UNCW Geologist Part of International Study on Global Climate Change

Dr. Paul J. Hearty working with children in South Africa

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Paul J. Hearty, research associate professor in the UNCW Department of Environmental Studies, was among a team of international researchers participating in a study on global climate change. Led by James Hansen, former director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the findings reveal how the consequences of 2°C global warming by 2100 have been severely underestimated and present urgent strategies of emission reduction to achieve a more sustainable 1°C warming target.

The study, published on Dec. 3 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, presents an assessment based mainly on observations of present and past climates. The team evaluated internationally discussed global warming targets versus trends in potential and currently developing fossil fuel exploitation.

Hearty’s research over the past decades has documented rapid changes in sea level during past interglacial periods from geological exposures around the globe. “The forecast for the oceans is not promising,” says Hearty. “Geological evidence shows conclusively that significant polar ice melting events occurred during past slightly warmer periods of 1-2 °C, yielding sea-level rises of several meters.” 

The authors also discuss why letting the targets “slip” would cause impacts that are irreversible on timescales of less 1,000 years. The study concludes with a brief consideration of the economical, humanitarian and legal implications of the current choice between ignoring the evidence or developing suitable action.