Last week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its sixth report on the current state of the climate. One of the main findings states that “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.
Scientists at the University of Utah from various fields have weighed in on what the report’s findings mean for the future of research and our planet.
Zhaoxia Pu, Professor, Department of Atmospheric Sciences
The IPCC report states that “man-made climate change is already affecting many extreme weather and climate events in all regions of the world. The evidence for changes seen in extremes such as heat waves, heavy rainfall, droughts and tropical cyclones… and their attribution to human influence has grown.
It also states that “if global warming increases, some extreme events compounded with low probability in past and current climate will become more frequent, and there will be a higher probability that events with intensities, durations and / or Increased spatial expanses unprecedented in an observational recording will take place.
Concerns about extreme weather and climate events will lead to more active research in forecasting weather and climate extremes, in particular their frequency of occurrence, intensity, duration, spatial structure and environmental consequences on local areas, because most of these extremes occur at the regional level. Meanwhile, as extreme weather and climate conditions have significant influences on ecosystem and agriculture, accurate weather and climate predictions will become vital for human decisions regarding event prevention and planning. Therefore, we foresee an increased interest in the development of advanced meteorological and climate computer models, in particular the coupled models of the Earth system with treatment of the interactions between the different components of the climate system, including the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, the earth’s surface and the biosphere.
William Anderegg, Associate Professor, School of Biological Sciences
This report is an incredibly clear and compelling digest of the science that man-made climate change is unequivocal and likely to get worse if we don’t take swift action on carbon emissions. He points out that climate change is already having major impacts on the western United States, especially in terms of strong heat waves, prolonged drought and wildfires. The footprints of climate change on these impacts – which we see around us, every year now – have become much clearer over the past five years. For example, climate change is responsible for half or more of the area burned by wildfires in the western United States, as well as all of the air pollution caused by the fires we breathe.
Summer Rupper, Professor, Department of Geography
The IPCC report highlights the harsh reality that the global average temperature is warmer now than it has been for the past 125,000 years. This warming and warming of the Earth has far-reaching effects on all Earth systems. As an example, the IPCC report summarizes the observations of significant decreases in the volume of mountain glaciers and the seasonal extent of the snowpack over the past decades. These changes in snow and ice impact hundreds of millions of people living in and downstream of these systems. As warming continues, glaciers and snowpack will continue to shrink, further depleting water resources derived from snow and ice, increasing the risk of flooding, reducing the reliability of hydroelectric power, affecting mountain tourism, among a myriad of other effects. The IPCC report helps re-energize efforts to improve our understanding of these essential water resources, how they respond to climate change, and the impacts on people living around the world, from the Himalayas to the West American intermountain.
McKenzie Skiles, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography
The most recent IPCC report and a recent one special report on oceans and cryosphere, summarizes that seasonal snow cover is declining, with the extent of snow cover in the northern hemisphere decreasing by about 8% for every 1o warming. This is due to more precipitation falling as rain (at lower elevations) and earlier melt (at all elevations). The decline in snow cover is mainly attributed to warming air temperature, but it has also been recognized that the darkening of snow due to the deposition of aerosols related to human activity, such as soot and dust, also contributes to earlier melting, and this is a growing area of research. A shrinking snowpack has an impact on mountain ecosystems, economies and regional hydrology; Like many areas downstream from mountain springs, the western United States relies on the regularity and magnitude of seasonal snowmelt to meet water demands, and snow hydrologists are actively trying to improve forecasting methods that can capture the new variability introduced by climate change, including the timing of earlier runoff and reduction in the volume of seasonal runoff and groundwater recharge.