Although we won’t be around to experience earth’s climate in the year 2300 in person, a computer-simulation study released by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in January, 2013, takes us to that future world. According to the Livermore team, led by physicist Govindasamy Bala, 2300 is when the world’s supply of fossil fuels will likely be depleted. No more oil, coal, or natural gas. What will the world look like at that point? Bala’s team used a combination of climate and carbon-cycle computer simulations to find out.
According to the study, the world will be much hotter. Average world temperature will increase by 8°C (14°F). Arctic temperature will increase a whopping 20°C (36°F). The polar cap, the Greenland Ice Sheet, and the Arctic tundra will have melted. Instead of ice and snow, boreal forest will cover the land, and Arctic seas will be ice free. Tropical vegetation will also expand, as present-day temperate areas become hotter.
Parts per million of CO2 in the air will triple. From the present approximately 400 ppm of CO2, our atmosphere will be saturated with 1,200 ppm of CO2, bringing the world close to some prehistoric CO2 levels.
There will come a time when the oceans can no longer absorb CO2.The world’s oceans now function as a carbon sink, eventually absorbing 80% of the CO2 in the atmosphere. But the more CO2 the oceans take in, the higher the acid content of the water becomes. Computer simulations predict that extreme acidification will wipe out much of marine life, including hundreds of food fish species, and destroy the world’s coral reefs. The destruction of coral systems will hamper the ocean’s ability to absorb additional CO2. With the oceans no longer able to absorb CO2, about 45% of the emitted carbon dioxide will remain in the atmosphere, intensifying the heating of the planet.
The melting of glaciers and polar ice will eventually raise world sea level by 7 meters (34 feet). Many populated islands will be under water, as will many of the world’s major port cities. The sea level rise will be gradual, but populations on low-lying islands and in seacoast communities should start preparing for the future.
According to physicist G. Bala, it is now evident that a great deal of damage has already been done. Years of unrestricted carbon pollution has started a process called committed warming. Bala said, “No matter what we do – even if we completely stop burning fossil fuels today – we are committed to future increases in global temperature … Our present trajectory is risking severe environmental damage that could last for hundreds of years.”
Is there anything we can do to reverse the trend? Even though committed warming is already in motion, reducing carbon emissions as much as possible and as quickly as possible can hopefully still serve to mitigate future damage. The Livermore team is using integrated computer simulations to assess to what extent and how soon the damage can moderated, depending on pace of emissions reduction. It is urgent that the governments and industries of the world take note, and shift their emission reduction efforts into high gear.