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Window to Reduce Carbon Emissions Grows Smaller as Sea Levels Rise

First Posted: Feb 12, 2016 07:01 PM EST

Our window to reduce carbon emissions is smaller than you might think. Scientists have found that at the rate humans are emitting carbon into the atmosphere, Earth may suffer irreparable damage that could last tens of thousands of years.

"Much of the carbon we are putting in the air from burning fossil fuels will stay there for thousands of years-and some of it will be there for more than 100,000 years," said Peter Clark, one of the researchers, in a news release. "People need to understand that the effects of climate change on the planet won't go away, at least not for thousands of generations."

Sea level rise is one of the most compelling impacts of global warming. However, its effects are just starting to be seen. The latest IPCC report calls for sea level rise of just one meter by the year 2100. In this latest analysis, the scientists looked at four different sea level-rise scenarios based on different rates of warming, from a low end to a higher rate.

With just two degrees Celsius warming in the low end scenario, sea levels will rise about 25 meters. With seven degrees at the high-end scenario, the rise is estimated at 50 meters.

"It takes sea level rise a very long time to react-on the order of centuries," said Clark. "It's like heating a pot of water on the stove; it doesn't boil for quite a while after the heat is turned on-but then it will continue to boil as long as the heat persists. Once carbon is in the atmosphere, it will stay there for tens or hundreds of thousands of years, and the warming, as well as the higher seas, will remain."

The findings reveal that when it comes to reducing emissions, it's crucial to do so quickly. Otherwise, we're liable to continue to have a massive amount of emissions in the atmosphere now and into the future.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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