Forget about cooling down — according to a new scientific forecast, the years-long warm streak we’ve been enduring is likely to continue until at least 2022.
Published in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday, the forecast predicts the next five years to be “anomalously warm,” with an increased likelihood of extreme surface and ocean temperatures.
Using data from 10 existing climate change models, the scientists behind the study said the anticipated warming is beyond what would be expected from man-made global warming alone. Instead, the change would come from what’s known as the climate’s “internal variability,” which is influenced by natural factors such as the oscillation of the Earth’s oceans.
These internal factors have been pinpointed as the cause of the so-called global warming “hiatus” in the 2000s — when surface temperatures did not rise significantly even though the underlying climate warming trend continued.
“What we found is that for the next five years or so, there is a high likelihood of an anomalously warm climate compared to anomalously cold,” as was witnessed during the “hiatus,” study co-author and oceanographer Florian Sevellec told The Washington Post.
What this may mean in reality is a continuation of a years-long hot spell. The past four years have been the warmest on record, according to NASA, with 2016 earning the scorching distinction of being the warmest year ever recorded.
It remains unclear whether the next five years will also rank among the warmest ever. As the scientists behind the latest forecast stressed, their research is purely statistical and based on probability.
The study concluded that there’s a 58 percent chance that the Earth’s surface temperature will be exceptionally warm between 2018 and 2022. There’s an even higher chance ― 69 percent ― that the oceans will experience anomalous warming over that time period. The scientists said there’s also a “dramatic increase [in likelihood] of up to 400 percent” that the oceans will experience “extreme warm events” over the next five years.
Such extreme heat could have a devastating effect on marine life including coral reefs, which have already suffered mass die-offs in recent years because of warming waters.
Climate experts who were not involved in the study have been divided in their assessment of the new forecast.
Some, like Gabi Hegerl, professor of climate system science at the University of Edinburgh, said the study authors had done a “skillful” job at creating a potentially useful climate forecasting model.
“The authors have tried to predict whether global climate variability will make the next years warmer or cooler overall than the mean warming trend. They have skilfully used worldwide climate model data for previous years to calculate probabilities for the next few years,” Hegerl told the BBC.
“The findings suggest it’s more likely we’ll get warmer years than expected in the next few years,” she added.
Others, however, warned of the model’s limitations.
Speaking to the Post, Gavin Schmidt, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, pointed out that the warming effect predicted is fairly small. He also stressed that when it comes to climate, “it’s the long-term trends that matter” and not the relatively minute changes from year to year.