The human impact on Earth's climate is often treated as a hundred-year issue lasting as far into the future as 2100, the year in which most climate projections cease. In The Long Thaw, David Archer, one of the world's leading climatologists, reveals the hard truth that these changes in climate will be "locked in," essentially forever.
If you think that global warming means slightly hotter weather and a modest rise in sea levels that will persist only so long as fossil fuels hold out (or until we decide to stop burning them), think again. In The Long Thaw, David Archer predicts that if we continue to emit carbon dioxide we may eventually cancel the next ice age and raise the oceans by 50 meters. A human-driven, planet-wide thaw has already begun, and will continue to impact Earth's climate and sea level for hundreds of thousands of years. The great ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland may take more than a century to melt, and the overall change in sea level will be one hundred times what is forecast for 2100. By comparing the global warming projection for the next century to natural climate changes of the distant past, and then looking into the future far beyond the usual scientific and political horizon of the year 2100, Archer reveals the hard truths of the long-term climate forecast.
Archer shows how just a few centuries of fossil-fuel use will cause not only a climate storm that will last a few hundred years, but dramatic climate changes that will last thousands. Carbon dioxide emitted today will be a problem for millennia. For the first time, humans have become major players in shaping the long-term climate. In fact, a planetwide thaw driven by humans has already begun. But despite the seriousness of the situation, Archer argues that it is still not too late to avert dangerous climate change--if humans can find a way to cooperate as never before.
Revealing why carbon dioxide may be an even worse gamble in the long run than in the short, this compelling and critically important book brings the best long-term climate science to a general audience for the first time.
With a new preface that discusses recent advances in climate science, and the impact on global warming and climate change, The Long Thaw shows that it is still not too late to avert dangerous climate change-if we can find a way to cooperate as never before.
Winner of the 2009 Walter P. Kistler Award, The Foundation For the Future One of The Australian's Best Books of 2009 Selected to appear on ClimateUnited's Booklist of Top Books on Climate Change "Worried about warming but confused about carbon? Try [The Long Thaw], which tells you nearly everything you need to know with down-to-earth clarity and brevity."--Evan Hadingham, PBS's NOVA blog "Archer ... presents the dire and long-lasting consequences of our fossil-fuel dependency but concludes that it's not too late for us to go a different, better way."--Avital Binshtock, Sierra Club Blog "Archer has perfectly pitched answers to the most basic questions about global warming while providing a sound basis for understanding the complex issues frequently misrepresented by global warming skeptics. With a breezy, conversational style, he breaks complex concepts into everyday analogies. Divided into three parts--the Present, the Past and the Future--Archer provides a complete picture of climate change now, in the past, and what we can expect in years and centuries to come. His models, though conservative, imply that humans won't survive the environmental consequences of severe warming over the next thousand years. While Archer is neither grim nor pessimistic, he is forthright about what's at stake, and what must do to avert catastrophe."--Publishers Weekly "It is comprehensive, well written and includes numerous useful vignettes from climate history. Archer leads the reader to a simple yet accurate picture of climate changes, ranging from geological time scales to current warming, ice ages and prospects for the future."--Susan Solomon, Nature "The Long Thaw is written for anyone who wishes to know what cutting-edge science tells us about the modern issue of global warming and its effects on the pathways of atmospheric chemistry, as well as global and regional temperatures, rainfall, sea level, Arctic sea-ice coverage, melting of the continental ice sheets, cyclonic storm frequency and intensity and ocean acidification. This book will also appeal to scientists who want a clear and unbiased picture of the global-warming problem and how it may progress in the future. It encapsulates Archer's own efforts in the field of climate research, which I found invaluable."--Fred T. Mackenzie, Nature Geoscience "The power of Archer's book is to show that such [climate] changes, which we can bring about through just a few centuries of partying on carbon, can only be matched by the earth itself over vastly longer periods... It's the kind of perspective we need in order to realize how insane we're being."--Chris Mooney, American Prospect "Global climate change is the subject of thousands of books; this short volume is distinctive in multiple ways. Archer is a geophysicist (and a look-alike--except for stubble--for late British actor David Niven), whose scientific background lets him place climate change in the context of its variations in geological history. He points out that the Earth's orbital cycles had poised it to enter a new ice age when human influences began to override natural forces."--F.T. Manheim, Choice "If you think global warming is going to stop in its tracks as soon as our fossil fuel fix runs its course, think again. Intensifying hurricanes, mega-droughts, and the mass extinction of species are just the beginning, says leading climatologist David Archer, renowned in part for his work with the respected blog RealClimate. Though we still have time to avert the worst of climate change, he says, the ramifications of our carbon spewing (think a ten-foot rise in ocean levels) will last well beyond even our grandchildren's years. A good storyteller, Archer walks us through the history of climate change, starting in the 1800s, when the term 'greenhouse effect' first made its way into scientific parlance. Tempering techie speak with accessible analogies, Archer manages in the James Hansen-approved volume to speak to scientists and laymen alike."--Plenty "Notice to climate change deniers: I don't want to hear another word about the Little Ice Age, cosmic rays of the Palaeocene Eocene thermal maximum event 55 million years ago until you've read David Archer's little book. He's a geophysical scientist at the University of Chicago and he knows his stuff. He sets out the latest scientific understanding of climate change through geological time, human time, and beyond. It's the clearest introduction I've seen yet to the complexity of the planet's climate system and how a certain bipedal species may know it gally wonk."--Leigh Dayton, The Australian "The great appeal of this short book lies in Archer's ability to find easily comprehensible analogies and his no-nonsense prose... This is a true rarity. A book about climate change written by an expert everyone can understand."--Sydney Morning Herald, "Pick of the Week" "David Archer has written a highly engaging and accessible review of the scientific bases for anthropogenic global warming and the dilemmas of what, as a global community, we should do next. The text is written for a general audience, reflecting the aims of the Science Essentials series of which it is a part, namely, to bring the findings of cutting-edge scientific research to the public."--Tim Denham, Journal of Archaeological Science "If you have time in your busy schedule to read only one book on climate change and climate science basics, this would be a good choice. Archer, an oceanographer and University of Chicago geosciences professor, has written a conversational, engaging, and short (remember, you are busy) book that covers the last 500 million years or so of the Earth's climate."--Disaster Prevention and Management "David Archer's The Long Thaw ... tells you nearly everything you need to know with down-to-earth clarity and brevity... [R]eading The Long Thaw is sobering and enlightening rather than depressing. It's packed with informative, accessible background on past climate cycles and why they are relevant to assessing today's warming."--Evan Hadingham, Inside NOVA "[T]he ideas expounded in the book are of great importance to the debate on climate change and deserve to be more widely appreciated. Let us hope that Archer's message becomes widely understood and acted upon before we find that we have already committed ourselves to damaging (and potentially irreversible) climate change."--John King, Journal of Polar Record "A beautifully written primer on why climate change matters hugely for our future--on all time scales."--New Scientist "If you have time in your busy schedule to read only one book on climate change and climate science basics, this would be a good choice. Archer, an oceanographer and University of Chicago geosciences professor, has written a conversational, engaging, and short (remember, you're busy) book."--Natural Hazards Observer
Preface to the Princeton Science Library Edition xi Acknowledgments xiiii Prologue. Global Warming in Geologic Time. 1 An overview of the thrust of the book: human-induced climate change in the context of geologic time, in the past and in the future. SECTION I: THE PRESENT Chapter 1. The Greenhouse Effect. 15 Fourier and greenhouse theory Early CO2 measurements Arrhenius and the forecast. Climate science since then. Chapter 2: We've Seen It with Our Own Eyes. 30 Testing the forecast. Impacts already. Chapter 3: Forecast of the Century. 45 A century-timescale climate spike. Temperature, rainfall, sea level, and storms. SECTION II: THE PAST Chapter 4: Millennial Climate Cycles. 57 Abrupt climate transitions, and climate cycles on millennial timescales. The Little Ice Age and the Medieval Optimum climates. Chapter 5: Glacial Climate Cycles. 69 History of their discovery. Ice flows and melts in quirky ways. Orbital forcing and CO2 forcing. 69 Chapter 6: Geologic Climate Cycles. 78 Our ice age is unusual. The Earth is breathing. Chapter 7: The Present in the Bosom of the Past. 91 Climate change so far and in the coming century, compared with deglaciation, abrupt climate change, the Eocene hothouse, the Paleocene/Eocene thermal maximum event, and the K/T boundary. SECTION III: THE FUTURE Chapter 8: The Fate of Fossil Fuel CO2. 101 Reservoirs of carbon, breathing. New carbon from fossil fuels equilibrates with the ocean and the land. Chapter 9: Acidifying the Ocean. 114 CO2 is an acid. CaCO3 is a base. Neutralization takes millennia. CO2 remains higher than natural for hundreds of millennia. Chapter 10: Carbon Cycle Feedbacks. 125 The short-term prognosis. The long-term prognosis. Chapter 11: Sea Level in the Deep Future. 137 If the past is the key to the future, we have the capacity to raise sea level by 50 meters, eventually. Chapter 12: Orbits, CO2 , and the Next Ice Age. 149 Interplay between orbital and CO2 climate forcings. The next ice age is about to be canceled. Epilogue: Carbon Economics and Ethics. 158 What the options are and how we decide. Further Reading 175 Index 179