The climate community traditionally underestimates the rate of change in the climate system, Columbia University scientist cautions. She wonders where things will stand once everything ‘comes into equilibrium’ with our current Pliocene-era atmosphere.
Maureen Raymo, Columbia University and Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory geologist and climate scientist, says she hears a “symphony” going on in the climate system, but she isn’t confident of just how lyrical the final verse will be.
In the current Yale Forum video by independent videographer Peter Sinclair, the winner of this year’s prestigious Wollaston from the Geological Society of London says she has spent three decades studying natural climate variability, “and what we’re seeing right now is not natural.”
Neither Earth’s distance from the Sun as a result of our planet’s elliptical orbit nor changes in solar output “can explain the climate changes that are happening now,” says Raymo. She points out that the 400 ppm concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere matches that in the Pleistocene Era about three million years ago.
“Right now, we’re living in a world of a Pliocene atmosphere. But the whole rest of the climate system — the oceans are trying to catch-up, the ice sheets are waning, and everything is trying to catch up to this Pliocene atmosphere.”
Where might it all lead? Raymo points to atmospheric warming, rising seas, and ecosystem collapses. There is a “symphony going on in the climate system,” she says. “When everything comes to equilibrium, how much of the Antarctic ice sheet will be there? Will sea level have risen 10 meters, 20 meters, or 30 meters?”
“Historically, I can say that the climate community has always understated the rate of change in the climate system,” she concludes.