The effects of our rapidly changing climate are worldwide, hitting the Arctic the hardest
Global warming has often been used interchangeably with climate change. Well, they shouldn’t be, because they do not describe the same thing. Global warming is the main component of climate change, however, climate change is so much more than just the warming of our world. Let me break it down for you.
Climate change, in simple terms, is due to an excess of energy trapped in our atmosphere because of greenhouse gases released by human activity. Now, this energy causes many things to happen. One of the main effects is global warming.
Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, in the 1700s, our world has warmed by roughly 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, which is around 1.3 degrees Celsius. That means we are getting dangerously close to the 1.5 to 2 degree thresholds that climatologists believe would bring us into a new world of extremes…a mark they say will be reached in the next 10 years if we don’t start cutting greenhouse gas emissions rapidly while also finding ways to take out some of the emissions we’ve put in. I’ll have more on this in future Show Me Climate stories.
Each part of the world warms at different speeds, however, the past 5 years have been the hottest since modern records began, and eighteen of the hottest 19 years have occurred since 2001.
The strongest warming is happening in the Arctic during its cool seasons, and its taking a toll on sea ice. 2019 has wobbled back and forth between the lowest and second lowest extents of sea ice, battling with 2012 for the all-time low record. Think about this: when sunlight hits ice, it is reflected back, but when it hits darker ocean waters because the ice it would usually hit has melted, the ocean water gets warmer leading more sea ice melt…it is a dangerous cycle we are currently on. Other notes: Alaskan waters were ice-free this year earlier than any other year and Greenland lost 12 billion tons of sea ice in just one day this July, the highest single-day total since 1950.
Sea ice melt is also a big contributor to sea level rise. In fact, since 1993 the sea level has risen by roughly 94 millimeters, or 3.7 inches. It rises roughly 3.3 millimeters each year. This is due to declining sea ice, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, and decreased snow cover. It can also be attributed to the warming of ocean waters which expands the ocean.
The ocean isn’t only warming, it is also becoming more acidic. The ocean absorbs about a quarter of the CO2 we release into the atmosphere every year. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the ocean is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year, leading to a 30 percent increase in the ocean’s surface water’s acidity since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Coral reefs are being bleached due to these warmer, more acidic waters. Coral reefs are important because they provide a home to over 4,000 species of fish, which generates hundreds of billions of dollars worldwide every year. Coral reefs are also increasingly used to find cures. Many drugs are now being developed from coral reef animals and plants as possible cures for cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, viruses, and other diseases. They also provide protection from larger waves such as from tropical storms.
Our changing climate has also created more extreme weather. I’ll discuss this in my next Show Me Climate story, Thursday on KOMU 8 News at 6. Then, at 10 I’ll be discussing Missouri’s climate outside your window with our state climatologist.
This story is part of SHOW ME CLIMATE, an ongoing KOMU 8 series devoted to ethically explaining climate change without politics using fact-based data to deliver important information about our world and the Show-Me State.