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When scientists are researching climate change, one of the markers they pay attention to is the average temperature, across all land and water surfaces, for a given year. Because individual years can be affected by natural variability, scientists look for patterns and draw conclusions by what happens over time.
What they are seeing from this individual marker is dramatic. According to data released by NOAA, NASA, and the United Kingdom in February of 2019, 2014 through 2018 have each been one of the hottest five years on record. In addition to this, nine out of ten of the hottest years on record have occurred since 2005.
More about earth’s temperature rise
Data on average yearly temperature has been reliably collected since the 1880s. According to NOAA, The average temperature for 2018, the most recent year that was fully calculated, was 1.42 degrees Fahrenheit above the average temperature through most of the 20th century. Studies from NASA and the UK show similar trends.
Data connected to forces contributing to global temperature rise are equally dramatic. One of the most notable contributors to global temperature change is CO2 levels in the atmosphere. When measured today and compared with samples taken from arctic ice cores, current levels of CO2 appear to be higher than at any time in the last 650,000 to 800,000 years. To read the data in detail, click here.
Temperature rise leads to glacial melting
One of the most dramatic impacts of the earth’s temperature rise is glacial melting. Glaciers around the world, thousands of years old, are losing tremendous amounts of mass. Even before the warmest five years on record, the ice loss was dramatic. In 2017, the U.S. Geological survey reported that Glacier National Park in Montana lost more than 120 of its glaciers in the last century. Similar impacts are being seen in other places on the planet.
This trend is not expected to improve. As reported here by the European newspaper The Independent, climate models are projecting that Switzerland and Canada will lose 52 and 70 percent of its glacial ice by the year 2100.
Unless it can be abated, the results of glacial melting are expected to be disruptive at best, and catastrophic at worst, to living beings on earth. Already, scientists have seen that flooding and loss of the glaciers as habitat has negatively impacted wildlife hunting, breeding, and living spaces for species living both on land and in the oceans. Human living spaces are also expected to be flooded, and infrastructure destroyed. Lastly, melting glaciers are already being seen to release chemicals into the atmosphere, and uncover viruses and bacteria that contaminate food and water supplies.
Weather changes from temperature rise
Global temperature increases are resulting in changing weather patterns. As temperatures rise, heat waves are lasting longer, warmer areas of the earth are increasing while cooler areas of the earth are shrinking, drought periods are lengthening, and precipitation patterns are changing.
Changing weather patterns are already affecting life on the planet in ways scientists can observe and measure as described by NASA here. Hotter temperatures appear to be leading to longer growing seasons which may affect food production. This trend may also affect the migration patterns of animals that would return to certain geographies sooner if they warm earlier. At the same time, higher temperatures seem to be leading to drier zones and more intense fire seasons.
New patterns of precipitation also appear to be emerging. In the United States, some areas are expected to have increases in precipitation and some decreases. However, there are expected to be periods of heavy precipitation even in areas where overall precipitation may decrease.
Observing impacts to prepare for change
Scientists are encouraging governments and communities to take steps to try to reverse temperature increases. At the same time, they are continuing to closely observe and record what is happening. With this data, if continued trends can’t be changed humans can prepare to meet steep challenges to how we live that will come from global warming’s impact.