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New Study Concludes Climate Changes Largely Irreversible for More Than 1,000 Years After CO2 Emissions Completely Stopped

A new study led by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) senior scientist Susan Solomon shows how changes in surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level are largely irreversible for more than 1,000 years after carbon dioxide emissions are completely stopped. A paper on the findings appears during the week of 26 January  in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study examines the consequences of allowing CO2 to build up to several different peak levels beyond present-day concentrations of 385 parts per million and then completely halting the emissions after the peak. The authors found that the scientific evidence is strong enough to quantify some irreversible climate impacts, including rainfall changes in certain key regions, and global sea level rise.

“Our study convinced us that current choices regarding carbon dioxide emissions will have legacies that will irreversibly change the planet.”
—Susan Solomon

If CO2 is allowed to peak at 450-600 parts per million, the results would include persistent decreases in dry-season rainfall that are comparable to the 1930s North American Dust Bowl in zones including southern Europe, northern Africa, southwestern North America, southern Africa and western Australia.

The study notes that decreases in rainfall that last not just for a few decades but over centuries are expected to have a range of impacts that differ by region. Such regional impacts include decreasing human water supplies, increased fire frequency, ecosystem change and expanded deserts. Dry-season wheat and maize agriculture in regions of rain-fed farming, such as Africa, would also be affected.

Climate impacts were less severe at lower peak levels. But at all levels added carbon dioxide and its climate effects linger because of the ocean.

In the long run, both carbon dioxide loss and heat transfer depend on the same physics of deep-ocean mixing. The two work against each other to keep temperatures almost constant for more than a thousand years, and that makes carbon dioxide unique among the major climate gases.

—Susan Solomon

The scientists emphasize that increases in CO2 that occur in this century lock in sea level rise that would slowly follow in the next 1,000 years. Considering just the expansion of warming ocean waters—without melting glaciers and polar ice sheets—the authors find that the irreversible global average sea level rise by the year 3000 would be at least 1.3–3.2 feet (0.4–1.0 meter) if CO2 peaks at 600 parts per million, and double that amount if CO2 peaks at 1,000 parts per million.

Additional contributions to sea level rise from the melting of glaciers and polar ice sheets are too uncertain to quantify in the same way. They could be even larger but we just don’t have the same level of knowledge about those terms. We presented the minimum sea level rise that we can expect from well-understood physics, and we were surprised that it was so large.

—Susan Solomon

Rising sea levels would cause “…irreversible commitments to future changes in the geography of the Earth, since many coastal and island features would ultimately become submerged,” the authors write.

Geoengineering to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere was not considered in the study.

The authors relied on measurements as well as many different models to support the understanding of their results. They focused on drying of particular regions and on thermal expansion of the ocean because observations suggest that humans are contributing to changes that have already been measured. 

Besides Solomon, the study’s authors are Gian-Kasper Plattner and Reto Knutti of ETH Zurich, Switzerland, and Pierre Friedlingstein of Institut Pierre Simon Laplace, Gif-Sur-Yvette, France.



The ideal purpose of predictions like these is not to predict the actual future, but to predict what will happen if nothing changes, then make the right changes. If the current course leds to disaster, then change course.

Mark A

Educate me here. If oceans levels rise by 1.3 to 3.2 feet, will alot of coastal areas and islands become submerged?? With these rises, do the island's land masses also sink? I find it hard to believe that "many coastal and island features would ultimately become submerged". What am I missing here?

Dont get me wrong, I do believe that our CO2 emissions need to be reduced. But I am also skeptical of the effects of these levels out to 1,000 years. Too many variables could change the outcome.


Islands don't sink, but they don't float either so if the sea rises around it then yes - they become submerged.

I live on the coast and I'm accustom to seeing the tides come in and go out by several feet but that only happens where the tide piles up against a continent. Out on the open ocean (or in sheltered waters like the Gulf) tides only go up or down a few inches and there are inhabited islands that are only 1-3 feet above sea level.

Closer to home there's the Florida Keys; no area of these islands is more than 20 feet (6.1 m) above sea level and many are only a few feet elevation.


I wonder if the scientists of the future will be rolling-on-the-floor laughing at us & these kinds of "studies", kind of like we laugh at the greatest thinkers of medieval times for thinking the world was flat.


Though I believe that climate change is a problem (if only in its uncertainty) and that we have an obligation to mitigate it, studies that deal in timescales this far off are not really helping the 'cause'. Who knows what technology will be available in a century. It could be complete climate control and utter natural world design and manufacture. Every weather pattern and natural species and ecosystem may be manufactured in a century or two. It is further strange to me that many believe that there is an ideal climate that must be maintained always and forevermore. This has never been the case on long timescales - which isn't to say we should be completely careless with our behavior. The key point is on how fast and how destructive the changes are to us and the natural environment. Its about reigning in the unpredictability and uncertainty. There is nothing sacred about the current state of the earth, we just need to be reasonable about how we are affecting it. Its the balancing act between our industrial/manufacturing society (which is not necessarily evil) and the natural environment which provides both obvious and invaluable resources.

However, from a purely scientific basis, the study is interesting in discussing long-term changes and effects - and i applaud them for that at least.

Stan Peterson

The only problem with this "study" is there is no Foundation for any of this nonsense.other than GAIAN religious dogma.

Dr. Axil-Morner. world authority on sea-level change, and former chairman of the IPCC subcommittee researching sea-level changes said that there has been a slowing of the sea level rises in the past ten years. If the IPCC bureaucrats had not "cherry-picked" out two landfill sites in Hong Kong harbor, that are subsiding, the last IPCC interim report would have reported that. He broke with the IPCC when they would not reverse their "cherry picking" even though 6 other sites in Hong Kong harbor, with tidal gauges, not on landfills show no sea-level rise there. just as the low-lying islands supposedly threatened show no problem, either.

New sea-level measuring satellites confirm Dr Axil-Morners traditional measures. Other satellites measuring the Earth spin show no rising radius either and consequent slowing of rotation (like a spinning ice skater with hands extended).

As for CO2 residency, after lettintg the AGW warmists replace the tried and true Henry's Law of
Solubility for 20 years, the IPCC has said it reverts to Henry's law in the next Interim Report unless the AGW hysterics produce corroborating proof for their assertions that CO2 is resident for either 25, 50, 100, 200, 300 or a full Millenia,with out any proof.

Henry's' Law of Solubility says CO2 washes out of the atmosphere in 5.7 years. It has been constantly retested, with C13, and C14 measurements from Nuclear atmospheric testing and isotope mixture analysis in sea and air. There isnot a single piece of supporting evidence for the AGWers extended residency times, other than their wishful thinking. When electric cars proliferate and fossil fuel demand decreases, the CO2 in the atmosphere wil be washed out in only half a decade.

And so. this "Study" is pure desperation AGW ... GIGO.


@ Stan Peterson

As support dwindles and others pay less attention, not even interested in discussion or debate with this poor creature... so the fanatic bellows and screaches on his soap box, ever hurrying to his own personal abyss of insanity...

Stan Peterson


Dream on. Its only YOUR money, your 401k, your pension, and maybe your job, that they are swindling.


Um while global warming may or may not have beena terrible name for the event BUSH of all people had iot right. Climate CHANGE is the problem and oil is the key. Getting off oil sooner rather then later by replacing it with anything else better then it is a very good idea no matter what you think of the TRENDS. Co2 itself is not a good thing to be messing with for too long as no matter what its gona cause SOMETHING to happen and keep happening for a long time.

But going helter skelter about trying to "fix" it is more then likely to just ensure we cant afford to do so.


Although Stan is not worth correcting I'll give some facts for those who can be reasonable;
CO2 is less soluble in warmer water, meaning that as the oceans warm, they're able to absorb less CO2.

Going around the Earth is an ocean current called the Global Conveyer. It is driven by the freezing of water at the poles which causes cold salty water to sink to the ocean bottom which pulls warm water from the equator to replace it, so if AGW warms the poles this current will slow and only the top of the oceans will be left to take up any CO2 - but as the slower current means less mixing of warm surface water with cold deep water the top of the oceans will get warmer faster and "CO2 is less soluble in warmer water, meaning that as the oceans warm, they're able to absorb less CO2" and may infact release some that has already gone into them.

The Goracle

@ Stan Peterson

Great points.

Similar to Algore (B.S. Political Science, failed out of divinity school), the Globalwarmists must refuse to discuss the matter. After all, that is what good "science" is based on: Go with your faith and shout down, or run from, other opinions. The Globalwarmist days are short lived as is evidenced by the rebranding of their cause from Global Warming® to Climate Change®. One can't be wrong if he simply insists that the weather changes and it's (fill in the blank) _____ fault.

Stephen Gloor

Stan - "Henry's' Law of Solubility" eh? Is that some new denier talking point dredged up?

Hmmmmm Henry's' Law of Solubility - lets see what it is:

"In chemistry, Henry's law is one of the gas laws, formulated by William Henry in 1803. It states that:

At a constant temperature, the amount of a given gas dissolved in a given type and volume of liquid is directly proportional to the partial pressure of that gas in equilibrium with that liquid. "

Good stuff Stan - however I am not feeding the trolls.


"At a constant temperature" vs "as the oceans warm"


Andrey Levin

“…YESTERDAY, a former chief at NASA, Dr John S. Theon, slammed the computer models used to determine future climate claiming they are not scientific in part because the modellers have “resisted making their work transparent so that it can be replicated independently by other scientists”. [1]
Today, a founder of the International Journal of Forecasting, Journal of Forecasting, International Institute of Forecasters, and International Symposium on Forecasting, and the author of Long-range Forecasting (1978, 1985), the Principles of Forecasting Handbook, and over 70 papers on forecasting, Dr J. Scott Armstrong, tabled a statement declaring that the forecasting process used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lacks a scientific basis. [2]
What these two authorities, Drs Theon and Armstrong, are independently and explicitly stating is that the computer models underpinning the work of many scientific institutions concerned with global warming … are fundamentally flawed.”



>Dr. Axil-Morner

Actually you meant Nils-Axel Mörner.

>world authority on sea-level change, and former chairman of the IPCC subcommittee researching sea-level changes said that there has been a slowing of the sea level rises in the past ten years.

Hmm....that is a bit misleading. The rate of change was fairly linear from 1998-2004...the bulk of that period. It is in the latter part that the rate of increase changes. That is not the same as saying that sea-levels aren't rising. He's talking about the rate of change. If you look at the actual data it is hard to tell if this is an anomaly or a change in a longer term trend...but it is a bit silly to try and extrapolate the long term trend based on a 2 year span. One might categorize that as cherry picking.

>He broke with the IPCC when they would not reverse their "cherry picking" even though 6 other sites in Hong Kong harbor, with tidal gauges, not on landfills show no sea-level rise there.

Does anyone believe his six gauges in hong-kong bay would trump satellite (Poseidon/Jason) data for the South China Sea? If so please provide your justification. Otherwise try taking a look at the actual data.


I'm not saying his measurements are off. There could be an explanation as to why his measurements for Hong Kong Bay are apparently contradicted by satellite data for the South China Sea....Lets assume his measurements for HKB are correct. Are his six HKG gauges more relevant than the unprecedented accuracy of data provided by Jason for the South China Sea? And is the data for the SCS more relevant than the the global data provided by Poseidon/Jason?

just as the low-lying islands supposedly threatened show no problem, either.

Hmm..... The satellite data indicates an average rise of 2 inches in sea-levels over the last 16 years. What problems were expected from a 2 inch rise that haven't been seen?

>New sea-level measuring satellites confirm Dr Axil-Morners traditional measures.

I assume were talking about Jason and and/or the predecessor Poseidon. The problem I have is reconciling this statement with the data. The rate of change slows from 2004 to 2006 and slows even more from 2006-2008. The data from our satellites indicates an
average rise a bit in excess of 3 mm per year although our man Nils-Axel contends it is only 1.0 mm per year.

>Other satellites measuring the Earth spin show no rising radius either and consequent slowing of rotation (like a spinning ice skater with hands extended).

Really? This would be news. Any idea why we're adding leap seconds recently to atomic clocks? I'm going to assume (Please correct me if I'm wrong) that what was meant is that there is not the anticipated change in the rate of change of the slowing of the earth's rotation. What we would need is an explanation of what measurable change their model anticipated.

Consider that floating ice melting doesn't raise sea-levels so our 3 mm rise is coming from ice melt that is above sea-level. In your example this is like those extended arms being pulled in. Yes? In your understanding that would contribute to acceleration of the earth's rotation ..yes?

The earth has a mean radius in the ballpark of 6,300 Kilometers and the Poseidon/Jason satellite data that contradicts Nils-Axel indicates average sea-levels have been increasing a bit over 3 milimeters per year.


So we have a radius increasing a bit over one 2 millionth per year. This model will need to estimate the average height of the water that is contributing to the sea-level rise to determine how much acceleration in the earths spin would be anticipated and how this would be countered with the gradual transfer of angular momentum to the moon, impact of tides, and atmospheric motion. Without quantifying the magnitude of the counter forces at play it is impossible to predict the net effect.

Of course all of the above is pure folly because no one on earth has a viable model that accurately predicts the earth's acceleration or deceleration. That is in part why the second was redefined in 1956. My point here is your point has no point.

>Henry's' Law of Solubility says CO2 washes out of the atmosphere in 5.7 years.

I think you have a fundamental misunderstanding of Henry's law. Assuming constant pressure you could use Henry's Law to calculate the equilibrium point of a gas, like CO2, and a solvent like sea-water. (please note the constant K for sea-water would not be the same as that for pure water.) Characterizing CO2 as "washing out" of the atmosphere gives me the impression you don't really understand the CO2 cycle in the context of planet earth.

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