Global warming and climate change are not new phrases. Most people hear these terms a lot, but what exactly do they mean? How are humans affecting climate change, and how does it actually affect you?
Greenhouse gases are being released into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate. Oceans have absorbed more than 90 percent of the heat from these gases, but they are beginning to feel the effects. Earth’s oceans are warmer now than they have been at any point before—that is, any point in which humans were tracking the temperatures.
Because the oceans are absorbing over 90 percent of the heat from greenhouse gases, they are slowing down the overall warming of the atmosphere. While this may seem like a good thing, it isn’t that simple.
The oceans absorbing all of this heat is causing a lot of unwelcome changes to the planet. Even a small increase in ocean temperatures can cause more intense waves. Warmer water also increases the intensity of storms, maximizing the negative effects of tropical storms, such as hurricanes. 1
The warming of the oceans has also caused mass coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. An entire 30 percent of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef died in 2016, and another 20 percent in 2017. 2 With this much destruction, it will be very difficult for the reef to recover.
Meanwhile, in Antarctica, the warming of the ocean has caused ice to melt approximately six times faster than it did in the 1980s. 3
If all of the heat that the ocean has absorbed since 1955 was suddenly released into the atmosphere, the overall global temperature would rise by more than 60 degrees. While the oceans are keeping humans from feeling the effects of climate change all at once, the heat isn’t simply disappearing.Now, remember that if you want to continue to enjoy these natural areas for years to come, some changes need to be made.
What Are the Effects of Climate Change?
Since 1906, the average surface temperature of the earth has increased by more than 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit. While this may not seem like a significant change, the effects are being seen even today. The extra heat is melting glaciers, changing weather patterns, and causing sea levels to rise.
Climate change refers to rising temperatures, but it also encompasses the shifting of wildlife populations and habitats, extreme weather patterns, and other changes.
As a consequence of climate change, ice is melting across the world, including sheets of ice at the earth’s poles and even glaciers in places such as Glacier National Park. In 1910, Glacier National Park had more than 150 glaciers. Now, this number has declined to less than 30. Melting of ice is negatively affecting species that rely on these habitats, such as the Adelie penguin in Antarctica. Some populations of this type of penguin have decreased by more than 90 percent.
As temperatures rise, many species are forced to find new habitats. Many plants and animals that rely on cooler temperatures are forced to move further north or face extinction. On average, both rain and snowfall levels have increased across the planet. Yet, on the other hand, some areas are experiencing extreme levels of drought. This increases the risk of wildfires, reduces the amount of fertile land, and causes shortages of drinking water.
While many species are facing endangerment, others are thriving. However, the ones that are thriving are often dangerous to the environment or to humans. The populations of mosquitoes, ticks, and other pests are rapidly growing, increasing the number of diseases that are passed from these insects to humans such as malaria and the Zika virus. 4
Are Oceans Levels Rising?
One of the main effects of climate change is the rise in sea levels. Sea levels are rising at a rate of approximately 3.2 mm per year, a faster rate than at any other time recorded. Average sea levels have risen over 8 inches since 1880, yet 3 of those inches were gained over the last 25 years. It is estimated that sea levels are expected to rise between 10 and 32 inches by the end of the century.
The rise of ocean levels is primarily due to three factors: loss of ice sheets, melting glaciers, and thermal expansion. The increase in the overall global temperature is causing ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica to melt quicker than ever before. The water caused by melting ice sheets enters the sea and slowly causes sea levels to rise.
The same is true for melting glaciers. In the past, glaciers naturally melted a little in the summer and were replaced by snowfall in the winter. Because of the rise in temperature, glaciers are melting at a higher-than-average rate. All of this water gradually makes its way into the ocean, causing levels to rise.
When water is heated, it naturally expands. It is thought that approximately half of sea level rise in the past 25 years is due to the increase in temperature of the oceans. 5
How Do Rising Sea Levels Affect Humans?
As sea levels continue to rise, they begin to have negative effects on coastal cities and habitats. Wetlands begin to flood, erosion increases, and agricultural soil gets contaminated with salt. Animals that are adapted to life on the coast find their habitat destroyed and are forced to find other places to live. Plants that are not used to a salty environment begin to die off.
Additionally, higher sea levels are associated with more destructive tropical storms, causing havoc for coastal towns. Flooding increases and people are forced to move to higher ground. If sea levels continue to rise at an alarming rate, people in coastal towns will be forced to relocate inland.
What Can Humans Do to Slow Climate Change?
When humans burn fossil fuels for energy, this releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Continuing to burn fossil fuels continues to add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which continues to increase the temperature of the ocean.
While all of this news is a bit bleak, there are small steps individuals can all take to counteract the effects of climate change. You can switch to renewable energy, which can be as easy as adding a few solar panels to your home. You can carpool and use public transportation or turn off lights when you leave a room, air dry your clothes, and eat local food. Minimizing consumption can be as easy as switching to reusable objects rather than one-time-use items. Every small step counts.
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