New York State In-depth

Global warming continues to cause problems even after emissions have ended

Greenhouse gases that we emit currently linger in the atmosphere for years to hundreds of years. David McNew/Getty Images Julien Emile-Geay, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

There are a few who are able to doubt the fact that humans have a hand in influencing the climate of Earth. What’s really important is how quickly we can halt, even reverse, the effects?

A large part of the solution to this question lies in the notion of ” committed warming,” commonly referred to “pipeline warming.”

It’s about future growth in the global temperature that could be caused by greenhouse gas that were already released. Also, if the transition to clean energy occurred over a period of time, how much warming would it take to continue?

The Earth’s energy budget is not in balance

Humans cause global warming when they release greenhouse gases that retain heat in the atmosphereand prevent the heat from venting out into space.

Before people began burning fossil fuels to power factories and vehicles and raising methane-producing cattle across every agricultural region, earth’s energy resources were within its equilibrium. Around the same amount of power was flowing in from the Sun and leaving.

Today, rising carbon dioxide levels within the atmosphere are more than 50% more than at the beginning of the industrial revolution, and they’re trapping more of that energy.

Earth’s delicate energy balance. California Academy of Sciences.

Carbon dioxide emissions, together with other greenhouse gases like methane, which are partially offset by the air pollution caused by aerosols, are trapping energy equivalent to detonation five Hiroshima-style nuclear bombs per second.

When more energy enters rather than going out, the Earth’s thermal energy is increasing, thereby raising temperatures on land in the air, oceans, and oceans as well as melting the ice.

Warming in the pipeline

The effects of changing Earth’s balance of energy take time to show up. Consider the consequences of turning the hot water faucet all the way up on a cold winter day: The pipes are filled with cold water, so it takes time for the warm water to reach your body – thus the phrase “pipeline warming.” The warmth hasn’t been felt as of yet but it’s there in the pipeline.

Key Climate Findings

Three main reasons Earth’s climate is expected to warm even when emissions cease.

In the beginning, the most significant contributing factors to global warming – carbon dioxide and methane – linger in the atmosphere for quite a while: approximately 10 years in average in the case of methane, and a whopping 400 years for carbon dioxide. There are molecules sticking around for up to millennia. So, turning off emissions doesn’t translate into instant decreases in the quantity of these gases that trap heat in the atmosphere.

Another aspect is that some of this warming has been offset with man-made emissions of another form of pollutant: sulfate aerosols. These tiny particles are released through fossil fuel burning which reflect sunlight into space. Over the past century these globally dimming is blocking the warming effects of greenhouse emissions. However, these and other human-made aerosols are also harmful to our health as well as the biosphere. Eliminating these and other short-lived greenhouse gases translates to just a couple of tenths of a degree of additional warming over about a decade, before the biosphere reaches an equilibrium.

In the end, the Earth’s climate needs some time to adapt to any changes in energy balance. Nearly two-thirds of Earth’s land surface is comprised from water, and sometimes deep. It is slow to take up the excess carbon and heat. To date, over 91% of the heat added by human activity as well as nearly a quarter the carbon that has accumulated has gone to the oceans. While land-dwellers may be grateful for this protection, the additional heat is contributing to the rise in sea level through heat expansion and also ocean heat waves and the added carbon makes the ocean more hostile to shelled animals and can alter the ecosystem of marine food chains.

Earth’s surface temperature, driven by the imbalance of radiation energy that is at the highest of the atmosphere, and altered by the immense energy of the oceans’ thermal inertia it is playing catch-up up with its biggest control knob carbon dioxide concentration.

What is the extent of warming?

How much committed warming are we in for? There isn’t a clear answer.

The earth has already warmed by over 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 F) compared to preindustrial temperatures. The world’s nations gathered in 2015 to attempt to limit the average temperature from increasing by more than 1.5degC (2.7 F) to reduce the impact, however the world is not quick to respond.

Determining the amount of warming ahead is complicated. Numerous recent research studies utilize climate models in order to estimate future warming. A analysis of 18 Earth model systems discovered that once emissions stopped, certain regions continued to warm for many decades or even hundreds of years while others started cooling rapidly. A different study, released in June 2022, found a 40% chance of the earth already determined to 1.5 degree Celsius.

The degree of warming is important because the dangerous consequences of global warming do not simply increase in line with global temperature; they typically expand exponentially, especially in the case of food production in danger from severe droughts, extreme heat and even storms.

Furthermore, Earth has tipping points which could cause irreparable changes to fragile parts of the Earth system, like ecosystems or glaciers. The world won’t know whether the Earth is at a point of tipping since these modifications generally take time to show appear. Climate-related systems and their underlying processes are the basis for the precautionary principle that helps limit warming under 2degC (3.6 F), and most importantly, 1.5degC.

The heart of the climate issue, which is entangled in the concept of committed heating, is the fact that there are lengthy gaps between our behavior as well as changes to the climate. Although the exact amount of committed warming remains in dispute however, the most secure option is to quickly change to a carbon-free, more fair economy that releases lesser greenhouse gas emissions.


Comments are closed.