikely in the next 100 years, their understanding of the phenomena is still a work-in-progress, and such a change could be triggered instantly by natural processes or by human-caused global warming with little warning.
The National Academy of Sciences–the board of scientists established by Congress in 1863 to advise the federal government on scientific matters–compiled a comprehensive report in 2002 entitled, Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises. The 244-page report, which contains over 500 references, was written by a team of 59 of the top researchers in climate, and represents the most authoritative source of information about abrupt climate change available. Most of the material that follows was taken from this report.
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