Monday, December 13, 2010

What happens AFTER global warming?

This is the central theme of my book, "Deep Future," which was largely inspired by the pioneering work of David Archer and colleagues (Archer is based at the University of Chicago).  Here's a link to one the seminal (and quite technical) papers behind this revolutionary, long-term view of carbon pollution, by Archer and Brovkin (http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~archer/reprints/archer.2008.tail_implications.pdf).

I was shocked when I first saw their computer-generated outlines of the future.  Our carbon dioxide emissions will peak during the next few centuries, then pivot sharply from a "climate whiplash" phase into long-term cooling mode.  And I mean truly LONG-term... the last dregs of our carbon fumes will hang around in the atmosphere for tens of thousands of years, and possibly for as long as half a million years depending on how much coal we end up burning in the next century or two. 

Here's a chart based on two basic scenarios, a "moderate" total carbon emission of 1000 Gtons that we follow by switching ASAP to non-carbon fuels, and an "extreme" 5000 Gton emission scenario in which we simply continue to plow ahead as usual and end up burning through most of our coal reserves:


Up until I saw these findings, my view of the climatic future was mainly informed by charts that ran from the present until  2100 AD, as is still the case for most folks.  But the deep future of our fossil fuel pollution is truly immense, long enough to interfere with future Ice Age cycles.

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