Earth Is Dangerously Close To Entering Irreversible ‘Hothouse’ State

Posted: Aug 14 2018, 1:08pm CDT | by , in Latest Science News


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Earth is Dangerously Close To Entering Irreversible ‘Hothouse’ State
Credit: NASA

New study suggests that human-induced global warming of 2°C could lead to "hothouse Earth" even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases

Tipping points or thresholds for catastrophic changes in nature caused by human activities are largely unpredictable, but a new study lays out a worst-case scenario for a warming climate.

Researchers have warned that our planet is at risk of entering “hothouse Earth” state and that it cannot be reversed even if we manage to curb carbon emissions to the desired extent. Crossing the threshold of hothouse Earth will lead to a climate 4-5 Celsius higher than pre-industrial times and sea levels that are 30 to 200 feet higher than today.

Burning of fossil fuel by humans is heating up Earth because it releases a large amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But greenhouse gas is not the only factor that drives climate change. If man-made global warming reaches a certain level, it may trigger other Earth system processes or feedbacks that will accelerate global warming even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases.

The new study considers 10 natural feedback processes, some of which are "tipping elements" that cause abrupt change if a critical threshold is crossed. These feedbacks include release of methane from ocean floor, permafrost thaw, weakened carbon sinks, loss of Arctic ice and Amazon rainforest dieback.

“These tipping elements can potentially act like a row of dominoes. Once one is pushed over, it pushes Earth toward another. It may be very difficult or impossible to stop the whole row of dominoes from tumbling over. Places on Earth will become uninhabitable if 'Hothouse Earth' becomes the reality.” Co-author Johan Rockström from Stockholm Resilience Center said.

Earth’s climate has changed throughout its history. Currently, global average temperatures are 1 degrees C above pre-industrial and rising at a rate of 0.17 degrees C per decade. A global warming of 2 degrees C could activate important tipping elements and there will be no turning back.

Researchers suggest that natural feedback processes could be slowed down by fundamental changes in society. Avoiding a hothouse Earth needs not only reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, but also improved forest, agricultural and soil management, biodiversity conservation, and technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and bury it underground.

“We show how industrial-age greenhouse gas emissions force our climate, and ultimately the Earth system, out of balance. In particular, we address tipping elements in the planetary machinery that might, once a certain stress level has been passed, one by one change fundamentally, rapidly, and perhaps irreversibly,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber from Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. "This cascade of events may tip the entire Earth system into a new mode of operation."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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