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July 26, 2013

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Runaway greenhouse effect possible but difficult

It may be easier to trigger a runaway greenhouse effect on Earth than initially thought, a study led by a University of Victoria researcher shows. 

The runaway greenhouse effect happens when a planet absorbs more energy from the Sun than it can radiate back into space. If a planet absorbs more energy than it can emit, it will heat uncontrollably and evaporate all of the oceans – the runaway greenhouse effect. Previously, it was thought that this would require more energy from the Sun than Earth receives. This study shows that it can happen, in theory, with the amount of solar energy that Earth now receives. 

The study by Colin Goldblatt, an assistant professor in UVic’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, is the most complete look at the runaway greenhouse effect in 25 years. It is published in Nature Geoscience, a monthly multi-disciplinary journal that brings together top-quality research across the entire spectrum of the Earth sciences.  

 “What we’ve shown here is that a runaway greenhouse atmosphere that would sterilize the planet is actually possible for Earth, with the amount of sunlight it receives now,” says Goldblatt. “Fortunately, it would need 10 times more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to trigger this than burning all of Earth’s fossil fuels – every bit of coal, oil and gas that exists - would give.” 

NOTE: The study is embargoed until 10 a.m. Sunday, July 28, Pacific time. 

The study can be accessed at: 

http://www.uvic.ca/assets2012/docs/pdfs/hidden/ngeo1892-aop.pdf (please copy and paste the link into your browser).

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  Media Contacts:

Colin Goldblatt (School of Earth and Ocean Sciences) at 250-472-4060 or czg@uvic.ca

Kim Westad (UVic Communications) at 250-721-7641 or ucommr@uvic.ca 

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