Skip directly to content

Speed of Climate Change Outpaces Rates in Past 65 Million Years


According to a study recently completed by researchers at Stanford University, the pace of global climate change is proceeding at a speed ten times faster than anything Earth has experienced in the past 65 million years.


Noah Diffenbaugh and Chris Field, senior fellows at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, conducted a review of the scientific literature focusing on factors in climate change that can impact ecosystems. While ecosystems have responded to significant shifts in climate before, they have never before had to adjust as quickly as the manmade climate change that the globe is experiencing now requires.


"We know from past changes that ecosystems have responded to a few degrees of global temperature change over thousands of years," said Diffenbaugh in an article posted on the Stanford University website. "But the unprecedented trajectory that we're on now is forcing that change to occur over decades. That's orders of magnitude faster, and we're already seeing that some species are challenged by that rate of change."


At the current rate of climate change, many species would have to migrate closer to the poles or higher in the mountains by at least.6 miles per year. While it would be possible for farmers to shift their crops, wild creatures will not fare so well. "Maple trees are not good at moving," Field said in an interview with Scientific American: “You don't have forests moving over long distances very, very fast."


Diffenbaugh and Field also focused their efforts on reviewing more than 20 climate models to predict possible changes in the climate from now until the end of the century. If emissions of greenhouse gasses continue at their current levels, the hottest summer of the past 20 years will start to occur at least every other year by 2046-2065. By the end of the century, the Northern Hemisphere will be 9-11 degrees Fahrenheit warmer, and typically every year will become the hottest summer of the past 20 years.