Climate Change - Abrupt Climate Change

The number of heat waves has increased significantly since 1950. More parts of the world have been affected by droughts due to the fact that precipitation has been steadily decreasing while warmer climates have promoted more evaporation. At the same time, in many parts of the world the size and strength of tropical storms and hurricanes have increased. Evidence suggests a dramatic rising of storm intensity since the 70s.

While it is scientifically impossible to attribute any specific climatic occurrence to human presence, it is proven that climate change may very well inflate the probability of many ordinary weather events becoming extreme, and even of naturally occurring extreme events becoming substantially more extreme. Under present day climate change conditions, it is highly likely that heat waves will become more common and progressively more extreme.

The occurrence of abrupt climate change is often unnatural and a concern among most environmentalists. While the natural weather can be volatile and unpredictable, growing evidence suggests that human presence dramatically increases the frequency and severity of abrupt climate change. When defining abrupt climate change, it is important to note that it cannot be defined by climatic changes that occur slowly or specific extreme events that occur in relatively small areas. Specifically, abrupt climate change refers to large changes to a major aspect of the greater climate system that can be identified in a timeline of decades. While the occurrence of abrupt climate change is virtually impossible to predict, they should not be ignored. In a worst-case scenario, a rapid change to the climate could render humans and other species unable to sufficiently adapt.

Several environmental changes can potentially trigger an abrupt change. Among them are the following:
- Solar intensity fluctuation
- Increase or decrease of the intensity of ocean currents
- Deviation from the normal orbit of the Earth
- Melting/surging ice sheets
- Emissions of harmful gasses and particles into the atmosphere

If any of these instances occur simultaneously (which is not unlikely), the potential for and severity of an abrupt climate change is increased. Recent research has concluded that climate change can in fact occur very quickly, over just a few seasons and years, and not centuries or millennia as was previously thought.

One good example of abrupt climate change occurred approximately 11,600 years ago, with the conclusion of the Younger Dryas cold event (a.k.a. the “Big Freeze”). This last blast of cold climate is considered to have marked the end of the Ice Age. The Younger Dryas caused an extremely rapid return to glacial conditions to take place in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. The interstadial deglaciation that preceded the event had been causing a warming trend. The huge blast of cold brought by the Younger Dryas is considered to be a significant instance of (naturally occurring) abrupt climate change. The major climatic shift is believed to have taken place over only a decade or so.