John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Hotter, wetter weather and new droughts are shown in this weirdly undulating simulation of Earth's atmosphere.
Over the coming decades, sweaty punches of warm air will swoop low into North America, melting snow in the Rockies and Canada and severely reducing the earth's albedo – precious shiny surfaces (snow and ice) that deflect the sun's heat back into space. Without them, the air could turn as balmy and uncomfortable as the interior of a Texas outhouse.
Meanwhile, eastern Africa will be deluged with monstrous rainstorms, some 100 percent wetter than today's tempests, and the Mediterranean will dry out like an unwatered fig on the vine.
These are a few scenarios of how the world's climate will change through the rest of the 21st century, according to recently released data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The so-called "Summary for Policymakers," the first publicly debuted item from the much-anticipated 2013 IPCC report, sums up the various ways in which the weather of the future could be vastly different and harmful than current conditions. But that document contains a lot of words 'n' stuff, so for people who prefer a visual primer there's this wonderful simulation whipped up by the modeling prodigies at the NASA's Center for Climate Simulation and its Scientific Visualization Studio.
A narrator does a good job explaining what the undulating colors imply for future generations, but to boil it down: the darker the red the more punishing the heat, and blue patches represent shifting and intensifying patterns of rainfall. The northern hemisphere is primed to get the worst of the hotter temperatures. North America's rain distribution will likely transform to heavier moisture in the north and more-parched lands to the south.
Explains the space agency:
For the IPCC's Physical Science Basis and Summary for Policymakers reports, scientists referenced an international climate modeling effort to study how the Earth might respond to four different scenarios of how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases would be emitted into the atmosphere throughout the 21st century....
To produce visualizations that show temperature and precipitation changes similar to those included in the IPCC report, the NASA Center for Climate Simulation calculated mean model results for each of the four emissions scenarios. The final products are visual representations how much temperature and precipitation patterns would change through 2100 compared to the historical average from the end of the 20th century. The changes shown compare the model projections to the average temperature and precipitation benchmarks observed from 1971-2000. This baseline is different from the IPCC report, which uses a 1986-2005 baseline. Because the reference period from 1986-2005 was slightly warmer than 1971-2000, the visualizations are slightly different than those in the report, even though the same model data is used.
Have a look, and if you want a version for your desktop there are various-quality ones available for download: