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National Academies issues new report on climate change

The National Academies Press has issued a new report on climate change. The primary focus of this report is understanding which climate impacts are likely to occur when. The report also gives an overview of the current state o knowledge in this field, and discusses what governments should consider doing moving forward.

An excerpt from the summary of this report is reprinted below. For a free downloadable copy of the full report, click here.


coverLevels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere areexceeding levels recorded in the past millions of years, and thus climate is being forced beyond the range of the recent geological era. Lacking concerted action by the world’s nations, it is clear that the future climate will be warmer, sea levels will rise, global rainfall patterns will change, and ecosystems will be altered.

However, there is still uncertainty about how we will arrive at that future climate state. Although many projections of future climatic conditions have predicted steadily changing conditions giving the impression that communities have time to gradually adapt, for example, by adopting new agricultural practices to maintain productivity in hotter and drier conditions, or by organizing the relocation of coastal communities as sea level rises, the scientific community has been paying increasing attention to the possibility that at least some changes will be abrupt, perhaps crossing a threshold or “tipping point” to change so quickly that there will be little time to react. This concern is reasonable because such abrupt changes—which can occur over periods as short as decades, or even years—have been a natural part of the climate system throughout Earth’s history. The paleoclimate record—information on past climate gathered from sources such as fossils, sediment cores, and ice cores—contains ample evidence of abrupt changes in Earth’s ancient past, including sudden changes in ocean and air circulation, or abrupt extreme extinction events. One such abrupt change was at the end of the Younger Dryas, a period of cold climatic conditions and drought in the north that occurred about 12,000 years ago. Following a millennium-long cold period, the Younger Dryas abruptly terminated in a few decades or less and is associated with the extinction of 72 percent of the large-bodied mammals in North America.

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