Our earth is getting warmer, and the key to learning more about this is studying climates of the past to envision the future.
This was the idea proposed by Dr. Linda Anderson, a paleogeologist from University of California Santa Cruz, last Thursday at a lunchtime lecture on global warming. Anderson researches the relationship between oceanic structure, the carbon cycle, the biology that affects the carbon cycle and how these things relate to global warming.
"The only way we can really get at this issue is by looking at climates of the past and how they behaved," said Anderson.
During the period between 1976 and 2000, Earth experienced an average temperature rise of one degree Celsius. According to Anderson, this could be the result of the Earth's natural cycle of warming and cooling that dates back at least one million years. These changes are to be expected and are driven by the tilt of the Earth, its wobble in rotation and its slightly elliptical orbit around the sun.
However, said Anderson, scientists see a problem when they examine ice records. When water freezes, it preserves small bubbles of air that give clues about the Earth's past atmosphere. "When we look here, we're well outside of the natural range in the present system," said Anderson.
Temperatures haven't been this high since the Pliocene era, which lasted from 5 to 2 million years ago, said Anderson.
If this warming trend continues, and if we do nothing, the world will see temperatures increase up to 5 degrees Celsius, concentrated mostly in the higher latitutudes and on continents. "This is your generation, these are things you're going to have to be dealing with," said Anderson.
She added that this warming will lead to extreme weather patterns, such as droughts, floods and storms, like it has in the past.
"I wasn't surprised to hear most of this information," said senior Pamela Caserta, who attended the talk. "The fact that temperatures have gone up so steeply in recent years is amazing. It means we're idiots," she said.
San Francisco should expect an additional 120 heat waves a year by 2090 in a worst case scenario. If the whole state of California warms, which according to Anderson, is likely. Only 11 percent of our snow pack will remain, putting a strain on our drinking water supply.
Anderson offered a few solutions to the audience. A huge change can be made, she said, if people get out of their cars, purchase sustainably grown products and minimize energy use at home. "It is important to realize in addition to reducing our emissions, we need to do some planning for the future," said Anderson.
For more information, visit www.newdream.org (to compute your own energy usage) and www.ucsusa.org.