Back to the Future

Regreso al Futuro

Oct 20, 2015

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back to the future

It’s been thirty years since the release of Back to the Future, the trilogy that among other things correctly predicted the Cubs in the playoffs in October 2015. Not to be outdone, in this week’s Climate Matters we’re looking at the average annual temperature in several locations 30 years ago, today, and projected 30 years into the future.

As greenhouse gas emissions increase from the burning of fossil fuels, average temperatures have started to climb. Not every location warms at the same rate, and in some places the warming has been subtle. However, if our current rate of emissions continues unabated, we can expect an accelerated and pronounced warming over this century. Carbon dioxide is one of the most important greenhouse gases, as once it is emitted into the atmosphere, it can remain there for centuries. This is a consequence of the planetary carbon cycle, as the land and ocean are very slow to remove the carbon emitted into the atmosphere.

With carbon dioxide lingering in the atmosphere so long, this means that current and past emissions have already locked the planet into a dedicated level of warming. Like the main character, Marty McFly, learns by the end of the trilogy, the decisions made in the present will affect the way we live in the future.

Methodology: Projections are based on the RCP8.5 scenario, and are derived from bias-corrected downscaled data from a multi-model average. Temperatures are obtained by adding the expected change in the temperature to the observed (1986-2015) value.

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