Commonplace Heatwaves by 2039

One degree of warming may be too much for some countries, with heat waves possibly commonplace by the year 2039.

A new study by Stanford University climate scientists has looked at two dozen climate models to project what could happen in America if carbon dioxide emissions raised the planet’s temperature by 1 degree Celsius between 2019 and 2039. What they found flies in the face of what climate scientists have been suggesting is possible.

“In the next 30 years, we could see an increase in heat waves like the one now occurring in the eastern United States or the kind that swept across Europe in 2003 that caused tens of thousands of fatalities,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, an assistant professor of environmental Earth system science at Stanford and the lead author of the study. “Those kinds of severe heat events also put enormous stress on major crops like corn, soybean, cotton and wine grapes, causing a significant reduction in yields.”

The recent 2009 Copenhagen Climate Accord works to reduce greenhouse gas emissions “so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius.” But that may be a target too far if this most recent study is accurate.

“Using a large suite of climate model experiments, we see a clear emergence of much more intense, hot conditions in the U.S. within the next three decades,” said Diffenbaugh, a center fellow at Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment.

Along with Moetasim Ashfaq, a former Stanford postdoctoral fellow now at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Diffenbaugh took two years to study two dozen climate models to project what would happen if the US suffered a temperature increase of one degree Celsius.

“Our results suggest that limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial conditions may not be sufficient to avoid serious increases in severely hot conditions,” Diffenbaugh said.

The researchers also found that the 2020s and 2030s could be dramatically hotter than our current decade, for which they predicted four massive spikes in hot weather. “Frankly, I was expecting that we’d see large temperature increases later this century with higher greenhouse gas levels and global warming,” Diffenbaugh said. “I did not expect to see anything this large within the next three decades. This was definitely a surprise.”

“By the decade of the 2030s, we see persistent, drier conditions over most of the U.S.,” Diffenbaugh added. “Not only will the atmosphere heat up from more greenhouse gases, but we also expect changes in the precipitation and soil moisture that are very similar to what we see in hot, dry periods historically. In our results for the U.S., these conditions amplify the effects of rising greenhouse gas concentrations.”

Source: Stanford University

Image Source: Ken Lund

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