Carnegie Mellon Visiting Scholar Helps International Research Team
Identify Areas Most Vulnerable to Abrupt Global Climate Change
PITTSBURGH — A new international study released today warns that ecosystems and societies are at risk from the ongoing warming of our planet.
The study, to be published in the Feb. 4-8 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Online Early Edition, outlines the most vulnerable areas of earth at risk for abrupt climate change, according to Elmar Kriegler, a visiting research scholar in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University.
Kriegler, a researcher from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, was one of seven scientists who helped to compile the study, drawing on the insights from a climate change workshop sponsored by the British Embassy in Berlin in October 2005, and an opinion survey of 52 experts in the field.
"We found that while most global change is perceived to be a slow, gradual process, there are areas of the planet where this change can be abrupt and potentially irreversible," said Kriegler. The researchers call the most vulnerable regions in the climate change equation "tipping elements," referring to the fact that those areas may be pushed over a threshold to a radically different climate state.
The study reports that two "tipping elements" of greatest concern are the Arctic sea ice and the Greenland ice sheet. If the Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it would displace enough water to raise sea levels 23 feet, swallowing up large parts of coastal Florida, most of Bangladesh and many other regions worldwide.
"What this study shows is that the stakes are enormous, bringing into focus the fragility of the climate conditions on earth," said Kriegler, who is using a European Union Marie Curie Fellowship to spend two years doing research at Carnegie Mellon.
From changing ocean currents to melting glaciers, from eroding permafrost to vanishing rainforests - no part of nature is an island, and the rumble of symptoms may occur in places thousands of miles apart, and grow louder as the planet heats up, the researchers said.
In addition to Carnegie Mellon, other research universities involved in the study included the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, United Kingdom; Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the United Kingdom; The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Potsdam, Germany; and the School of Civil Engineering and Geoscience at Newcastle University and the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University, both in the United Kingdom.