Environment & Climate

Climate Change to Last Millennia

flood waters


The changes that are altering Earth’s climate will have much longer-lasting effects than previously realized, according to a study released in February. Looking at climate and oceanography models, the study’s authors believe that it could take as long as 1 million years before all of the carbon currently being released into the atmosphere is completely removed.

“It’s really a perspective piece,” says Shaun Marcott, an assistant professor of geoscience and one of the contributing researchers. “When most people look at climate change, they’re looking at a perspective of how things will be in 2100. If they’re looking long term, they might mean 2300. But we’re looking at climate change on a geological scale — how things will be in ten thousand years or more.”

The effects of burning fossil fuels, the study contends, will not be fully realized for several decades, nor will they dissipate soon after the use of carbon-based fuels ends. Carbon in the atmosphere will cause temperatures to warm, ice caps to melt, and sea levels to rise.

“Temperature is actually the lesser effect. We have some ability to adapt to higher temperatures,” says Marcott. “But the rising sea levels — we can’t adapt to water. We can’t stop it. We can’t mitigate it.”

Marcott and his colleagues forecast that the sea level will rise about forty meters during the next ten thousand years, enough to flood New York, Tokyo, Shanghai, Cairo, most of Florida, and much of Bangladesh. “This will mean that the populations of whole countries will have to move into other countries,” he says. “The conflict in Syria has dislocated 5 million people. What happens when it’s 60 million to 70 million Bangladeshis who no longer have a home? That will cause a lot of conflict.”


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