Chuck out your thermals: global warming is coming, and it isn't waiting for 2100. A new climate model predicts that by the end of this decade, there is an even chance that global temperatures will be hotter than 1998, the warmest year on record.
The model, developed by scientists at the Met Office in the UK, suggests that the next couple of years will see temperatures stall, but after 2009, the thermostat will go up.
It is the first climate model capable of making useful* short range predictions. The hope is that by thinking of climate change on a more short term basis, the researchers will be able to make useful predictions about likely extreme weather events such as floods and droughts a year or two in advance. This would give governments and other agencies time to prepare.
The model allows researchers to look at the predicted rise in global temperatures for the finer details - the wobbles above and below the steadily increasing trend-line. For example: 1998 was a record breakingly hot year. But it was also an El Nino year, and the effect of that current shifting should be accounted for.
The Decadal Climate Prediction System is based on a well-established model that was used to make predictions about climate over the course of the next century for the IPCC's most recent report.
The boffins have taken into account ocean currents, such as the El Nino system, which they say have more of an influence on weather (vs. climate) in the short term. By including information about the state of the oceans and the atmosphere, the researchers can predict how these naturally shifting phenomena will affect the planet's climate.
So, what is the outlook? For the next two years, we can expect these systems to keep a lid on the heat. Nevertheless, the team said overall temperatures would rise, and the further into the future the model looks, the better the odds of a record breaking year. By 2014, they say global temperatures will be up by a third of a degree.
Dr Doug Smith, a climate scientist at the Hadley Centre and lead author of a paper published in Science, told the BBC: "We start with the present state of the ocean, and we try to predict how it is going to evolve." ®
*Well, predictions whose usefulness is still to be determined, really. But at least we'll be able to test it reasonably soon.