If emissions of greenhouse gases were stopped, would the climate return to the conditions of 200 years ago?

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Even if greenhouse gas emissions were stopped altogether, climate change adaption strategies would remain important, as it would take thousands of years for the Earth’s surface temperature to return to pre-industrial levels, states a Royal Society guide.

If emissions of greenhouse gases were stopped, would the climate return to the conditions of 200 years ago?

No. Even if emissions of greenhouse gases were to suddenly stop, Earth’s surface temperature would not cool and return to the level in the pre-industrial era for thousands of years.

If emissions of CO2 stopped altogether, it would take many thousands of years for atmospheric CO2 to return to ‘pre-industrial’ levels due to its very slow transfer to the deep ocean and ultimate burial in ocean sediments. Surface temperatures would stay elevated for at least a thousand years, implying extremely long-term commitment to a warmer planet due to past and current emissions, and sea level would likely continue to rise for many centuries even after temperature stopped increasing. Significant cooling would be required to reverse melting of glaciers and the Greenland ice sheet, which formed during past cold climates. The current CO2-induced warming of Earth is therefore essentially irreversible on human timescales. The amount and rate of further warming will depend almost entirely on how much more CO2 humankind emits.

For more information from the Royal Society’s guide click here.

Photo: Greg Goebel via Flickr