"Discussing my work with policy makers, practitioners, family and friends, I always found it much easier to explain climate change impacts using climate analogues," Marc Metzger of the University of Edinburgh, UK, told environmentalresearchweb. "The raw information is often quite abstract, and it can be difficult to interpret what these numbers entail and how the results will affect our lives."

To highlight the impact of changes in climate more readily, Metzger and his colleagues at the University of Edinburgh and the Euro-Mediterranean Centre on Climate Change in Italy came up with a framework dubbed bioclimate stratification. The process involved dividing the world’s climate into a series of 125 homogeneous zones, which are then grouped into 18 environmental categories ranging from "Arctic" through to "Extremely hot and moist".

Feeding the results of 63 IPCC climate scenarios into the framework, the group observed that warmer environments generally replaced cooler ones and the amount of area classified as "Extremely hot and xeric" looked set to almost double by 2050. Put another way, much more of the planet will feel like the hottest parts of the Sahara Desert, according to climate predictions.

"Early results have already been used to understand vegetation shifts in the Himalayas, and climate change impacts on biodiversity and rubber production in Yunnan, China," said Metzger.

The team hopes that bioclimate stratification will provide further insight into the consequences of climate change, with new datasets and more efficient computers and software allowing the scientists to refine their analysis.

"We developed a mathematical function that can translate the future climate scenarios into the 125 classes," Metzger explained.

Comparing baseline data with predictions for 2050, the researchers point out that environmental zones generally shift poleward, noting that the Arctic is invaded by wetter zones, and areas between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn become warmer.

The group describes its approach as a practical middle ground – conveniently summarizing current knowledge, but retaining the interpretation advantages of categorical data.

Metzger and colleagues reported their work in Environmental Research Letters (ERL).

Related links

Related stories