First Short-Term Global Warming Forecast: Record Heat

EXETER, UK, August 10, 2007 (ENS) - Get ready for the heat. In the world's first near-term global warming forecast, British climate scientists say the planet's temperature will plateau for two years and then rise sharply through 2014.

Using powerful computer models, scientists at the British meteorological service's Hadley Center predict that at least half of the years after 2009 will exceed temperatures during 1998, the warmest year currently on record.

Wildfires will increase as the planet heats up. Here, firefighters battle a blaze in California. 2007. (Photo credit unknown)
The year 2014 is likely to be 0.3°Celsius (.5°Fahrenheit) warmer than 2004, the Met Office scientists predict.

This forecast means that while it has taken a century for the global temperature to rise 0.8°C (1.44°F) it will take only 10 years for the planet to heat up half again as much.

Published in the journal "Science," today, the forecast indicates that a natural cooling trend in the eastern and southern Pacific Ocean has kept global warming in check, but that trend is about to end.

Scientists at the Met Office Hadley Centre present the first decadal climate prediction model covering the decade from 2004 to 2014. Usually climate predictions cover the period of a century.

Beyond 2014, the odds of breaking the temperature record increase still more, the scientists said.

The new modeling system forecasts the Earth's surface temperature with improved skill throughout a decade, both globally and in many regions.

Team leader Dr. Doug Smith said, "Observed relative cooling in the Southern Ocean and tropical Pacific over the last couple of years was correctly predicted by the new system, giving us greater confidence in the model's performance."

Dolphins in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, where a natural cooling trend has moderated global warming. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
The new model incorporates the effects of sea surface temperatures as well as other factors such as human emissions of greenhouse gases, projected changes in the Sun's output and the effects of previous volcanic eruptions.

By altering the global energy balance, such mechanisms force the climate to change.

"Occurrences of El Nino, for example, have a significant effect on shorter-term predictions," said Smith, referring to the periodic warming of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean known as El Nino.

"By including such internal variability," he said, "we have shown a substantial improvement in predictions of surface temperature," he said.

These predictions will be useful for businesses and policy-makers who will be able to respond to short-term climate change when making decisions today, said Smith.

"The next decade is within many people's understanding and brings home the reality of a changing climate," he said.

Community group in South Australia makes plans for dryland management. (Photo courtesy DWLBC)
Total global warming, on a decadal average, is 0.8°C (1.44°F) since 1900, according to an analysis released in February by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, a group of thousands of scientists from around the world.

While a temperature increase of a few degrees might not sound dramatic, it will have dramatic effects on our climate, according to Greenpeace climate campaigner Stephanie Tunmore, who said, "That's why is vital that action is taken now to reduce emissions and keep warming below 2°C to prevent catastrophic climate impacts."

In a longer-term study of the effects of climate change on developing countries released in November, Hadley Centre scientists and others from around the world said the effects would be widespread and severe.

"We project that by 2100, if significant mitigation does not take place, around half of the planet's land surface will be liable to drought," the scientists warned. "Some less developed countries are likely to be severely affected. Africa, South America and parts of South East Asia are likely to see worsening conditions."

"Future climate change will affect water supplies and food production," they predict. "There will also be a wide range of other impacts, such as coastal flooding, increased heat related mortality, and loss of important ecosystems."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.