Jul 22, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Range of global warming scenarios is more severe than thought, study shows

Illustration of the surface melting off of the earth
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Earth's average global temperature will likely warm anywhere from 4.1°F to 8.1°F (or 2.3°C to 4.5°C) if deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels continue at the current rate, the Washington Post reports, citing a major new study.

Why it matters: The best-case scenario of this estimate exceeds the previous minimum range first established in a 1979 report, which expected the planet to warm between 2.7°F and 8.1°F (1.5°C to 4.5°C) if the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were to double. The world is on track to hit that milestone within roughly the next 50 years, according the Post.

The big picture: 25 researchers in a four-year study — published in the Reviews of Geophysics journal Wednesday — found a 95% chance that doubling the amount of atmospheric CO2 would have dangerous ramifications, including intolerable heat waves and "disruptive" sea-level rise, according to the Post.

Details: The researchers used data from instrument records, paleoclimate records from ice cores and coral reefs that helped gauge prehistoric temperatures, and satellite observations to reach their findings, the Post's Andrew Freedman and Chris Mooney report.

The bottom line: It now appears "extremely unlikely" that Earth's global climate sensitivity "could be low enough to avoid substantial climate change" if carbon emissions continue unabated, according to the researchers.

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