Welcome to hell.
Greenhouse of Usher
For the first time, a team of researchers has simulated what would happen if trapped greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere trigger a snowball effect, causing a dramatic rise in the planet's temperature.
And the results are ugly: "an almost-unstoppable and very complicated to reverse runaway greenhouse effect," according to a statement, which would quickly make our home "as inhospitable as Venus," with temperatures shooting up by hundreds of degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of a few hundred years.
As detailed in a new paper published in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, the team from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) studied what would happen if the greenhouse effect were trapped inside the Earth's atmosphere as if under an emergency thermal blanket.
If the effect were to rise too much, the amount of water vapor from evaporating oceans could be lethal.
"There is a critical threshold for this amount of water vapor, beyond which the planet cannot cool down anymore," said main author and UNIGE postdoctoral researcher Guillaume Chaverot in the statement. "From there, everything gets carried away until the oceans end up getting fully evaporated and the temperature reaches several hundred degrees."
The researchers took the concept of a runaway greenhouse effect to its natural — and hellish — conclusion.
"It is the first time a team has studied the transition itself with a 3D global climate model, and has checked how the climate and the atmosphere evolve during that process," said coauthor and CNRS researcher Martin Turbet.
According to Chaverot, the "structure of the atmosphere is deeply altered," with "very dense clouds developing in the high atmosphere."
Besides painting an alarming picture of our planet's future, the researchers say their study could also shed light on how to hunt for alien life in exoplanetary systems. For instance, their observed "fingerprint" of cloud patterns could be detectable in observations of exoplanets with atmospheres.
As far as the Earth is concerned, however, the situation looks dire. If 33 feet of the ocean's surface would evaporate, the researchers calculate that the atmospheric pressure would increase by 1 bar at ground level.
"In just a few hundred years, we would reach a ground temperature of over [932 degrees Fahrenheit]," Chaverot explained in the statement. "Later, we would even reach 273 bars of surface pressure and over [2732 degrees Fahrenheit], when all of the oceans would end up totally evaporated."
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