Top Story: January 16, 2013

The Climate is Changing

climate change, global warming, nasa, noaa

2012 was the warmest year on record for the United States. Drought ravaged much of the country. And despite the local chilly temperatures currently, the trend continues.

Yesterday, James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute and Thomas Karl of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center held a joint press conference, describing very similar findings for last year’s warmer than average temperatures around the world. A pdf with their organizations’ side-by-side comparisons is available here.

The average temperature globally in 2012 was about 58.3 degrees Fahrenheit, which is 1.0 F (0.6 C) warmer than the mid-20th century baseline. The average global temperature has increased about 1.4 degrees F (0.8 C) since 1880, according to the new analysis.

The scientists emphasized that weather patterns always will cause fluctuations in average temperature from year to year, but the continued increase in greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere assures a long-term rise in global temperatures. Each successive year will not necessarily be warmer than the year before, but on the current course of greenhouse gas increases, scientists expect each successive decade to be warmer than the previous decade.

“The U.S. temperatures in the summer of 2012 are an example of a new trend of outlying seasonal extremes that are warmer than the hottest seasonal temperatures of the mid-20th century,” Hansen said. “The climate dice are now loaded. Some seasons still will be cooler than the long-term average, but the perceptive person should notice that the frequency of unusually warm extremes is increasing. It is the extremes that have the most impact on people and other life on the planet.”

In fact, according to Reuters, Americans are feeling the impact of climate change already—consequences that affect “health, infrastructure, water supply, agriculture and especially more frequent severe weather.”

But studies show we can do something about it. Nature Climate Change has an article this week describing how cutting emissions can reduce impacts from climate change. (Read more at Scientific American.) And New Scientist reports that while global talks breakdown over the subject, individual nations are doing something about it. Let’s hope the trend continues.

Want to engage more in the changing climate? Tomorrow Science will host a live chat, “Can We Conquer Climate Change?” Sign in here.

Image: NASA Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio

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