Earth Week 2016: WXshift & Climate Central’s climate change indicators

Day three in the Earth Week 2016 series. Read day one and day two here.

So many things indicate that this planet is changing — from rapidly acidifying oceans to extreme weather — but it all can be boiled down to the greenhouse gas emissions we humans have emitted into the atmosphere.

Here’s how we know the climate is changing, thanks to my very own WXshift and Climate Central‘s indicators of a warming climate:

In the ocean:

Ocean acidification is getting worse. We’re currently in the midst of the largest coral bleaching event on record, which is killing corals across the globe.

2_23_16_Brian_SamoaBleachingResize
Airport Reef in American Samoa at the height of a bleaching event in February 2016. Credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey

Ocean acidification occurs when CO2 emitted into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels reacts with salt water from the ocean and forms an acid.

Acidic oceans aren’t just bad for corals — at the bottom of the food chain, plankton have trouble adapting to warming and acidifying seas, which can cause an ecological collapse, which would severely alter the ocean’s food web and how we humans get our seafood.

Arctic sea ice is disappearing over time. A warming Arctic poses problems for polar bears hunting for food, as you may have heard, but it also has an important feedback role in global warming. Because sea ice is much more reflective than the dark ocean (because it’s white), it usually reflects sunlight away from the planet. When the ice melts, the sunlight is absorbed into the ocean, increasing warming. You can see Arctic ice melt in the video below.



Sea level rise is accelerating
As explained by WXshift:

Rising temperatures are causing global sea levels to rise through two primary mechanisms. Water expands as it warms and this thermal expansion causes water levels to rise. Hotter temperatures are also melting land ice, like glaciers and polar ice caps, which adds more water to the ocean.

The rate of sea level rise may increase even faster in the future with the melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet. Global cities and icons (including those in the U.S.) will be inundated with coastal flooding when the seas rise. See more sea level rise maps here.

El Niño causes a swing in global temps (and extreme weather, among other things)

El Niño is a stretch of unusually warm water that forms off the coast of Peru and stretches across the equatorial Pacific every 3-7 years. The opposite phase, La Niña, displays a similar pattern but with cooler-than-normal water. These oceanic shifts conspire with the atmosphere to alter global weather by increasing the odds of drought, heavy rain and cool or hot temperatures in different parts of the world.

El Niño also contributes to record heat, as seen in this graph below.

WXshift_climateindicators_elnino

On land:

U.S. wildfires are burning longer (and more frequently). The main cause of the increase in large wildfires in the Western U.S. is because of snowpack decline — because there is less snow, the area is more dry, and therefore more susceptible to going up in flames.

westernwildfires_wxshift

An increase in wildfires also decreases air quality, a serious health consequence.

Land ice is melting Arctic sea ice isn’t the only ice on the decline. Land ice, including glaciers and polar ice caps, is trending down across the globe, the melt of which contributes to sea level rise.

greenlandantarctic_icesheets_wxshift

As with Arctic sea ice, land ice is reflective, so the more the better to reflect sunlight away from Earth.

Snow cover is decreasingWhen white snow disappears because the global temperature has risen, less sunlight is reflected off the planet, similar to what is happening with Arctic sea ice. In the Northern Hemisphere, snowpack has plummeted, which is not only a bummer for skiers, but for people who drink water (i.e. EVERYONE). Snowpack, especially in western states, provides runoff water that fills water tables and aquifers.

WXshift_climateindicators_snowcover

In the atmosphere:

Carbon dioxide is on the riseCarbon dioxide, the pollutant we emit into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels (and the primary greenhouse gas driving climate change), is on the rise. This chart says it all.

WXshift_climateindicators_co2

The global temperature is rising, tooThe rise in CO2 (see above) sets off many other climate indicators — in fact, it contributes to all of them, including the global temperature. Because of increased CO2 in the atmosphere, heat gets trapped, driving up global temperatures.

globaltemps_wxshift

Extreme heat events are on the rise because of the rise in global temps. 

“The lasting legacy of climate change will be heat. The land, the oceans, all of it. It’s the tie that binds and while the global average temperature is the defining metric, the increasing incidence of heat waves and longer lasting extreme heat is how the world will experience it.” – Climate Central

Extreme heat events can cause death, and are likely to increase in the future, but it’s the humidity and heat combo that’s really killer.

Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 1.36.25 AM
Check out this interactive (click-through) to see how hot and humid your city will get by 2054.

And there you have it! Ten indicators of a warming world. The takeaway from this is how everything is connected. A warming globe decreases snowpack, which increases the risk of wildfires. More CO2 in the atmosphere leads to more CO2 in the oceans, which melts sea ice and increases ocean acidity.

Everything in this world is connected, which is an important concept to learn when thinking about climate change impacts.

View the whole Earth Week Series here.

 

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