Abrupt climate change: inevitable surprises

Abrupt climate change: inevitable surprises

Recent evidence suggests urgent research is required into abrupt climate change

Recent scientific evidence shows that major and widespread climate changes have occurred with startling speed. These were especially common when the climate was being forced to change most rapidly. Human alterations may increase the possibility of large, abrupt and unwelcome regional or global climatic events but not enough is yet known to predict this with confidence.

This report describes the current state if knowledge and makes 5 recommendations on future research to fill the existing knowledge gaps.

1. Investigation of those aspects of the climate system which are believed to have participated in past abrupt changes. The following research programmes should be initiated:

  • Geophysical study on modes of coupled atmosphere-ocean behaviour, oceanic deepwater processes, hydrology and ice
  • Economic and ecological research into non-market and environmental issues, a comprehensive land-use census and development of integrated economic and ecological data sets.

2. Developing theoretical and empirical models to understand abrupt climate change is a priority. Existing models do not accurately simulate warm climates in the past and can only partially simulate abrupt climate shifts that have occurred. A comprehensive modelling strategy is needed.

3. The quantity of paleoclimatic data should be enhanced, with emphasis on:

  • robust, multi-parameter, high resolution histories of climate change and ecological response
  • better geographic coverage and temporal resolution
  • additional proxies
  • multi-disciplinary study of selected abrupt climate changes

4. Improved statistical approaches are needed to cope with non-stationary and highly skewed climate -related variables that could cause misleading and costly errors under statistical practices currently in use.

5. Research is needed to develop low cost measures to reduce vulnerabilities and increase adaptive capacity.

Finally the report emphasises that while developed countries will cope more easily with abrupt climate change than developing nations globalisation means that the effects will be widespread. It is therefore important to focus on those poorer countries that are likely to be vulnerable.

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