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February 16, 2009 08:55PM
http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25057996-2703,00.html

Warming 'much more rapid' than climate panel predicted

DIRE warnings of future devastation sparked by global warming have not been dire enough, climate scientists warn.

Just over a year ago, the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report warning of rising sea levels, expanding deserts, more intense storms and extinction of up to 30 per cent of plant and animal species.

But recent studies suggested the report significantly underestimated the potential severity of global warming over the next 100 years, a senior member of the panel warned yesterday.

"We are basically looking now at a future climate that is beyond anything that we've considered seriously in climate policy," said Chris Field, a co-ordinating lead author of the report.

Fresh data showed that greenhouse gas emissions had grown by an average of 3.5 per cent a year from 2000 to 2007, Professor Field said at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

That was "far more rapid than we expected" and more than three times the 0.9 per cent growth rate in the 1990s, he said.

Professor Field, of Stanford University, said it appeared that most the growth was "because developing countries like China and India saw a huge upsurge in electric power generation, almost all of it based on coal".

Complicating the problem was that higher temperatures could thaw the Arctic tundra, releasing nitrous oxide, which was 300 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Professor Field said the new estimate of the total amount of carbon frozen in permafrost soils was about 1000 billion tonnes.

The amount of CO2 released through burning fossil fuels since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution more than 200 years ago is about 350 billion tonnes.

Recent studies have shown that global warming is reducing the ocean's ability to absorb carbon by altering wind patterns in the Southern Ocean. Faster winds blow surface water away, causing water with higher concentrations of carbon dioxide to rise to the surface.
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