The world's climate is changing 10 times faster than at any other point in the past 65 million years, Stanford climate scientists Noah Diffenbaugh and Chris Field have found in a new study published in Science.
If climate change continues at this pace, temperatures will jump 5 to 6 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, placing ecosystems and species around the world under severe strain and forcing them into a struggle for survival, the researchers find.
The study—a review of scientific literature on climate change—shows that the world is not only going through one of the greatest climate shifts in the past 65 million years but is hurtling towards this warming at a troubling speed.
"We know from past changes that ecosystems have responded to a few degrees of global temperature change over thousands of years," Noah Diffenbaugh, an associate professor of environmental Earth system science, told Stanford News. "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."
The alarming study comes as international climate scientists reveal in a new article also in Science that climate change is already having an impact on the spread of infectious diseases across the world, in most cases resulting in an "increase of disease and parasitism," University of Georgia Professor Sonia Altizer, lead author of the study, told Sustainable UGA.
As global warming changes ecosystems across the world, disease hosts, as well as parasites, undergo changes as well. For example, as temperatures climb in the Arctic, parasites develop more quickly. Such changes allow certain species, including a type of lungworm that feeds on muskoxen, to spread more quickly over longer periods during the summer season, leading to greater infection rates for their hosts.