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Climate changing even faster

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An international team of scientists--including a University of Calgary glaciologist--have confirmed the models used to predict global warming trends are accurate.

U of C's Dr. Shaw Marshall and the international team used previous research to create a climate model from 130,000 years ago--the last time the Earth experienced a warming trend comparable to present day. They then applied the data to the present day climatic model and were able to successful recreate the known data from 130,000 years ago.

According to Marshall, the results of the study--which were published in the journal Science this week--gives scientists confidence in the physics they use to predict global warming.

"Given our best estimate, our simulation matched the available data," said Marshall. "It gives us more confidence that these models may have it right. A lot of us don't want it to be true, but if it does play out the way the models play out it will be a lot of change."

The average Earth temperature 130,000 years ago was three to four degrees warmer than present. Boreal forests on the Canadian Shield retreated, and global sea levels were approximately five metres higher than present.

Marshall said we won't see changes of this magnitude right away, but given present trends, noticeable global change will occur within the next century.

"In some parts of the world it's probably positive change--if you talk to most Canadians they're probably happy about a couple of degrees warmer," said Marshall. "But, for the Canadian Inuit, it's a complete change in their way of life."

Marshall added global warming means within the next hundred years farms in Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan will most likely have to move operations north to cooler climates. Likewise, white Christmases could be a thing of the past in Calgary, and winter sport enthusiasts will have to move their skiing from Banff northward to somewhere like Grand Cache.

The impact of global warming extends to more extreme weather patterns around the world, according to Marshall, from droughts and famine in Eastern Africa to more hurricanes--effects which seem unavoidable given our current path.

"The sooner we acknowledge it and turn it around the sooner we can lessen our impact on the environment. The very fabric of the industrial world is based on fossil fuels. It's very much a global problem and it's very deep within our society--it's hard to change industry."

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