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article imageEarth is heating up: 2013 smashes climate records

By Megan Hamilton     Jul 21, 2014 in Environment
Maunaloa - Climate data shows that temperatures worldwide are continuing to rise and 2013 was no different, according to a report released July 17 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
2013 ranks somewhere between the second-and sixth-hottest year on record since record-keeping began — way back in 1880, the NOAA report concluded.
The State of the Climate report compiles climate and weather each year from around the world and is reviewed by 425 climate scientists from 57 countries, according to LiveScience.
"You can think of it as an annual checkup on the planet," said Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA administrator, according to LiveScience.
It's a checkup that shows many things are out-of-whack, with the planet ranging outside of normal levels in 2013. When it comes to greenhouse gases, Arctic heat, warm ocean temperatures and rising sea levels — new records were established once again.
Kick a notch up on the thermostat
It's time for some numbers: In 2013, the combined global land and ocean surface temperature was 1.12 degrees Fahrenheit (0.62 degrees Celsius) above the average in the 20th Century of 57 F (13.9C), according to the climate report, per LiveScience.
NASA came up with slightly different results in a separate analysis, finding that in 2013, global temperatures tied with 2009 and 2006 for the seventh warmest year on record. In a statement, NASA said that the two agencies use "slightly different methods, but overall, their trends show close agreement," LiveScience reported.
"The climate is changing more rapidly in today's world than at any time in modern civilization," Thomas Karl, director of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center said. "If we look at it like we're trying to maintain an ideal weight, then we're continuing to see ourselves put more weight on from year to year."
Climate scientists cite rising levels of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide as the culprit in the atmosphere that is responsible for the planet's changing climate. Levels of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii hit 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time ever in 2013, according to LiveScience. Worldwide, the average touched 395.3 ppm, a 2.8 ppm increase over 2012, the NOAA reports.
What does 'parts per million' mean?
In this case, ppm denotes the volume of a gas that's in the air, and this means that for every one million air molecules, 400 are carbon dioxide.
"The major greenhouse gases all reached new record high values in 2013," Jessica Blunden, a climate scientist with ERT, Inc., and an NOAA contractor, told LiveScience. Blunden helped write the report.
In 2012, the World Meteorological Association (WMO) reported in its annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin that earth's atmosphere underwent a 32 percent increase in radiative forcing the warming effect on our climate with carbon dioxide. Most of this came from fossil fuel-related emissions and accounted for 80 percent of this increase, according to this article in Common Dreams.
Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the WMO, didn't paint a rosy picture.
These observations, he told the Bulletin, "highlight yet again how heat-trapping gases from human activities have upset the natural balance of our atmosphere and are a major contribution to climate change."
"Time is not on our side," Jarraud said, noting that the future faces peril if the trend isn't halted or emissions reduced.
Atmospheric methane is also on the rise — reaching a new high of about 1819 parts per billion (ppb) in 2012, or 260 percent of the pre-industrial level, and that's due to increased emissions from human activities, Common Dreams reports. Much of that — some 60 percent — comes from activities like cattle breeding, rice agriculture, fossil fuel exploitation, landfills and biomass burning.
The report noted that the atmospheric concentration of nitrous oxide in 2012 was also rising and was about 325.1 parts per billion, which is 0.9 parts ppb above the previous year, Common Dreams notes. That's 120 percent of the pre-industrial level. Again, much of that — 40 percent — comes from human activities such as biomass burning, fertilizer use, and other industrial processes. Nitrous oxide plays a part in the destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer and has an impact on the climate that is 298 times greater than equal emissions of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.
Echoing a report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Jarraud said that if we keep up our "business as usual" activities, global average temperatures may leap another 4.6 degrees higher than pre-industrial levels by the end of this century.
"This would have devastating consequences," he said.
"Our climate is changing, our weather is more extreme, ice sheets and glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising," Jarraud said. "Limiting climate change will require large and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. We need to act now, otherwise we will jeopardize the future of our children, grandchildren and many future generations."
The report issued by the NOAA listed areas that were the most affected by the rising temperatures.
Their findings included:
• Sea levels keep rising. Temperatures are warming in the Pacific Ocean, and when this happens it causes water to expand. This fact, combined with melting ice sheets means that sea levels have risen 0.15 inches (3.8 millimeters), closely matching the long-term trend of 0.13 (3.2 mm) per year over the past 20.
• Antarctic sea ice keeps building up. Hitting another milestone on October 1, Antarctic sea ice covered 7.56 million square miles, or 19.5 million square kilometers, beating the previous record set in 2012 by 0.7 percent. Although the sea ice is growing, Antarctica’s land-based glaciers are melting and shrinking.
• Extreme weather. Super Typhoon Haiyan blew the covers off of the record books, with its one-minute sustained winds reaching 196 miles per hour. Flooding also did its’ share of damage in Central Europe, costing billions of dollars and killing 24 people.
• Melting permafrost. For the last two years, record high temperatures were recorded in the permafrost on the North Slope of Alaska in the Brooks Range. Permafrost is ground that’s frozen under the Earth’s surface. The temperatures that were recorded were more than 60 (20 meters) deep.
Earth is heating up, but how far do temperatures start to rise before enough people act on this and try to make a difference? There's been plenty of talk about this for decades. Now it's time to act.
More about Global warming, 2013 climate, NASA, discovery news, Livescience
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