Climate change Qs & As

urning, which releases carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases. This warming has caused glacial melting and subsequent increases in sea levels worldwide of 10 to 20 centimeters, or 4 to 8 inches.

According to Oppenheimer, models project that if Greenland temperatures rise by another 3 degrees C, complete melting of the Greenland ice sheet would eventually result. "If the West Antarctic ice sheet becomes unstable, global sea level would rise about 5 meters and as much as seven meters if the Greenland ice sheet melts," he said. Although the sea level rise would largely occur in later centuries, these outcomes could be set in place within the current century.

"We're on the verge of a very large global-warming event," Battisti warned. "Without limits on emissions, carbon dioxide could increase by three-fold in 150 years, reaching levels that were last seen 35 million years ago."

Would melting polar ice destabilize ocean circulation, pushing the relatively warm Gulf Stream southward and causing the North Atlantic to freeze--as depicted in Hollywood's latest disaster movie, "The Day After Tomorrow"? Probably not, said Battisti. "One hundred years from now, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is likely to be at least two times greater than today," he said. "Any localized cooling that might occur in the North Atlantic will be overwhelmed by a very large warming caused by a large increase in the greenhouse effect."

Moreover, greenhouse gases are warming the Earth faster than aerosols like dust can mask them, said Joyce E. Penner, professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences at the University of Michigan. Various types of aerosols--from soot and dust to sulfur--can either cool or warm the climate, she explained. Warming is associated with absorbing black carbon emissions such as soot, while non-absorbing aerosols are tied to cooling, which scientists call "negative forcing."

"In the long term, greenh

Contact: Ginger Pinholster
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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