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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Climate Departure: Oceans already outside historical variability as cities and ecosystems follow

Researchers from the University of Hawaii have estimated the year when we depart the climate variability we have historically known for cities around the globe. But the study also identifies that the planet's oceans have already passed their climate departure point, and that the greatest impact of global warming will be felt in biodiversity and ecosystems in the tropics.

In a study published in Nature - The projected timing of climate departure from recent variability (abstract) - researchers lead by Camilo Mora from the Geography Department at the University of Hawaii sought to identify the point at which the climate at 54,000 locations on Earth will exceed the bounds of historical variability. They used a baseline period of 1860 to 2005 to determine natural temperature variability. Using results averaged from 39 different climate models, they then determined for each location measured the year point in which the coldest years are likely to be consistently hotter than any of the past 150 years.

Cities to feel the heat of unexperienced climate this century

The study clearly shows that this century, no matter where we live, we will all experience a new climate beyond anything human civilization has experienced over thousands of years. For business as usual emissions scenario (RCP85) the mean year is 2047 for the planet. If we take action to drastically reduce and stabilise emissions with Scenario RCP45, the mean year is pushed back to 2069. The 39 models were surprisingly in agreement with no more than 5 year standard error at any location. The global average at year 2047 has a +/-14 years (standard deviation).

Study co-author Abby Frazier told the ABC, "We took a very conservative approach to this whole study by using, the absolute min and max values and using all the possible models that are out there," she said. "We didn't even think that this date [would] happen in the next century so we were really surprised that the 2047 [deadline] was so early. I mean this is within our lifetimes. [We were] even more surprised that even if we take action now, the 2069 is still happening within this century."

But cities in the tropics are likely to pass the departure point much earlier than cities in the mid latitudes. Manokwari in the West Papuan province of Indonesia will pass the RCP85 point in 2020 but with mitigation this date will be pushed back to 2025. Kingston Jamaica will follow in 2023 or 2028 with mitigation. Island nations such as Palau, Micronesia, Solomon Islands, Haiti, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Seychelles, Samoa, Bahamas, Tuvalu all follow in the 2020s along with cities in equatorial countries like Guinea, Gabon, Liberia, Ghana, Bolivia, Central African Republic, Singapore, Malaysia Nigeria, Sri Lanka.

"The results shocked us. Regardless of the scenario, changes will be coming soon," said lead author Camilo Mora. "Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past."

By 2050 it is projected that over 5 billion people, mostly in developing countries, may be experiencing extreme climate if business as usual emissions continue. With mitigation undertaken this reduces to about 1 billion people.

"Our results suggest that countries first impacted by unprecedented climates are the ones with the least capacity to respond," said coauthor Ryan Longman. "Ironically, these are the countries that are least responsible for climate change in the first place."

Extreme climate will produce changes and availability in the supply of food and water, human health, wider spread of infectious diseases, heat stress, conflicts, and substantial challenges to economies. Just as species attempt to relocate to a more suitable climate, we will see movements of people which is already throwing up questions such as What should be done about climate change refugees? (Toronto Star)

Figure 1a: An example profile of projected timing of climate departure for a location in the North Atlantic. Historical climate bounds are exceeded for 3 years from 2012, then for 11 years from 2023. By 2036 climate departure occurrs with all temperatures outside of historical boundaries. (C. Mora et al (2013))

For Australia the climate departure years were calculated as:
City RCP85 (Business as Usual) RCP45 (mitigation)
Sydney2038 2052

Camilo Mora and colleagues highlight the human inequalities:

"The fact that the earliest climate departures occur in low-income countries (Fig. 5b) further highlights an obvious disparity between those who benefit economically from the processes leading to climate change and those who will have to pay for most of the environmental and social costs. This suggests that any progress to decrease the rate of ongoing climate change will require a bigger commitment from developed countries to decrease their emissions but will also require more extensive funding of social and conservation programmes in developing countries to minimize the impacts of climate change. Our results on the projected timing of climate departure from recent variability shed light on the urgency of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions if widespread changes in global biodiversity and human societies are to be prevented."

Figure 5: Susceptibility of societies to climate departures, and economic
capacity to respond. (C Mora et al (2013)

Oceans already in a new climate

The study looked at more than just the land surface temperatures for it's results. Variables analysed included near-surface air temperature, precipitation, evaporation, transpiration, surface upward sensible heat flux, and two ocean related measurements: surface sea water potential temperature and pH.

These latter two measurements revealed that when taken together, the world's oceans have already passed THEIR mean climate departure date in 2008. From the paper:

"The projected timing of the ocean's climate departure was pushed forward to this decade when pH was considered alongside sea surface temperature. Global mean ocean pH moved outside its historical variability by 2008 (63 years s.d.), regardless of the emissions scenario analysed (Extended Data Fig. 4). This result, which is consistent with recent studies, is explained by the fact that ocean pH has a narrow range of historical variability and that a considerable fraction of anthropogenic CO2 emissions has been absorbed by the ocean."

In a related study published by Camilo Mora and colleagues published in the journal PLOS Biology - Biotic and Human Vulnerability to Projected Changes in Ocean Biogeochemistry over the 21st Century (Full Study), the authors summarise their results:

"Climate change caused by human activity could damage biological and social systems. Here we gathered climate, biological, and socioeconomic data to describe some of the events by which ocean biogeochemical changes triggered by ongoing greenhouse gas emissions could cascade through marine habitats and organisms, eventually influencing humans. Our results suggest that the entire world's ocean surface will be simultaneously impacted by varying intensities of ocean warming, acidification, oxygen depletion, or shortfalls in productivity. Only a very small fraction of the oceans, mostly in polar regions, will face the opposing effects of increases in oxygen or productivity, and almost nowhere will there be cooling or pH increase. The biological responses to such biogeochemical changes could be considerable since marine habitats and hotspots for several marine taxa will be simultaneously exposed to biogeochemical changes known to be deleterious. The social ramifications are also likely to be massive and challenging as some 470 to 870 million people – who can least afford dramatic changes to their livelihoods – live in areas where ocean goods and services could be compromised by substantial changes in ocean biogeochemistry. These results underline the need for urgent mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions if degradation of marine ecosystems and associated human hardship are to be prevented."

Watch Professor Jason Hall-Spencer, University of Plymouth talking on Ocean Acidification in this video done for IPSO:

The fact is we are driving a huge marine extinction here with nutrient pollution, ocean acidification and over-exploitation of marine resources. The latest research from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO)/IUCN review of science on anthropogenic stressors on the ocean, released on October 3, conclude the condition of the ocean is even worse than the conclusion reached by the UN climate change panel the IPCC. IPSO warns that the ocean is absorbing much of the heat of global warming and unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide and warn that the cumulative impact of this with other ocean stressors is far graver than previous estimates.

It is not just a matter of increasing sea surface temperatures and changing pH. Climate change and nitrogen runoff is also causing decreasing oxygen levels in the ocean. Combining this with other chemical pollution and rampant overfishing undermines the ability of the ocean to withstand 'carbon perturbations', severely compromising the ocean in its role as a Earth climate system 'buffer' say the marine scientists.

Watch Professor Robert Diaz, Virginia Institute of Marine Science on Ocean Dead Zones for IPSO:

Professor Alex Rogers of Somerville College, Oxford, and Scientific Director of IPSO
said in a media release (PDF): "The health of the ocean is spiraling downwards far more rapidly than we had thought. We are seeing greater change, happening faster, and the effects are more imminent than previously anticipated. The situation should be of the gravest concern to everyone since everyone will be affected by changes in the ability of the ocean to support life on Earth."

Tropical biodiversity under siege by warming climate

While Arctic and Antarctic polar regions are warming up at 2 or 3 times the global average, these areas already experience wide temperature variation. The Tropics however experience only small variations in temperature. Global warming heating the tropics will push these areas much sooner past the climate departure point into unknown territory.

The tropics also host a large variety of biodiversity hotspots and these will be hit particularly hard by a warmer climate according to Mora and his colleagues.

The study found that projected timing of climate departure in marine and terrestrial biodiversity hotspots will occur one decade earlier than the global average under either emissions scenario.

According to the authors, corals, mangroves and Seagrasses lead the way in being threatened, "Coral hotspots will experience the earliest arrival of unprecedented climates: 2050 under RCP45 (about 23 years earlier than the global average), or 2034 under RCP85 (about 17 years earlier than the global average)"

Scientists already say that Global Warming imperils coral reefs: 2 degrees warming is too hot.

The study says:
"The earliest emergence of unprecedented climates in the tropics and the limited tolerance of tropical species to climate change are troublesome results, because most of the world's biodiversity is concentrated in the tropics...these results suggest that the overarching effect of climate change on biodiversity may occur not only as a result of the largest absolute changes in climate at high latitudes but also perhaps more seriously from small but prompt changes in the tropics. In short, the tropics will be highly vulnerable to climate change for at least three reasons: first, the earliest emergence of unprecedented climates will be there; second, tropical species are more vulnerable to small climate changes; and third, this region holds most of the Earth's species."

Figure 3: The projected timing of climate departure from recent variability
in global biodiversity hotspots. Green bars are for terrestrial species using mean annual air temperature; Blue bars are for marine species using sea surface temperatures. Plots are centred at the global mean year for atmospheric (green numbers) and marine (blue numbers) environments.

Even tropical insects may suffer the impacts of a warming climate with a study in 2012 finding that Tropical insects may face catastrophic reduction in reproduction with climate change. Skeptical Science reported on Global warming impact on tropical species greater than expected in October 2010.

Already scientists have identified that fish species are migrating out of the tropics heading for cooler waters, and that Species biodiversity is under threat from the velocity of climate change. Sea level rise will add a hidden impact on Biodiversity and Habitat loss particularly in the Asian and Pacific regions.

Climate change is proceeding at such a pace that Earth's biological systems have little capacity to adapt through evolution. The changes are forcing species to either move in an attempt to track suitable climates, stay and try to adapt to the new climate, or go extinct. For a great proportion of species extinction looms.

"This work demonstrates that we are pushing the ecosystems of the world out of the environment in which they evolved into wholly new conditions that they may not be able to cope with. Extinctions are likely to result," said Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science's Department of Global Ecology. Caldeira was not involved in this study. "Some ecosystems may be able to adapt, but for others, such as coral reefs, complete loss of not only individual species but their entire integrity is likely."

This study shows that we need to adapt and prepare for the changing climate, but we also need to urgently start reducing carbon emissions and our carbon footprint to give more time for adaptation. We are looking at substantial loss of biodiversity with the onset of a 6th global mass extinction. Mitigation action is essential to assist biodiversity conservation programs.

Climate Departure Years for Cities in order of RCP8.5 (Business As usual) ranking

Indonesia Manokwari 2020 2025
Jamaica Kingston 2023 2028
Palau Ngerulmud 2023 2025
Equatorial Guinea Malabo 2024 2030
Gabon Libreville 2024 2028
Micronesia Palikir 2024 2031
Solomon Islands Honiara 2024 2026
Cameroon Yaounde 2025 2032
Haiti Port-au-Prince 2025 2030
Liberia Monrovia 2025 2032
Maldives Male 2025 2027
Sao Tome and Principe Sao Tome 2025 2028
Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan 2026 2034
Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan 2026 2034
Dominican Republic Santo Domingo 2026 2033
Brunei Bandar Seri Begawan 2027 2035
Ghana Accra 2027 2034
Guinea Conakry 2027 2036
Marshall Islands Majuro 2027 2036
Seychelles Victoria 2027 2039
Bolivia La Paz 2028 2037
Central African Republic Bangui 2028 2036
DR Congo Kinshasa 2028 2038
Republic of the Congo Brazzaville 2028 2038
Samoa Apia 2028 2039
Sierra Leone Freetown 2028 2037
Singapore Singapore 2028 2037
Suriname Paramaribo 2028 2040
Bahamas Nassau 2029 2041
Benin Porto-Novo 2029 2043
Guyana Georgetown 2029 2039
Indonesia Jakarta 2029 2042
Malaysia Kuala Lumpur 2029 2039
Nigeria Lagos 2029 2043
Sri Lanka Colombo 2029 2037
Tuvalu Funafuti 2029 2040
Somalia Mogadishu 2030 2040
Timor-Leste Dili 2030 2040
Comoros Moroni 2031 2048
Cuba Havana 2031 2045
Mexico Mexico City 2031 2050
Panama Panama City 2031 2045
Rwanda Kigali 2031 2042
Togo Lome 2031 2046
Bahrain Manama 2032 2054
Grenada St. George's 2032 2042
Guinea-Bissau Bissau 2032 2045
Madagascar Antananarivo 2032 2047
Oman Muscat 2032 2049
Saudi Arabia Riyadh 2032 2050
Trinidad and Tobago Port of Spain 2032 2044
Antigua and Barbuda St. John's 2033 2047
Colombia Bogota 2033 2047
El Salvador San Salvador 2033 2049
Papua New Guinea Port Moresby 2033 2043
Qatar Doha 2033 2052
Saint Kitts and Nevis Basseterre 2033 2047
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Kingstown 2033 2046
United Arab Emirates Abu Dhabi 2033 2047
Barbados Bridgetown 2034 2046
Belize Belmopan 2034 2048
Djibouti Djibouti 2034 2048
Dominica Roseau 2034 2048
Ecuador Quito 2034 2050
India Chennai 2034 2052
India Mumbai 2034 2051
Mali Bamako 2034 2051
Nigeria Abuja 2034 2047
Saint Lucia Castries 2034 2047
Saudi Arabia Jeddah 2034 2050
Tanzania Dar es Salaam 2034 2053
Venezuela Caracas 2034 2052
Angola Luanda 2035 2052
Bhutan Thimphu 2035 2052
Burundi Bujumbura 2035 2049
Eritrea Asmara 2035 2053
Pakistan Karachi 2035 2055
South Africa Durban 2035 2053
Burkina Faso Ouagadougou 2036 2053
Egypt Alexandria 2036 2054
Egypt Cairo 2036 2057
Ethiopia Addis Ababa 2036 2054
Iraq Baghdad 2036 2055
Kenya Nairobi 2036 2058
Kuwait Kuwait City 2036 2054
Malawi Lilongwe 2036 2053
Myanmar Yangon 2036 2055
Myanmar Yangon 2036 2055
Costa Rica San Jose 2037 2058
India Pune 2037 2055
Mauritius Port Louis 2037 2059
Nicaragua Managua 2037 2052
The Gambia Banjul 2037 2062
Australia Sydney 2038 2052
Fiji Suva 2038 2065
Guatemala Guatemala City 2038 2054
Israel Jerusalem 2038 2061
Lesotho Maseru 2038 2057
Libya Tripoli 2038 2059
Malta Valletta 2038 2054
Mozambique Maputo 2038 2060
Peru Lima 2038 2057
Peru Lima 2038 2057
Philippines Manila 2038 2055
South Africa Cape Town 2038 2060
Sudan Khartoum 2038 2062
Tunisia Tunis 2038 2060
Vanuatu Port Vila 2038 2065
Cyprus Nicosia 2039 2059
Niger Niamey 2039 2060
Vietnam Ho Chi Minh City 2039 2062
Yemen Sanaa 2039 2060
Honduras Tegucigalpa 2040 2055
Japan Kyoto 2040 2065
Jordan Amman 2040 2063
Lebanon Beirut 2040 2063
Mauritania Nouakchott 2040 2069
Tanzania Dodoma 2040 2063
Algeria Algiers 2041 2063
Greece Athens 2041 2064
Japan Tokyo 2041 2067
Japan Yokohama 2041 2067
Myanmar Naypyidaw 2041 2069
Nepal Kathmandu 2041 2063
New Zealand Wellington 2041 2070
South Sudan Juba 2041 2056
Swaziland Mbabane 2041 2067
Syria Damascus 2041 2068
Zambia Lusaka 2041 2067
Australia Brisbane 2042 2070
Australia Darwin 2042 2065
Australia Perth 2042 2072
Cape Verde Praia 2042 2066
North Korea Pyongyang 2042 2068
Pakistan Islamabad 2042 2064
South Korea Seoul 2042 2067
Taiwan Taipei 2042 2066
Cambodia Phnom Penh 2043 2068
Chile Santiago 2043 2071
China Hong Kong 2043 2065
China Shenzhen 2043 2065
South Africa Bloemfontein 2043 2067
South Africa Johannesburg 2043 2068
South Africa Pretoria 2043 2068
Spain Barcelona 2043 2065
Tonga Nukualofa 2043 2075
USA Honolulu 2043 2067
USA Phoenix 2043 2073
Andorra Andorra la Vella 2044 2070
China Dongguan 2044 2071
Italy Naples 2044 2065
Italy Rome 2044 2067
Monaco Monaco 2044 2066
Namibia Windhoek 2044 2067
Senegal Dakar 2044 2073
South Korea Busan 2044 2068
Zimbabwe Harare 2044 2070
Afghanistan Kabul 2045 2071
Armenia Yerevan 2045 2076
Australia Canberra 2045 2072
Australia Melbourne 2045 2073
Chad N'Djamena 2045 2075
China Shanghai 2045 2070
China Wuhan 2045 2070
India Jaipur 2045 2074
India Surat 2045 2066
Iran Tehran 2045 2068
Myanmar Mandalay 2045 2072
Tajikistan Dushanbe 2045 2071
Albania Tirana 2046 2070
Canada Montreal 2046 2072
China Beijing 2046 2078
China Chongqing 2046 2075
China Guangzhou 2046 2072
Georgia Tbilisi 2046 2077
India Ahmedabad 2046 2075
India Bangalore 2046 2069
Morocco Rabat 2046 2076
Spain Madrid 2046 2076
Thailand Bangkok 2046 2070
Turkey Istanbul 2046 2075
Turkmenistan Ashgabat 2046 2072
USA Orlando 2046 2074
USA San Diego 2046 2075
Uzbekistan Tashkent 2046 2072
Azerbaijan Baku 2047 2072
Brazil Brasilia 2047 2072
Canada Ottawa 2047 2072
Kazakhstan Almaty 2047 2075
San Marino San Marino 2047 2072
Turkey Ankara 2047 2080
Uganda Kampala 2047 2064
USA New York City 2047 2072
USA Philadelphia 2047 2072
USA Washington DC 2047 2071
China Shenyang 2048 2080
Italy Milan 2048 2073
Kyrgyzstan Bishkek 2048 2077
Montenegro Podgorica 2048 2075
Morocco Casablanca 2048 2080
Switzerland Geneva 2048 2076
USA Denver 2048 2079
USA Los Angeles 2048 2079
Australia Adelaide 2049 2080
Canada Toronto 2049 2074
Kiribati Tarawa 2049 2074
Macedonia Skopje 2049 2080
Pakistan Lahore 2049 2073
USA San Francisco 2049 2074
Botswana Gaborone 2050 2083
Brazil Rio de Janeiro 2050 2079
China Tianjin 2050 2080
India New Delhi 2050 2081
Switzerland Bern 2050 2080
Switzerland Zurich 2050 2077
USA Houston 2050 2081
Bosnia and Herzegovina Sarajevo 2051 2079
Brazil Sao Paulo 2051 2083
Bulgaria Sofia 2051 2082
Liechtenstein Vaduz 2051 2076
Slovenia Ljubljana 2051 2075
USA Detroit 2051 2076
Portugal Lisbon 2052 2084
USA Chicago 2052 2081
Croatia Zagreb 2053 2085
India Kolkata 2053 2081
Bangladesh Dhaka 2054 2082
France Paris 2054 2084
Mongolia Ulan Bator 2054 2087
Romania Bucharest 2054 2085
Serbia Belgrade 2054 2081
Austria Vienna 2055 2084
Slovakia Bratislava 2055 2082
USA Seattle 2055 2082
Vietnam Hanoi 2055 2085
Belgium Brussels 2056 2086
Canada Vancouver 2056 2083
Czech Republic Prague 2056 2085
Hungary Budapest 2056 2085
Laos Vientiane 2056 2085
Luxembourg Luxembourg City 2056 2083
UK London 2056 2088
Uruguay Montevideo 2056 2084
India Hyderabad 2057 2085
Kazakhstan Astana 2058 2091
Moldova Chisinau 2058 2092
Netherlands Amsterdam 2058 2086
USA Austin 2058 2090
Ireland Dublin 2059 2083
Paraguay Asuncion 2059 2086
Denmark Copenhagen 2060 2089
Sweden Stockholm 2060 2089
Germany Berlin 2061 2090
Norway Oslo 2061 2088
Finland Helsinki 2063 2091
Poland Warsaw 2063 2090
Russia Moscow 2063 2092
Ukraine Kiev 2063 2090
USA Dallas 2063 2093
Latvia Riga 2064 2091
Russia Saint Petersburg 2064 2093
Belarus Minsk 2065 2091
Estonia Tallinn 2065 2091
Argentina Buenos Aires 2066 2094
Iceland Reykjavik 2066 2084
Lithuania Vilnius 2067 2091
USA Anchorage 2071 2095


  • University of Hawaii media release, 9 October 2013 - Study in nature reveals urgent new time frame for climate change
  • Camilo Mora, Abby G. Frazier, Ryan J. Longman, Rachel S. Dacks, Maya M. Walton, Eric J. Tong, Joseph J. Sanchez, Lauren R. Kaiser, Yuko O. Stender, James M. Anderson, Christine M. Ambrosino, Iria Fernandez-Silva, Louise M. Giuseffi, Thomas W. Giambelluca. The projected timing of climate departure from recent variability. (abstract, Nature, 2013; 502 (7470): 183 DOI: 10.1038/nature12540
  • Stephanie Small, ABC, 10 October 2013 - Researchers warn record temperatures could hit as early as 2020
  • IPSO media release, 3 October 2013 - Latest Review of Science reveals Ocean in critical state from cumulative impacts (PDF)
  • Camilo Mora et al (2013), PLOS Biology - Biotic and Human Vulnerability to Projected Changes in Ocean Biogeochemistry over the 21st Century (Full Study)
  • Image of Global Map of cities and City data list courtesy University of Hawaii - the Timing of New Climates
  • All other images used from C Mora et al (2013). Review copy of Nature paper kindly provided by C Mora.

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