Wednesday, September 18, 2013
One Reason the IPCC Estimates Regularly Fall Short.
Why has the IPCC repeatedly failed to anticipate the onset and severity of climate change impacts? IPCC reports, with a very few exceptions, routinely understate impacts.
A study, published in the Quarterly Reports of the Royal Meteorological Society, says the methodology of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is flawed because it's incomplete.
Traditional estimates of climate sensitivity such as that adopted by the IPCC focus on "fast feedbacks" like water vapour, natural aerosols, clouds, and snow cover, but do not sufficiently account for slower feedbacks including "surface albedo feedbacks from changes in continental ice sheets and vegetation", and climate greenhouse gas feedbacks "from changes in natural (land and ocean) carbon sinks."
These types of feedbacks refer to self-reinforcing process which, once human-induced emissions create a change in a particular eco-system, lead to further changes beyond the initial human forcing as different parts of the system continue to respond. With 'albedo', for instance, the reduction of snow and ice cover due to melting induced by global warming means less surfaces reflecting sunlight back into the atmosphere, and thus more absorption of heat, which leads to further melting - and potentially a self-reinforcing cycle that contributes further to overall warming.
With 'carbon sinks', as the oceans absorb CO2 and excess heat due to global warming, they could reach a saturation point where their ability to absorb is continually reduced, in turn allowing global warming to accelerate - eventually, the oceans themselves could become an increasing source of CO2 if this process continues.
In other words, the IPCC methodology fails to property account for Earth system sensitivity. It's sort of like being a few degrees off course. It's no big deal for a short period but when you stay off course for years or decades or even generations, you'll be way off target at the end.