A new global-warming study predicts many current climate zones will vanish entirely by the year 2100, replaced by climates unknown in today’s world.
Models for the next century forecast the complete disappearance of several existing climates currently found in tropical highlands and regions near the poles, while large swaths of the tropics and subtropics may develop new climates unlike anything seen today.
Driven by worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, the climate modeling study uses average summer and winter temperatures and precipitation levels to map the differences between climate zones today and in the year 2100. It anticipates large climate changes worldwide, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Wyoming, whose work appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.
The most severely affected parts of the world span both heavily populated regions, including the southeastern United States, southeastern Asia and parts of Africa, as well as known hotspots of biodiversity, such as the Amazonian rainforest and African and South American mountain ranges. The changes predicted by the new study anticipate dramatic ecological shifts, with unknown but probably extensive effects on large segments of the Earth’s population.
Researchers foresee the appearance of novel climate zones on up to 39% of the world’s land surface area by 2100 if current rates of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions continue. Under the same conditions, the models predict the global disappearance of up to 48% of current land climates. Even if emission rates slow because of mitigation strategies, the models predict both climate loss and formation, each on up to 20% of world land area.
The underlying effect is clear, says UW-Madison geographer Jack Williams: “More carbon dioxide in the air means more risk of entirely new climates or climates disappearing.” And, he adds, “There is a close correspondence between disappearing climates and areas of biodiversity,” which could increase risk of extinction in the affected areas.
The bottom line: “We are in for some ecological surprises,” Williams says.
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