The climate record for the past 100,000 years clearly indicates that the climate system has undergone frequent - and often extreme - shifts over periods of less than 50 years. The exact causes of abrupt climate changes have not been clearly established, but the triggering of events is likely to be the result of multiple natural processes. A recurrence of the same type of abrupt climate change would have far-reaching implications for human society and ecosystems, including major impacts on energy consumption and water supply demands. Could such a change happen again? Are human activities exacerbating the likelihood of abrupt climate change? What are the likely societal consequences of such a change? "The Science and Policy Implications of Abrupt Climate Change" looks at the current scientific evidence and theoretical understanding to describe what is currently known about abrupt climate change, including likely patterns and magnitudes, mechanisms and probability of occurrence. It identifies critical knowledge gaps concerning the potential for future abrupt changes, including those aspects of change most important to society and economies, and outlines a research strategy to close those gaps.
Committee on Abrupt Climate Change, National Research Council