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Climate change could be a lot worse than we first thought...

New research from scientists, including some from Maynooth University, suggests temperatures may have risen higher than was previously feared.

shutterstock_122042254 (1) Source: Shutterstock/lexaarts

THE PHENOMENON OF global warming may be worse than previously thought according to research published by a team of international scientists, including some from Maynooth University (formerly NUI Maynooth).

The study states that the base line used to estimate the temperature rise being seen as a result of climate change is inaccurate.

Writing in the Bulletin of the American Meterological Society, the team of researchers suggest that the pre-industrial period, the time period used by means of comparison against modern day temperatures, is inaccurate.

That pre-industrial period, the zero by which our current temperatures are benchmarked, is loosely defined as in the region of 1850 onwards.

The new study posits that a more accurate definition of when industrialisation began globally would be between 1720 and 1800, although it acknowledges that there is “no perfect period” to be labelled as such.

Professor of Physical Geography at Maynooth University Peter Thorne, one of the researchers credited on the new paper, says that “rather surprisingly, we have spent over two decades negotiating climate change pacts about limiting emissions by comparison with an era that was never properly defined or quantified”.

“Industrialisation in reality kicked off with the invention of the steam engine in the 1700s and the move to burning of fossil fuels in the late 1700s and certainly early 1800s,” he says.

But we didn’t have measurements then. We didn’t have reasonable measurements until the 1850s.

Using a system of pattern-matching of early instrumental records from the Netherlands, UK, and central Europe, the researchers have succeeded in mapping those early records onto the global average and thus used them for climate models.

In layman’s terms? We may have been mapping the rise in global temperatures against the wrong time period.

“That could be anywhere up to 0.3 degrees warmer than we thought,” says Thorne.

The Paris accords of 2015 placed a target of 2 degrees in temperature increases as the ceiling for climate change – that is, the aim is to keep global warming well below that level, and ideally no greater than 1.5 degrees. Now, it seems we may be a lot closer to the upper limit than previously expected.

“At this stage it makes sense to benchmark against the most recent period,” says Thorne.

In the last 20-30 years we have thousands of measurements. We have a much better idea of what is happening and where we stand.

Whereas fundamentally we will never know what the pre-industrial period really is.

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