WASHINGTON (AP) Scientists said yesterday the earth”s gradual warming from pollutants in the atmosphere could someday trigger climate changes so abrupt that people and ecosystems may have trouble adapting.

A report by the National Research Council likened the climatic effect of global warming to increasing pressure from a finger flipping on a light switch. Over time, regional climates have changed by as much as 18 degrees Fahrenheit in just 10 years, researchers said.

Expected future warming also might bring “short-lived or local coolings, floods or droughts, and other unexpected changes,” said the report”s lead author, Richard B. Alley, a Pennsylvania State University geosciences professor.

Carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels is the most prevalent of the so-called greenhouse gases, whose growing concentration in the atmosphere is thought to be warming the earth. Many scientists have said they believe the warming, if not stopped, will cause severe climate changes over the next century.

Yesterday”s report said people should neither be fatalistic nor complacent about climate change risks.

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