Researchers discover rate of ancient climate change varied by latitudes

Benroy Chan

UT researchers discovered climate change occurs much more rapidly at northern latitudes as opposed to equatorial latitudes, according to a UT press release.

The discovery, made by researchers at the UT Institute for Geophysics, found that the Younger Dryas, an abrupt cooling period from over 12,000 years ago, could lead to future understanding on how to deal with climate change issues. The researchers focused on Greenland as a high latitude region and the Philippines as a low latitude region, according to the release.

In the context of long time periods, climate change is considered abrupt when occurring during an average human’s lifespan, said Jud Partin, research associate in the Jackson School of Geosciences and leader of the study. Northern latitudes experience climate change more rapidly, and these fast changes warn of gradual changes that will later impact the rest of the world, according to the report.

Partin said that falling temperatures aren’t the only problem related to climate change. Decreasing rainfall significantly impacts crops.
“The Earth is capable of a lot of changes all on its own without humans causing anything,” Partin said.

The presence of sea ice is what causes the difference in rates of climate change between Greenland and the Philippines, according to Yuko Okumura, research associate in the Jackson School of Geosciences and co-author of the study.

Greenland exists in an area with a lot of sea ice, whereas the Philippines does not.

Okumura said sea ice is an insulator between the ocean and the atmosphere. The ocean has the capacity to store up to 1,000 times the amount of heat compared to the atmosphere, and the sea ice present south of Greenland during the Younger Dryas likely insulated the atmosphere from oceanic heat, leading to drastic cooling, according to Okumura.

“It is important to develop an early warning system for future abrupt climate change, and our research suggests that we may observe faster, larger climate change in the high latitude regions than in the low latitude regions,” Okumura said.

Social work freshman Traquana Smith said she was amazed that scientists can make discoveries based on data that is so old.

“People from 12,000 years ago couldn’t have analyzed data like this, and it really shows how much science has evolved,” Smith said.
Partin said delayed action could slow the process to reverse effects.

“In general, there is always a lot of doom and gloom out there,” Partin said. “If you see a Hollywood movie, they’re going to want to dwell on it instead of the possibilities of recovery. It’s like a double-edged sword: If the temperatures in Greenland drop rapidly, it’s going to take a while for it to impact our world. If we wait too long to address the problem, it will take that much longer for conditions to return.”