60-Second Science

Prediction of Global Warming High May Be Impossible

Reseachers find that, no matter how much data they collect, they may not be able to get a good estimate of the highest temperature increases that global warming may bring. Karen Hopkin reports. Also see

Ben Franklin said that nothing’s certain but death and taxes. Today, scientists might add global warming to that list. But though most scientists are certain that more CO2 means a toastier globe, what they can’t pin down is how much warmer it’s going to get.

If that sounds like a forecast only Heisenberg could love, well, too bad—that’s just the way it is. Or so say researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle in the October 26th issue of the journal Science. 

The researchers were working on equations to help climatologists get the most out of their climate models. The current models, run on decades worth of data, predict that we could be looking at a planet that’s 2 to 5 degrees warmer, although there’s a chance it could be closer to 10.

What the researchers discovered is that no matter how much data the scientists feed into their models, they’re never going to get a more precise estimate of the high end than that.

Perhaps the finding will encourage policymakers to act now, rather than calling for more data before making any decisions on the environment. Or the lack of definitive info about the worst case scenarios could give climate change skeptics an excuse to try to table any action. 

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