Environment

Study shows CO2 causes global warming faster than feared

Study shows CO2 causes global ...
New research suggests that it takes just 10 years for CO2 emissions to have maximum effect (Image: NASA)
New research suggests that it takes just 10 years for CO2 emissions to have maximum effect (Image: NASA)
View 3 Images
New research suggests that it takes just 10 years for CO2 emissions to have maximum effect (Photo: Mikael Miettinen)
1/3
New research suggests that it takes just 10 years for CO2 emissions to have maximum effect (Photo: Mikael Miettinen)
New research suggests that it takes just 10 years for CO2 emissions to have maximum effect (Image: NASA)
2/3
New research suggests that it takes just 10 years for CO2 emissions to have maximum effect (Image: NASA)
3/3

Any given CO2 emission will have its maximum warming effect just 10 years later, new research from the Carnegie Institution for Science shows. The Institute of Physics (IOP) says this research, published in full on the web today, has "dispelled a common misconception" that the warming effects of CO2 emissions aren't felt for decades.

"Our results show that people alive today are very likely to benefit from emissions avoided today, and that these will not accrue solely to impact future generations," says lead researcher Dr. Katharine Ricke. "Our findings should dislodge previous misconceptions about this timeframe that have played a key part in the failure to reach policy consensus."

The key findings of the research are:

  • that a single CO2 emission has its maximum effect on the Earth an average of 10 years after being emitted
  • that this also means the benefits of reducing CO2 emissions will also be felt sooner rather than later, which the IOP suggests could help avoid droughts, heatwaves and floods
  • that warming effects "can persist for more than a century"

The research looked at the results from two climate modelling projects: one on the time it takes for the ocean and biosphere to take up "a large pulse" of atmospheric CO2; and one on the Earth's climate system, also used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its latest assessment.
The precise figure, actually 10.1 years, is the median time for an emission to take maximum effect. According to the research there's a 90-percent chance of that maximum effect to occur between 6.6 and 30.7 years of the original emission.

This 10-year lag is due to the fact that it takes longer for the upper layers of the ocean to heat up than the atmosphere – it's ocean temperatures which cause the climate to change overall.

If there's a silver lining it's that this also means the benefits of reducing CO2 emissions will also be felt sooner rather than later, which the IOP suggests could help avoid droughts, heatwaves and floods.

The researchers say there is "substantial uncertainty" about the extent and duration of the warming due to uncertainties around climate sensitivity, carbon cycle and thermal inertia of the climate system.

"All three uncertainty factors contribute substantially to the total uncertainty about the timing of the maximum warming associated with a present day emission," Ricke tells Gizmag. "The analysis we did, which is based on results from the best climate and carbon cycle models available, indicates that the best guess according to the state of the science for time until emissions maximum effect is only a decade – considerably shorter than the best guess scientists seemed to be making before.

"But in order to substantially narrow this 90 percent 'very likely' range of 6 to 30 years until maximum warming, we need to work to improve our understanding of all uncertain components of these estimates, not just climate sensitivity."

According to Ricke, this is the first research into how long it takes for a single CO2 emission to take effect. The paper, published in the IOP's Environmental Research Letters is freely available to read online.

Source: Environmental Research Letters

34 comments
Tim Jonson
There are several periods in our earth’s history in which co2 levels were far higher than they are now- yet the earth was much cooler.
Guy Beebe
And yet? This proves what exactly? Oh yes! Not a danged thing! However, it does make every one of the so-called "climate models" look more and more like random number generators. As they continue to pump out prediction after prediction that do not only not come true? But show no signs of predicting even the very nature of temperature behavior. Go ahead, call it science. Call it "settled science", that doesn't change the facts. And the simplest fact is this. The continue to proclaim that disaster from CO2 emissions is inevitable, but for the scenarios they use to scare us with to happen? Temperatures MUST increase exponentially. And there is no sign of that.
Synchro
@Tim, not lately, certainly not since there have been humans: http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/tssts-2-1-1.html It may have been higher at some point, but it's never (that we know of) changed anywhere near this fast (and it's still accelerating), and rapid change is the one thing that makes living things run into difficulties. I'd prefer to do without the evolutionary pressure, thanks. Rate of change makes a difference - if you know you're going to hit a wall, would you prefer to do so at 2mph or 200?
Gadgeteer
Guy Beebe, I don't think "exponentially" means what you think it means. I was wondering how long it would take for the climate change deniers to weigh in. First two comments is at once impressive and depressing.
woz
I always enjoy Gizmag and value its ability to inform me about a whole heap of stuff. But pleeeeeze! Stay away from polarising things like AGW!!! There are, I agree, arguments on both sides of the debate - and for example, like many, if not most, of us on the "sceptic" side, I accept that there is a human contribution to a changing climate. For the most part we part company on whether or not that is, or is ever likely to be, "catastrophic"! The study discussed here is quite literally the results of a model based on another model. And without exception, EVERY climate model has failed to replicate the real-world effects. Give me a single good reason why this one should be taken seriously. And true to form, in the fourth post above, Gadgeteer weighs in with the deliberately offensive term "denier". Again, I say, stay away from items that are deliberately polarising. Stick with the science! On which basis you can never prove an hypothesis right, but one single piece of real data can prove it wrong. AGW has, in my opinion, been shown deficient on countless pieces of data!
jgb
I have to agree with Woz, I have perused Gizmag articles since the time when they used to be published in little booklets, some 20 years ago. This is how I got into technology! Unfortunately, the organization has been hijacked by some greenies who push their agendas in spite of plain facts. Firstly, CO2 is less of a greenhouse gas than water, how come you don't push to stop evaporation? Then the elephant in the room, Global temperatures have not risen in the last 16 years. 0.03 degrees is not a rise when the prophets of doom claimed it WILL have risen 3.0 degrees by this time. Look at what is happening in America at the moment, the place is going through some of the lowest temps on record, quite the opposite of the prophecies of doom. The last point being, some people have become millionaires through the peddling of this junk 'science', Al gore being one example. His house uses the same amount of electricity as a dozen ordinary dwellings, not to mention the number of flights he takes every year. Yet he has the gall to preach to others. I repeat Woz's words, pleeeeeze! Stay away from polarising things like AGW!!!. Your magazine is called Gizmag, stay true to that and leave the propaganda to others.
Synchro
Just in case the deniers here forgot the instructions: 1) insert left index finger in left ear 2) insert right index finger in right ear 3) say "la la la" very loudly Alternative implementation: 1) take shovel 2) dig hole in sand 3) insert head into hole The latter is preferable as it's less annoying to others. The assertion that because we don't have complete information means that we should not try to find out is about the saddest, stupidest thing that you could ever say. Armchair pundits cherry-picking random scraps is the reserve of the clueless.
Ramon Verhoeven
@gadgeteer, yes it is depressing, specially when people scream that here you cannot publish what science concludes. Thats one of the tipical ways to deny doing something. Just like the dumm politicians who claim there are not a scientist, apparently impilcating they dont have the knowledge to do something. About that last, its the same as a 3 docters say you have a hart problem and you need hart surgery, and 1 docter says just do nothing. Then you just dont do anything? If the majority of scientist get to conclusions about what very likely happening, just take the risk listening to the minority who claim nothing is happening ? anyway, forget the discussion. Why not innovate to greener/sustainable energy and keep on burning oil etc? Just for the sake of short time economical gain ? Germans pay the price for their energy change, but the US will be the laughing stock of the planet when in a couple of years their system will be modern and the US are still living in the coal age. Problem with this is only, that you are polluting also my clean air, though I am living far away.
Mel Tisdale
I honestly don't understand why some people get so worked up about taking action to curb the effects of climate change. If 97 out of 100 doctors were of the view that you needed an operation and that if you did not have it, future generations of your family would suffer, surely you would have the operation, wouldn't you? Why then is it that even though 97% of leading climate scientists say climate change is a real and present danger and that we are the cause, so many still argue against doing anything? Perhaps it is something to do with the appalling mainstream media we have on both sides of the Atlantic. The fact is, of course, that the dangers posed by climate change is for all our future generations, not just the progeny of climate contrarians. Yes, it is frightening, but it is only going to get more frightening if we carry on as we are. The biggest risk is not that the temperature will likely reach three, possibly four, degrees C. It is that positive feedback will kick in on the Arctic tundra and release the methane hydrates in such quantities that no matter what we do, we won't be able to stop it (they are already melting in amounts that are a cause for concern). If that were to happen, then we would be praying for four C conditions. Whilst it is not very likely, it is sufficiently within the range of possibilities that it just might. I don't think we have the right to take such risks with the lives of future generations. If anyone reading this wants to get their facts straight on climate change, they could do worse (a lot worse!) than visit skepticalscience.com. Go on, we aren't looking. Have a peak at something that the Koch brothers cannot get to no matter how many wads of money they slap down on the table.
Johan Smit
Not if the doctors of the sources you are quoting Mel. Those are hoaxters that came up with those numbers you are quoting. At this time there continue being absolutely no risk of warming. Like there has been no warming in the last 17 years and all the northern states of US are experiencing record cold, often shattering 100 year cold records. Warming would be uncomfortable but the cold is a killer. Many have died already and the cold phase of the climate has only started. It will be more cold this winter than last and get worse from there. Clearly the great warming that this article suggests should have happened did not from the already high c02 10 years ago and the 0.04 percent of the composition of the atmosphere will continue to play a neglible role while our sun has gone to sleep and this is the engine of our climate. Not only does it affect earth but the cooling affects have been monitored on all the planets around our sun. Water vapor that compromises a far greater part of the atmosphere will continue to have a much larger role in both trapping and reflecting heat, about 1000 times more of an affect than C02.