A study just published in the journal Nature Geoscience shows that if we continue with business-as-usual fossil fuel emissions, the atmosphere will hold 1,200 parts per million CO2 in about a century from now, which will cause stratocumulus clouds to disappear. Their absence could leave the Earth to warm by a staggering 8 degrees Celsius (8°C).
The computer simulation used in the study showed that once that 1,200 parts per million (ppm) tipping point of atmospheric CO2 is breached, the Earth’s temperature would soar by 4°C just from the CO2. Then, it would increase by another 4°C due to the absent clouds no longer reflecting solar radiation back into space.
Stratocumulus clouds cover around two-thirds of the planet, and play a key role in keeping the planet cool, due to their white color and reflective qualities. Research has shown that planetary warming correlates with the loss of clouds. This is yet another unforeseen climate feedback loop that could catapult us into catastrophic warming.
Kerry Emanuel, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is a leading authority on atmospheric physics, told Quanta Magazine that the results of the study still needed to be replicated independently, but that the possibility of the simulation being accurate was “very plausible.”
Crocodiles in the Arctic
It is highly unlikely that most complex life could survive on a planet that has warmed to 8°C. A previous cataclysmic hot spell gives us clues as to what Earth’s future could look like.
The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), which occurred 56 million years ago, was triggered by heat-trapping carbon causing the planet to gain 6°C. (At the time, the Earth was already several degrees Celsius warmer than it is now.)
Global mass extinctions resulted, as the oceans warmed dramatically. Horses, monkeys, and other animals migrated northward as they chased vegetation…