Greenhouse-gas emissions from human activities do not only cause rapid warming of the seas, but also ocean acidification at an unprecedented rate. Artificial carbon dioxide removal (CDR) from the atmosphere has been proposed to reduce both risks to marine life. A new study based on computer calculations now shows that this strategy would not work if applied too late. CDR cannot compensate for soaring business-as-usual emissions throughout the century and beyond, even if the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration would be restored to pre-industrial levels at some point in the future. This is due to the tremendous inertia of the ocean system. Thus, CDR cannot substitute timely emissions reductions, yet may play a role as a supporting actor in the climate drama.
08/25/2015 - From the Earth System to the human brain, from families to Facebook – complex networks can be found everywhere around us. Describing the structure of socio-economic systems, the analysis of complex networks can improve our understanding of interactions and transformations within our society. A team of researchers now used this approach to explore the development of large coalitions in a network of acquaintances, when cooperation promises the highest economic or social advantages. For the first time, they focused on how social relations interact with this process. Published in the journal Scientific Reports of the renowned Nature group, their results show that full cooperation is most probable when the network adapts only slowly to new coalition structures. If the network adapts faster than new coalitions form, its fragmentation might prevent the formation of large-scale coalitions.
07/15/2015 - When a rhythm stalls, the effect can be fatal – in a power grid it can mean a blackout, and in the human heart even death. An international team of scientists has now developed a new approach for revoking these undesired quenching states. They use an advanced mathematical methodology, building on complex networks analysis, and demonstrate it in experiments with chemical reactions. This could one day help to stabilize the flow of electricity in power grids challenged by the variable input from renewable energy sources. Future research could apply it to other complex networks, including processes within body cells and even the human cardiovascular system.
07/13/2015 - The new high-performance computer at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research ranks among the 400 fastest world-wide. This was announced today at the beginning of the International Supercomputing Conference in Frankfurt, Germany. The machine is able to do 212 trillion calculations per second – so called Teraflops. This allows simulations of the complex interactions between atmosphere, oceans, land and ice-sheets to a much larger extent than was hitherto possible on site. The computer’s waste heat is used – environmentally-friendly – to heat the new PIK research building.
07/08/2015 - Heavy rainfall events setting ever new records have been increasing strikingly in the past thirty years. While before 1980, multi-decadal fluctuations in extreme rainfall events are explained by natural variability, a team of scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research detected a clear upward trend in the past few decades towards more unprecedented daily rainfall events. They find the worldwide increase to be consistent with rising global temperatures which are caused by greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. Short-term torrential rains can lead to high-impact floodings.
06/18/2015 - Pope Francis’ much anticipated encyclical “Laudato Si” on inequality and the environment mirrors not only religious insights but also the findings of climate science. “Not the poor but the wealthy are putting our planet, and ultimately humanity, at risk,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), at the presentation of the encyclical in the Vatican today. “Those who profited least from the exploitation of fossil fuels and contributed least to greenhouse-gas emissions are hit hardest by global warming impacts, unless we strongly reduce emissions.” Schellnhuber is the only scientist who has been invited to speak, alongside Cardinal Peter Turkson.
05/21/2015 - A new study analyzes the required climate policy actions and targets in order to limit future global temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. This level is supported by more than 100 countries worldwide, including those most vulnerable to climate change, as a safer goal than the currently agreed international aim of 2 degrees Celsius – an aim which would already imply substantial greenhouse-gas reductions. Hence the interest for scrutinizing the very low end of greenhouse-gas stabilization scenarios.
05/19/2015 - To achieve a lasting transition towards sustainability, large-scale conversion of our built environment – cities, transport systems, power generation – is key. This is an outcome of a special feature investigating advances in the research on industrial ecology, published in the Proceedings of the US National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and coordinated by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Studies cover topics from the urbanization effects to the material basis of modern societies, fundamental research that informs decision-makers.
04/25/2015 - Cities around the globe need to re-invent themselves if they want to be a safe home for generations to come. Nobel Laureates call upon cities to tackle the dual challenge of population growth and climate change and seize the opportunity to lead the transition to sustainability. National and internationally agreed greenhouse-gas reduction targets need to guide and support local action. The distinguished scientists signed a memorandum this week in Hong Kong at the end of the three-day Nobel Laureates Symposium on Global Sustainability, convened for the first time in Asia. The Symposium was co-hosted by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the Asia Society Hong Kong Center.
23.04.2015 - Nobel Laureates across the world and across disciplines this week are gathering in Hong Kong to elevate the debate on climate change to a new level and to feed into the world climate summit in Paris later this year. For the first time, the Nobel Laureates are meeting in Asia for the symposium, “4C: Changing Climate, Changing Cities”. Cities are key to addressing the challenge of climate change which, if unabated, might result in a 4°C rise in mean temperature by the end of this century. Participants of the symposium include Nobel Prize winners Yuan T. Lee (Chemistry, 1986) from Taiwan, Brian Schmidt (Physics, 2011) from Australia, and James A. Mirrlees from the United Kingdom (Economics, 2006), complemented by international renowned experts such as K.S. Wong, Secretary for the Environment, The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and Aromar Revi of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements.
Climate change in Antarctica: Natural temperature variability underestimated - Cold spell superimposes man-made warming
04/16/2015 - The Antarctic ice sheet is one of the tipping elements in the climate system and hence of vital importance for our planet’s future under man-made climate change. Even a partial melting of the enormous ice masses of Antarctica would raise sea-levels substantially. Therefore it is of utmost importance to provide sound knowledge on the extent of anthropogenic warming of the ice-covered continent. A new analysis by German physicists shows that the uncertainties in the temperature trends over Antarctica are larger than previously estimated. “So far it seemed there were hardly any major natural temperature fluctuations in Antarctica, so almost every rise in temperature was attributed to human influence,” says Armin Bunde of Justus-Liebig-Universität Gießen (JLU). “Global warming as a result of our greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels is a fact. However, the human influence on the warming of West Antarctica is much smaller than previously thought. The warming of East Antarctica up to now can even be explained by natural variability alone.” The results of their study are now published in the journal Climate Dynamics.
03/24/2015 - The senate of the Leibniz Association - an organisation uniting more than 80 scientific institutions - issued a statement on Monday which brings the evaluation of PIK to a successful conclusion. The research results of the institute as a whole were rated “outstanding”. The rating is based on a review carried out by a team of top international researchers, which takes place only once every seven years. The reviewers judged that PIK has developed into a globally leading institute for climate science. As well as its achievements in research, the institute's important role in scientific policy advice was praised.
03/24/2015 - The Atlantic overturning is one of Earth’s most important heat transport systems, pumping warm water northwards and cold water southwards. Also known as the Gulf Stream system, it is responsible for the mild climate in northwestern Europe. Scientists now found evidence for a slowdown of the overturning – multiple lines of observation suggest that in recent decades, the current system has been weaker than ever before in the last century, or even in the last millennium. The gradual but accelerating melting of the Greenland ice-sheet, caused by man-made global warming, is a possible major contributor to the slowdown. Further weakening could impact marine ecosystems and sea level as well as weather systems in the US and Europe.
03/19/2015 - The current El Niño event has been predicted by an international team of scientists more than one year ago – earlier than ever before. This breakthrough in forecasting the most important phenomenon of natural climate variability has been enabled by novel approach of complex networks analysis of atmospheric temperature data from the Pacific. Such forecast can help farmers in Brazil, Australia or India to prepare and for instance seed the right crops. In an unusual move, the scientists had published their unprecedented early warning early on – fully aware of the reputational risks.
03/17/2015 - Although it sounds paradoxical, rising temperatures might result in more snowfall in Antarctica. Each degree of regional warming could increase snowfall on the ice continent by about 5 percent, an international team of scientists led by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research now quantified. Published in the journal Nature Climate Change, their work builds on high-quality ice-core data and fundamental laws of physics captured in global and regional climate model simulations. The results provide a missing link for future projections of Antarctica’s critical contribution to sea-level rise. However, the increase in snowfall will not save Antarctica from losing ice, since a lot of the added ice is transported out into the ocean by its own weight.
03/12/2015 - Storm activity in large parts of the US, Europe and Russia significantly calmed down during summers over the past decades, but this is no good news. The weakening of strong winds associated with the jetstream and weather systems prolongs and hence intensifies heat extremes like the one in Russia in 2010 which caused devastating crop failures and wildfires. This is shown in a study to be published in the renowned journal Science by a team of researchers from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. They link the findings to changes in the Arctic caused by man-made global warming.
02/02/2015 - Clean technology support can to some extent make up for weak CO2 pricing and hence help keep the two degrees target within reach, a new study shows. Even if the world climate summit in Paris later this year is successful in striking a climate deal, it might not bring about sharp greenhouse-gas cuts in the near-term. However, emission targets could be strengthened by complementary policies, such as support for renewables, a ban on new coal-fired power plants, and an initially modest global minimum price on CO2. If such a policy package – each component of which has already been enacted in some countries – were to be put into practice globally now, this could also pave the way for a clean economy with faster long-term CO2 reductions after 2030.
01/16/2015 - Four of nine planetary boundaries have now been crossed as a result of human activity, says an international team of 18 researchers in the journal Science. The four are: climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change, altered biogeochemical cycles. The scientists say that two of these, climate change and biosphere integrity, are “core boundaries” – significantly altering either of these would “drive the Earth System into a new state”. The team will present their findings in seven seminars at the World Economic Forum in Davos (21-25 January).