In a recent paper, scientists warn that a climate shift is coming, causing the worst effects of global warming to hit much sooner than people previously believed. Unlike the standard climate change model, the concept of an abrupt climate shift is still controversial. If the research is correct, it means seven-feet of sea rise in just 50 years, followed by even more extreme surges.
According to the paper’s principal author, Dr. James E. Hansen, “That would mean loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities and all their history.”
What is a climate shift?
The idea is that fresh water will flood into the oceans from an initial warming. This water will greatly slow down, or even shut down, the ocean currents that help keep heat well-distributed and the seas relatively cool. As a result, the heat will accumulate in the ocean depths and spur a much quicker melting of the ice caps.
Even more worrying. The loss of heat-regulating currents would theoretically prompt bigger storms than have ever been seen in modern times (storms not seen for 120,000 years).
According to the New York Times, a distorted version of the climate shift theory was the basis of the 2004 disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, and Dr. Hansen fits the profile of a typical disaster movie scientist.
In 1988, he was director of NASA’s Institute for Space Studies, according to Business Insider, and gave Congress a dire warning that climate change had already begun and the government needed to act. He said at the time, “It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here.”
Dr. Hansen was far ahead of the curve when it came to climate research at the time, and although he was ignored for a long time, he was ultimately proven correct.
Now he’s at it again, and his theories are once more on the fringe of climate science.
Michael E. Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, explained more.
“Some of the claims in this paper are indeed extraordinary. They conflict with the mainstream understanding of climate change to the point where the standard of proof is quite high.”
Hansen’s theory helps explain other episodes in Earth’s geological history. Roughly 120,000 years ago, the average temperature was just a little bit higher than it is today, but the sea levels were 20 to 30 feet higher. Scientists had assumed that level of rise would take centuries to reach, but with the temperature about to be tipped into the dangerous precedent, some are looking for an explanation — abrupt climate shift is one possibility.
The paper highlights the strength of some of the ancient storms as well, saying they potentially threw giant boulders onto coastal ridges in the Bahamas, but that could also be explained by a tsunami.
As the scientist explained, “We’re in danger of handing young people a situation that’s out of their control.” More of his explanation is featured in a video below.
The idea of a climate shift was researched over a decade ago, and scientists concluded that the currents could be weakened, but not enough to precipitate the kind of destruction Hansen describes. The new paper should open up more study on the potential shift using modern, much more sophisticated climate models.
It will still be several years before scientists reach a new consensus on the theory, but as Michael E. Mann explained, “I think we ignore James Hansen at our peril.” Dr. Hansen’s warning on climate shift was published Tuesday in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics here.
[Photo by Scott Kelly/NASA via Getty Images]