Climate history - a popular webinar with many questions

2021-03-25

 Destruction can happen very fast but rebuilding takes a very long time.

A Zoom meeting where climate is discussed
Popular climate webinar with many questions

During Uppsala Climate Week the Department of Earth Sciences arranged a climate seminar drawing around 70 participants wanting to learn more about climate through history.Three researchers displayed their current research and first out was Jorijntje Henderiks who gave a historical overview of 66 million years back in time, explaining that historical data can give us a better understanding of what is happening to the climate today. By studying microscopically small micro-fossils researchers can find out about the conditions of life back then and we can thereby gain a better picture of the consequences of climate change. 

- What we can see is that never before in history has the climate been heated up this much and within such a short time span as today. As earth scientists we move through really long timeframes and we have really rich material to draw from. What we know is that destruction can happen very fast but rebuilding takes a very long time, Jorijntje pointed out. For an example she pointed out the extinction of the dinosaurs and the hundreds of thousands of years it took for the biodiversity to recuperate.

A graph showing climate scenarios
Source: Burke et al., 2018 (PNAS)

Veijo Pohjola explained how warmer weather changes the polar regions faster than we had previously thought which will have grave consequences. Not only are the polar ice caps melting and the sea levels rising, but life conditions are changing for humans, animals and plants. Today, biodiversity is seriously threatened.

During the webinar many questions were asked; do the oceans have the ability to absorb CO2? Can our present efforts help us reach the Paris Agreement and the emission targets by 2030?

Gabriele Messori explained that no matter what we do, even if we would switch to zero emissions today, it would still take hundreds or thousands of years before the climate “naturally” could return to a pre-industrial condition. That said, how we act today still matters.

- In other words, what we do today might reduce further climate changes. Therefore what we do today will affect the future of our children and coming generations. But it will not magically solve the problem, Gabriele Messori emphasised.

Graph showing the temperature rising
The world´s oldest profession

Veijo Pohjola stressed the importance of taking part in the research presented by Earth Science and he likened earth scientists to the world´s oldest profession.

- We who work as earth scientists represent some of mankind´s oldest professions. You might wonder what I am referring to so let me explain. Since the Stone Age (The Paleolithic) the human species have needed experts that knew what rocks to use, and those are the geologists, like Jorijntje. The Paleolithic societies traveled long distances, both in search of prey but also to find and explore new lands, like when people first left the African continent, and that is where the geographers come in, like myself. What has always been of great importance throughout history is the ability to foretell the weather, which is what meteorologists do, like Gabriele.

We must act

One of the last questions concerned whether it was too late, has the change gone too far? But the researchers were unanimous; even if the climate change trend is alarming that does not mean we should stop caring and think it is too late to do something. We don’t have time to be dystopian. Where we finally will end up regarding the average temperature is still something that we can influence, but that will require awareness, will and not least political decisions.


Quotes from the meeting

”I really want to thank you for a great presentation that suited me both in regards to content and the level of complexity. So much useful knowledge that I feel I can apply directly in my teaching to students in grades 7-9.”

”I really hope that you will offer more of these webinars. They spread like ripples.”

”It feels very exclusive to receive this information directly from the researchers in each subject. You can´t disregard this knowledge - this touched me deeply.”

”Thank you for the interesting presentations. Horrifying perspective. I will buy an electrical car at once.”

”The penny dropped. Completely. I am struck. Jorijntjes explanation that destruction happens fast but rebuilding takes time (the example with the dinosaurs) and Gabrieles conclusion that we never will be able to go back to what was; even if we stop right NOW the process will continue. In a way this was not news but the way the seminar and the discussions were presented it gave me a deepened insight. THANKS!

Here you can download the presentation that was shown. (Note! In Swedish.)

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Facts about the participating researchers in our Climate webinar 23 March 14:00-15:00.

Jorijntje Henderiks is a Professor in Marine Micropaleontology within the research field Palaeobiology and talked about how we can create a picture of what the climate was like 66 million years back in time. Both by studying marine fossil and deep-sea sediments and by drilling several kilometres down through thick ice we can gain knowledge of what the climate looked like back then. By looking back at historical carbon levels and former climates we can better understand the long term effects of climate change.

Veijo Pohjola is a Professor in Physical Geography and an expert on glaciers. Researching glaciers gives us knowledge about how we influence the climate, and how the climate influences us. Veijo talked about what is happening to the ice in our polar regions today and what that might mean for the future. Veijo Pohjola is one of the researchers reviewing the reports from the UN Climate Panel; the IPCC´s climate reports.

Gabriele Messori is an Associate Professor in Meteorology. Gabriele´s research is about climate change and the effects in the form of extreme weather events. His focus is on global comparisons, how different weather phenomena are connected, what these connections look like and if there is a possibility to predict upcoming extreme weather. 

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