Climate change could affect tropics in ten years
Release Date 12 December 2011
Temperatures in the tropics could rise above natural year-to-year variability within a decade as a result of man-made climate change, according to new research.
The study, carried out by scientists at the University of Reading, provides further evidence that the effects of climate change could begin to be felt sooner than has been previously suggested, meaning the developing world could have to adapt to the reality of changing climate faster than expected.
The paper, ‘Time emergence of Climate Signals', which asks when climate change will seriously affect different regions, was written by Ed Hawkins and Rowan Sutton of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of Reading, is published by Geophysical Research Letters (in press).
The most serious impacts of climate change are expected to occur when particular thresholds are exceeded. For example, many crops wither if temperatures exceed specific levels. The research by scientists from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) based at the University of Reading's Walker Institute, looks at when - in different parts of the world - local warming is expected to rise above natural year to year variability, which is a crucial indicator of when climate change might start to affect people's day to day lives.
For tropical regions, we could see local warming rise above the ‘noise' of natural variability within a decade, if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. For mid-latitude regions, such as Europe, the most serious effects of climate change are likely to be felt several decades later than in the tropics. Exactly when key thresholds will be crossed cannot be pinned down precisely, but knowledge of the range of possibilities will help governments and societies plan how they adapt.
Dr Ed Hawkins, from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and lead author of the paper, said: "Societies already appreciate that their climate varies considerably from year to year, and even decade to decade, and already adapt to deal with this variability. However, it is when the changes in climate become larger than these background levels of variability that the real impacts are felt. Quantifying when this will occur is of paramount importance to communities who are trying to adapt to long term changes."
The research follows similar findings by scientists at the University of Reading, who have found that many people alive today are likely to witness global temperatures rising by more than two degrees Celsius within their lifetime.
Work by scientists at NCAS, based at the University of Reading's Walker Institute, and colleagues, found earlier this year that If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, global temperatures are projected to cross a threshold of two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial era between 2040 and 2060 - well within the lifetime of many people currently alive.
Even if crossing the two-degree threshold becomes unavoidable, reducing emissions could delay this from happening by up to several decades, buying valuable time for the world to adapt to climate change.
Dr Manoj Joshi, lead author of the work, said that considering the question of ‘when are serious impacts expected?', as opposed to ‘what serious impacts are expected?' adds an extra dimension to the debate about reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.
"It is not just about avoiding potentially dangerous climate change, but also about buying time for adaptation," he said.
The paper, by Manoj Joshi, Ed Hawkins, Rowan Sutton, Jason Lowe and David Frame, ‘Projections of when temperature change will exceed 2°C above pre-industrial levels', was published earlier this year by Nature Climate Change.
For more information, contact the University of Reading press officer Pete Castle on firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0)118 378 7391
Notes to editors:
The Walker Institute at the University of Reading draws together a number of internationally renowned climate system research groups and centres with expertise across a wide range of core disciplines central to climate system science. The Institute's vision is to be a world leader in integrated climate system research in order to deliver better knowledge and understanding of future climate and its impacts for the benefit of society
The University of Reading is one of the UK's top research-intensive universities and is ranked in the Top 200 universities in the world (Times Higher Education world rankings 2011). More than 87% of the University's research is deemed to be of international standing. Areas of particular research strength recognised include meteorology and climate change, typography and graphic design, archaeology, philosophy, food biosciences, construction management, real estate and planning, and law.