While Earth’s climate has undergone dramatic climate changes throughout its long history, the current warming trend is proceeding at a rate not experienced in the last 1,300 years. Global temperature data has been consistently collected since 1880. The last eleven years rank among the twelve warmest years on record. NASA has used satellites to study the effects of climate change for decades and has come to some startling conclusions.
Since the mid-19th century, fossil fuels have contributed to a 25 percent increase of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere. Fossil fuels burned to generate electricity and to provide transportation power release carbon dioxide (CO2), a gas that acts like a blanket, trapping heat in the planet’s atmosphere. Fossil fuels also emit nitrous oxide and methane.
Deforestation also contributes significantly to climate change. The practice of burning forests to make agricultural land available releases CO2 into the atmosphere. Deforestation means there are fewer plants available to absorb CO2 as well.
Rising Sea Levels
The world’s oceans absorb much of the extra heat, resulting in rising sea levels. Sea levels are now rising at a rate that is double nearly double the rate experienced over the last century. The acidic levels of ocean water has increased 30 percent since the mid-19th century, altering sea environments and threatening aquatic life. Recent reports warn that rising sea levels can increase the severity of storms and hurricanes as well.
NASA reports that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have substantially decreased in mass and that Arctic sea ice is declining at a rapid rate as well. From the Rockies to the Himalayas, glaciers around the world are retreating to never-before-seen levels. As glaciers melt, not only is the water supply for millions of people threatened, but the risk of catastrophic floods and mud slides is significantly increased.
Addressing climate change demands a variety of solutions, from reducing global dependence of fossil fuel to increasing the energy-efficiency of homes, business and automobiles. Failing to act will result in shifts in weather that will negatively impact Earth’s population.