Half of Earth's Surface to Enter New Climate Zones by 2100


| LAST UPDATE 05/10/2023

By Stanley Wickens
Earth climate change zones
Roberto Machado Noa via Getty Images

A new study shows that by 2100, almost half of the planet's surface area is expected to enter new climate zones. The changes in temperature and precipitation could alter climes on a local level so drastically that we would need to redraw maps first conceived in the 1880s...

Climate models predict that close to 50% of Earth's land area could be thrust into unfamiliar climate zones. These shifts become more pronounced with the latest generation of climate models which are more sensitive to changes in climate and predict steeper rates of global warming. The Köppen-Geiger climate classification maps, used to classify the world into five climate zones based on temperature, precipitation, and seasons, have been updated numerous times since their conception by German-Russian climatologist Wladimir Köppen in 1884. The shifts in climate zones projected in the study are a spectrum of possibilities since simulating some climate variables such as rainfall is harder than others such as temperature. If we don't act soon to cut emissions, rates of global warming will continue to accelerate as the decades tick by. This suggests that vulnerable species and agricultural practices might have less time to adapt to changes in climate zones than previously projected.

hurricane Earth climate change
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Based on the analysis, tropical climates are expected to expand from 23% to 25% by 2100. Likewise, more of Earth's land surface is projected to become arid, up to roughly 34%. These changes could rock food production systems and push mosquito-borne diseases into new areas. The greatest shifts towards new climates are expected in the cold climate zones of Europe and North America. Up to 89% of Europe and close to 66% of North America could slide into a different climate zone by 2100. People living in other regions such as Africa will still feel the heat of climate change, within the bounds of their current climate zone, and in the form of extreme weather events.

The most dramatic change will be in the polar zone, which covered nearly 8% of our planet's land area between 1901 and 1930 and has already shrunk to 6.5% with just under 1.2°C (2.2°F) of global warming Earth has experienced so far. The study findings capture just how much our planet has already changed since the beginning of the 20th century. Earth has already experienced 14.77% of its land area changing its climate classification, with the most extensive changes observed over North America, Europe, and Oceania. These findings show that our planet is changing fast, but it's not too late to save it. The sooner we cut emissions, the more time we give vulnerable species and agricultural practices to adapt to changes in climate zones. As the researchers warn, "The window of opportunity is closing."

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