How Will Your Climate Change?

One of the biggest challenges to motivating action on climate change is that, for the most part, climate change is an extremely intangible idea. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center study, while the majority of Americans believes that the Earth is warming, less than half believes that this warming is caused primarily by human activity. In general, unless you live in a developing country facing immediate sea level rise, or have experienced unusual trends of extreme weather, it can be hard to really understand how climate change will impact you. Without this understanding, it can be difficult to convince many Americans of the urgency of the threat posed by climate change. In a recent effort to make climate change more tangible, a group of researchers from the Universities of Hawaii and the Ryukyus (Japan) has focused attention on explaining the expected regional impacts of climate change: how your climate will change, and when.

In a report published this month in the academic journal Nature, researchers used a computer model to predict the year in which the average temperature will shift to a state continuously outside the bounds of historical variability. In plain terms, the report shows when the average temperature in a certain region will exceed the historical maximum temperatures. To determine this, the authors first calculated the average temperature range for each region of the world for the past century and a half, using seven different variables including near-surface air temperature and precipitation. They then analyzed 39 different models to predict when average temperatures in regions all over the world would exceed their current climate maximums range, and the results are shocking.

If the models are correct, it is likely that the climates we are used to today will be completely different (and a lot hotter) for our children. In some places, the start of this new climate (labeled a climate departure) could start as early as 2020 (in Manokwari, Indonesia, for example). Tropical regions will feel the difference first because their climates do not naturally vary as much as those of more temperate regions. North America will start to feel the temperature difference beginning in 2043 in Phoenix and Honolulu, with most of the rest of the country feeling the heat increase by the 2060s.

Figure 1: Predicted mean annual temperatures of an example grid cell (small square on map) exceed historical climate bounds (grey area) for three consecutive years starting in 2012 (blue arrow) and for 11 consecutive years after 2023 (green arrow); after 2036 (red arrow) all subsequent years remained outside the bounds (data from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Earth System Model 2G).

Figure 1: Predicted mean annual temperatures of an example grid cell (small square on map) exceed historical climate bounds (grey area) for three consecutive years starting in 2012 (blue arrow) and for 11 consecutive years after 2023 (green arrow); after 2036 (red arrow) all subsequent years remained outside the bounds (data from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Earth System Model 2G).

Can we do anything to avoid this warmer fate? Probably not completely. But we can delay it. According to the report, if we work to aggressively stabilize emissions now, we could postpone the overall climatic shift by about 20 years (from 2047 to 2069). This could provide us with an opportunity to prepare for the impacts of a warmer climate. With the window to delay the shift closing, however, the importance of being able to relate to the impacts of higher emissions is incontestable. When people can picture how something will impact their everyday lives, it is much easier to change a behavior or policy. The results of this study could be a significant step toward helping people understand how climate change will really affect them, promoting a sense of urgency and responsibility about limiting climate change.

So, what will your climate look like over the next 100 years? Check out this interactive map, which details the predictions of one model for 10,000 regions all over the world. Oh, and maybe stock up on some shorts!

 
Image Credit: By Eric Hill from Boston, MA, USA (City Flow) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

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