What will the world look like in the year 2100? If we can avoid nuclear winter and robot overlords, then the question is really about climate change. The answers might have to do with global temperatures, sea level rise, ocean acidification, species extinction or collapse, drought, or storm intensity--just to name a few--but the time frame that we have in mind is on the scale of 50-100 years. A lot of the projections look something like this:
These calculations are useful, and scientists can often do them with reasonably high certainty. But this type of graph makes a certain imprint in our minds of what climate change looks like. As a consequence, we often focus on that distant horizon--the year 2100. You often hear about acting on climate change for the benefit of our children or grandchildren.
The problem with that smooth, gradual line is that it misses all of the bumps and wiggles along the way. Those ups and downs are the variance around the line, and they look something like this:
The rapid warming in the Gulf of Maine is an instructive case. Warming over the past decade has been almost 10 times as fast as the background warming rate and faster than 99.9% of the rest of the ocean. We're essentially going through one of those bumps/wiggles on our way to 2100. Rapid warming has turned the ecosystem on its head, an now we're dealing with lots of commercial species struggling to keep a foothold (e.g. Atlantic cod, northern shrimp), and other arrivals showing up in droves (e.g. green crabs).
The Gulf of Maine may be one of the first to go through a bump/wiggle like this, but it won't be the last. In many places around the world, we'll find that the road to 2100 is not a gradual slope, but a roller coaster ride. For those who are thinking about ways to prepare for and adapt to changing climate, take your eyes off the year 2100. Rapid changes that occur over 1-10 year time scales will arrive much sooner, and that is what we'll be forced to respond to.
Again, assuming we can avoid the robot overlords.
Nick Record, signing off