Nature article co-authored by Rowan professor forecasts climate chaos

Nature article co-authored by Rowan professor forecasts climate chaos

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An article in the Feb. 7 issue of the journal Nature, co-authored by Rowan Assistant Professor Luke Trusel, predicts new and dire consequences from climate change, much of it the result of rapidly melting polar ice entering the oceans.

Those consequences, which include rising sea levels (which will mean greater flooding in low-lying areas), altered ocean currents (which help regulate temperature), and more variable and extreme weather across the globe, have not previously been accounted for in government forecasts. Further, scientists believe they result from government policies failing to address rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Trusel, a glaciologist in the Department of Geology within the School of Earth & Environment, was the lead researcher in a Dec. 6 article in Nature that documented how the Greenland Ice Sheet is melting at historic rates that began with the Industrial Revolution – evidence that human development is a leading factor in global climate change.

The Feb. 7 Nature article, “Global environmental consequences of twenty-first-century ice-sheet melt,” predicts the impacts of climate change that is currently on track to raise global temperatures roughly 3-4 degrees Celsius above pre-Industrial temperatures by 2100. The 2016 Paris Agreement, signed by representatives from 196 countries, sought to limit the increase in temperature by the start of the next century to two degrees Celsius or less.

Trusel was among a team of international climate scientists who conducted research for the Feb. 7 article, Nature’s cover story.

“The model results align very well with observations of recent change. This is important, because if we are to plausibly simulate any future climate, getting the present-day right is critical,” said Trusel, underscoring the advances in the new study.

Led by Nick Golledge of Victoria University of Wellington’s Antarctic Research Centre, the study involved scientists from Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States whose climate models simulated what might happen when water from melting ice sheets enters the Earth’s oceans. The models calculated ice melt, runoff and related global climate disruptions expected by 2100 based on current government policies.

The models predict that resulting ocean changes will lead to more extreme weather events and greater variation in temperatures. In the North Atlantic Ocean, major ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream will be significantly weakened by the influx of melt water, leading to additional warming in Central America, Eastern Canada, and the high Arctic, but reduced warming over northwestern Europe.

Trusel’s Dec. 6 Nature paper used ice cores to show that increased melting of the Greenland ice sheet began about the same time of the slowing of this major ocean current, suggesting the impacts of ice melt are already underway.

“We are heading towards 3 or 4 degrees of warming above pre-Industrial levels,” Golledge said. “With this level of warming, a significant amount of melt water from the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets will enter Earth’s oceans... (causing) significant disruptions to ocean currents and (changing) levels of warming around the world.”

Though the current U.S. administration has pledged to remove the U.S. from obligations outlined in the Paris Agreement, Trusel said there is reason to believe that the nation may lead efforts to reduce the effects of warming.

“The U.S. recently assembled a comprehensive climate report from 13 agencies and the message is clear,” he said. “Climate change is here, it’s human-caused, and it will have wide ranging impacts on our livelihoods and economy. Our government agencies are confident of this.”

Further, he said, recent polling shows that the American people, by a large majority, are concerned about climate change too.

“Record numbers of the public believe climate change is real and that it represents a growing threat.  People are eager for action,” he said.