We’re all aware of climate change’s devastating effects on the Earth’s climate. Whether or not the temperature is due to human activity—although the empirical evidence suggests that it is—the Earth has risen by one degree Celsius globally. While that might not seem like much, it has already caused catastrophic, irreversible damage to the planet.
Abnormal weather patterns have occurred during our planet’s life. Extreme cooling and heating are often cited; however, it is the rate and the amount of CO2 in the air that is causing concern among scientists. Scientists have known about the planet’s changing climate for decades now.
According to studies done by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), the rise in temperature started in the 1880’s—the height of the industrial revolution. Factories began pumping large amounts of toxins and smog into the air heating it up. Two–thirds of the planet’s warming occurred since 1975 with a rising temperature between 0.15 and 0.20 per decade.
A difference of one degree seems minimal. After all, climate shifts happen throughout the day, sometimes with a range of 20 degrees. The difference here is that the global temperature average represents the overall temperature of the planet. Daily changes in climate are mainly due to seasonal patterns, night and day, wind and precipitation or lack thereof.
A five-degree drop in the global temperature was enough to in case most of North America in ice 20,000 years ago.
According to NASA, the global temperature record is determined by the amount of energy the Earth receives from the Sun and how much of that energy is radiated back into space—these quantities incur little deviation over time.
To understand the impact, it is best to put it into perspective. The global temperature increase of one degree is significant because the amount of energy it takes to heat up the oceans, the atmosphere and the land by a fraction of a degree, let alone an entire notch on the Earth’s global thermometer.
For example, a drop in two degrees can plunge the earth into an ice age. A five-degree drop in the global temperature was enough to in case most of North America in ice 20,000 years ago.
In fact in the Arctic, temperatures have increased about two to three degrees Celsius over the past thirty years. Due to that, the coverage of sea–ice, a thin, solid layer of ocean water, has decreased in coverage by about 30 percent. Due to the decrease, more water vapor has evaporated into the atmosphere which can heat up the Earth’s atmosphere.
“Water vapor is another important greenhouse gas that traps heat,” said Jonathon Little, Professor of Geography at MCC. “The increased water vapor results in a positive feedback cycle in which the decrease in sea ice results in more evaporation, trapping more heat, and increased warming and sea ice loss.”
Two–thirds of the planet’s warming occurred since 1975 with a rising temperature between 0.15 and 0.20 per decade.
Sometimes, temperatures can fluctuate and even drop in some regions of the world. Just because the average global temperature has gone up by one degree, that does not mean that certain parts of the world have only gone up by one degree—some areas have seen decreases in temperature with respect to the season.
In Rochester, there was a warm spell in February with record high temperatures. The data on weather in the city goes back to the 1870’s. Little said “the winter in the Northeast US has been warmer than average primarily due to the persistent zonal jet stream pattern that has brought Pacific based air.” Little also pointed out that it was “interesting” that the only weather Rochester has had that resembles winter was mid–December and mid–March.
Little remarked that it is not uncommon for Pacific air this time of year and that this year’s Arctic Air has been “short-lived.”
“Typically we would expect to see a week or two of sustained Canadian/Arctic air. This winter has been dominated by Pacific based air…this may be in response to a warming climate in which we see more extreme precipitation events in the west with changes in the typical jet stream position,” Little said.
Know the difference: “Weather is the short-term changes in the atmosphere that happen on an hour to hour or day to day basis. Climate is the long-term atmospheric conditions over 30 years or more,” explains Jonathon Little.
When discussing climate across the planet, many remark the fact that some parts of the Earth have gotten colder.
“Warming in one part of Earth and cooling in another is what we might expect as Earth’s atmosphere tries to balance the global temperature,” said Little. “This may be caused by changes in the ocean’s sea surface temperature and the average jet stream pattern, amongst other things.”
Due to fossil fuel use increasing in the post WWII era, scientists remain concerned about the Earth’s climate. Unlike aerosols, which have been limited due to regulation, fossil fuels remain in the atmosphere, which cause it to heat up. To learn more about the Earth’s climate, go to earthobservatory.nasa.gov.