Over the years, scientists have identified specific climate zones for our planet. Unfortunately, according to a new study from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the world will need to completely redraw the map of those zones due to climate change in roughly 34 years.
Researchers with the university's Mora Lab, led by Camilo Mora, have looked beyond the usual climate change projections, which tell how many degrees the Earth will warm by a specific year, to give us a different look at the future. Using 39 different climate models, covering a range of different scenarios, the scientists gathered data on the past 150 years and set a normal range of temperatures — with the highest and lowest temperatures throughout the year — for locations around the globe. Then, moving forward, they ran those same models into the future to see how those temperature ranges changed over time.
A location's climate 'tipping point' was set at the year when temperatures had risen to the point where the lowest temperatures in the location's range were consistently higher than any temperatures it had experienced over the past 150 years.
Averaged over the entire globe, the study gives us until 2047 before Earth's 'tipping point' is reached, and its climate zones need to be completely redrawn. That's if we do nothing about our greenhouse gas emissions. If we take action to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we're emitting into the atmosphere, we can apparently push that average back to 2069.
"The results shocked us. Regardless of the scenario, changes will be coming soon," Mora said in a press release. "Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past."
Although these values are a global average, different regions of the Earth will reach their tipping point earlier or later than that. The first will be the tropics, because their normal range of temperatures is much narrower than in other parts of the world. If nothing is done, Manokwari, Indonesia, only has until 2020. Kingston, Jamaica, will tip in 2023. Cities in the United States will reach theirs between 2043 and 2063 (with Anchorage, Alaska, holding out until 2071).
In 2046, Montreal will be the first to reach its tipping point in Canada. Ottawa is expected to follow the year after, with Toronto in 2049 and Vancouver in 2058. You can see the full list and data here.
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It's sad to note that even if we act now, the result is simply an average 22-year delay of these tipping points. We've seen from the climate record that the ecosystem can adapt if given enough time, but the big concern — beyond rising sea levels and an increase in extreme weather — is that the current rate of climate change is pushing things beyond the ecosystem's capability to properly adapt. Any delay gives a little bit of extra time for species to adjust, and possibly also gives us more time to think up better strategies. However you look at it, though, these projections don't give us a lot of time.
We can push things back by acting now, but it's going to take some drastic changes to our lifestyles to avoid the worst of what's to come.
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