Average global temperature has already risen about 1 degree Fahrenheit during the previous century, according to data from NASA. Ohio State researchers said they project that this number will more than quadruple by 2070 in North America.
Noel Cressie, a professor of statistics and director of OSU’s Program in Spatial Statistics and Environmental Statistics, said his research used different climate models to project what the future temperature could be like in North America.
“We’ve taken a 30-year average of climate model runs from the year 2041 to 2070, so what we are getting is a pretty good idea of what temperature increase will be by 2070,” Cressie said.
Cressie is an environmental statistician, which means he looks at data with an environmental purpose. Cressie worked on the research for about 18 months with former OSU graduate student, Emily Kang, who now resides at the University of Cincinnati.
Their research found that North America could increase in temperature by 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2070. This increase is in line with projections from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Geneva, Switzerland. They projected a global average increase of about 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit by 2070.
There were six teams from Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. who were involved in this project, and they delivered their climate models to the North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program (NARCCAP). Cressie and Kang chose two of these models that used the same boundary conditions and looked at temperature values for 1971-2000 and projected values for 2041-2070.
They averaged the first time period’s temperatures together and subtracted it from the projected value and took the difference. Also, all four seasons were considered, which included varying data in the temperature rates.
“The cool thing about NARCCAP is that each of the six groups who produced the output were charged to produce the output at 50 kilometer (about 30 miles) by 50 kilometer grids throughout North America,” Cressie said. “There are about 12,000 of those small regions. And that type of regional climate change assessment hasn’t been done before at that scale over North America.”
This technique uses spatial statistics, which Cressie and Kang pioneered with the Bayesian hierarchical spatial model. This was the first time this specific model was used to analyze regional temperature changes.
“So we can ‘borrow strength’ from each of the climate models and the spatial variability in the 12,000 regions to come up with this statistical model that gives you projected temperature change by 2070 and the certainty of the projection in terms of probabilities or ranges,” Cressie said.
This means they can be 95 percent sure that in the region that contains Columbus, the average temperature increase by 2070 will be between 4.1 degrees Fahrenheit and 5.3 degrees Fahrenheit.
“We really can refer to it as climate change; it really has nothing to do with meteorology or weather,” Cressie said.
Weather refers to the atmospheric conditions on an everyday basis and climate looks at it over long periods of time.
If it goes beyond a 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit increase, it will go beyond a limit of sustainability that has generally been agreed upon, Cressie said.
Jeff Rogers, a professor of geography and the state climatologist for Ohio, said some of the repercussions that could occur because of the increased temperature would be that plants, trees and animals will have to migrate so they can sustain life.
“It’s estimated that roughly two-thirds of these species of plants and trees will probably have a great deal of difficulty making the migration,” Rogers said. “There’s going to be a lot of instances where plants and trees species become extinct or rare because they simply can’t adapt to the warming climate.”
Rogers said there will be many adaptations that will take place, but not all are bad. As the warmer air moves northward, countries like Canada could be able to grow crops more easily.
Melting of the Arctic sea ice has been occurring because of the warmer climate. The polar bears rely on the ice on the ocean and Rogers said if this increase in temperature keeps accumulating, it could prove devastating for polar bears and other animal species.
The Byrd Polar Research Center, located at 1090 Carmack Road, researches these cold region’s climates and works to find ways to protect these environments.
Matthew McCann, a fifth-year in computer science and engineering, is funded by the BPRC as an undergraduate research assistant. He said he works more in the economics side of climate change, but it is related to climatology.
“So their prediction is for 2070, that’s (about) 60 years away. If you look back even 30 years from now, the changes that society has been experiencing are really radical and they happen really fast,” McCann said. “It’s very difficult to accurately predict how things are going to be 60 years from now.”
McCann said he believes that since society is moving forward with technology, society can lessen the amount of harmful emissions that are emitted into the atmosphere by finding alternative resources for energy. This in turn, could prevent the temperature from increasing too.
There are skeptics of climate change though who believe that not all the research done seems plausible.
“One of the main criticisms is modeling itself,” Rogers said. “People suspect that perhaps the models aren’t consistent and aren’t capable of answering complicated issues like climate change. In fact, the modeling is getting better all the time. Numerical models are constantly being improved.”
Climate change relates to general changes in climate, this could include cooling, like during the ice age, and heating. Global warming relates to the heating of a system, which is what Rogers said looks like is happening in the future.
“I think climate change is going to be inevitable,” Rogers said.
NASA’s Earth Science Technology Office funded the research on a three-year grant for which Cressie was given a subcontract for $400,000. The grant has been renewed for another three years to further this research on spatial data fusion.
Cressie said future research might include looking at more than one variable, like temperature, but also examining temperature along with precipitation. Remote sensing, which involves satellite technology that looks at greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, will also be researched.
“We know the world is uncertain, we know these two models give different answers and we know that any one model is not going to give exactly the right answer,” Cressie said. “But if you use statistical science, you’re able to put probability on things that are going to happen and that is a way to manage your risk.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: May 24, 2012
An earlier version of this story had a headline that read “OSU research says North American global temperature will quadruple by 2070.” In fact, it is the rate of the temperature change per year that will quadruple.