|Well regarded climate scientist James Hansen has done|
climate research and the results are very frightening.
How seriously should we take this work?
He actually released a draft of the study about a year ago. But it has since been peer reviewed, giving it much more - but not complete - credence.
Hansen says the team of researchers he led concluded that the sea levels would rise by six to 15 feet by the end of this century, which is as much as 10 times faster than most scientists up until now have been predicting.
Hansen also says climate change will, this century, create frequent, huge storms, like Superstorm Sandy writ large. These storms would largely spin up in the mid-latitudes, were most of us live.
Some publications have been comparing Hansen's scenario to a "Day After Tomorrow" movie style climate apocalypse, but I definitely wouldn't go that far.
WHAT HANSEN SAYS
Like most scientific studies done by very smart people like Hansen, this latest one is a pretty technical.
Basically, though, he's saying that rapid melting now underway from ice caps in places like Greenland and Antarctica will get even faster.
In a New York Times article about Hansens research, the paper reports that fresh water from the melting ice caps would flow into the oceans. That would slow down or maybe even stop some of the vast ocean currents that redistribute heat around the planet so that there aren't terrible imbalances between hot and cold regions of the world.
The colder water coming off the melting ice caps would also cause warmer water to sink further down, which would melt the ice caps from below, making all the melting faster. This "positive feedback" would make everything even worse.
Tthe ocean currents that would normally pump excess heat to the north where it dissipates. If the ocean currents weaken or disappear, something else would have to take over to stop the imbalance a too-wide difference in temperature between the tropics and poles.
Storms do that now, and always have, with or without climate change. But if the imbalance is bigger, you'd need bigger storms to correct the imbalance. You'd get incredibly huge storms, ones like immense tempests that happened 120,000 years ago, when the world warmed due to natural processes.
Some scientists see signs that the slowdown in ocean currents has already begun due to global warming and melting ice caps.
For instance, 2014 and 2015 were the warmest years on record for the Earth as a whole, at least since reliable records got going in the late 1800s.
But during this time, there's been a persistent patch of very chilly water and air in the North Atlantic, not far from Iceland. It's believed this might be caused by meltwater flowing into this region's waters from Greenland, and the slowing of a massive northeastward flowing warm ocean current that parallels the North American coastline and heads toward northern Europe.
OTHER SCIENTISTS REACT
Scientists who reviewed Hansen's work during its peer review process said the latest draft is much improved over last year's draft, and the results are plausible.
However, as Slate notes, this is only one study, and we'd want a lot of other scientists to take more, even deeper looks at the melting glaciers, the ocean currents and everything else to see whether Hansen's dire warnings make sense.
Many climate scientists are cautious about Hansen's study. As the Washington Post reported, Michael Mann, a Pennsylvania State University climate scientist who isn't exactly shy about warning about the consequences of climate change, is hesitant about Hansen's work.
Mann wonders whether Hansen's research overestimates the amount of meltwater flowing into the oceans from the thawing glaciers, and questions whether Hansen fears that the ocean curents could slow or stop are overblown.
Still, as Mann and many other climate scientists note, Hansen has a history of being particularly precient about climate change in the past.
Hansen, a former NASA scientist is most famous for telling a Congressional committee in 1988 about the threats from climate change, and that, probably more than anything else, put global warming front and center in national and international discourse.
All this debate over Hansen's research is one of the frustrating things about climate change science. Every serious scientist acknowledges human-induced warming is occuring. But there's still considerable debate over exactly how this will unfold in the future.
That's to be expected. Even the smartest scientists can't with 100 percent accurate predict the future. But they can keep studying, and maybe this will confirm or deny Hansen's scary research. Even if this further work doesn't give us clear answers on this, it will increase our knowledge about the upcoming effects of climate change.
More knowledge is precisely what we need.