A new report from NOAA and the American Meteorological Society paints a clear picture of the state of the planet: the climate crisis is not a future threat, but it is already here.
The annual state of the climate report found that 2021 was among the warmest years as the world experienced record concentrations of greenhouse gases, ocean heat and sea level rise, indicating that the effects of climate change are only getting worse.
The report, based on research from more than 530 scientists in more than 60 countries, is the “most comprehensive update” on Earth’s climate and environmental update, according to NOAA.
And their findings were daunting. As climate scientist Zack Labe, who contributed to the report, put it, “unsurprisingly, it’s been another alarming year for extremes.”
A chart from the report shows the wide range of areas affected by the climate crisis in 2021: Canada hit a new record of over 121 degrees Fahrenheit; The Rio Negro River in Brazil hit record highs with floods surpassing the “once in a century” flood damage that struck in 2012; New Zealand had its hottest year in its 113-year record; East Africa has had the worst food security in decades amidst all of this; and sea ice struggled to maintain its size.
Here are some of the report’s most notable findings.
Record greenhouse gas concentrations
Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are the three most important greenhouse gases which, once emitted, create a sort of mantle on the atmosphere that traps solar radiation, heating the planet. Last year, the concentrations of each of these gases hit a record high.
Carbon dioxide, which accounts for the largest amount of global warming associated with human activities, particularly the combustion of fossil fuels, had a concentration of 414.7 parts per million, the highest in at least the last million years based on paleoclimatic records. Methane has seen an increase of 18 parts per billion as its concentrations continue their steep rise since 2014. And nitrous oxide has seen its third-highest annual increase since 2001, at 1.3 parts per billion.
The Earth continues to set new heat records
Regional temperatures have soared around the world last year, with many countries experiencing devastating heatwaves and, in some cases, all-time. Canada, for example, hit an unprecedented record of 121 degrees Fahrenheit, as China hit its hottest year in its record 71 years and Sicily hit the highest temperature ever recorded in Europe at just under 120. degrees.
The dozens of researchers who were part of the report found that the past seven years, from 2015 to 2021, were the seven hottest on record. The Earth’s global mean surface temperature has risen on average between 0.14 and 0.16 degrees Fahrenheit every 10 years since 1880. It’s only an acceleration since 1981, averaging more than double that amount.
However, these all-time highs have not been seen everywhere.
A “double dip” in La Niña, a pattern during which abnormally strong trade winds push hot water towards Asia and churn the colder surface water closer to the Americas, helped trigger the colder year Australia since 2012. Antarctica also saw its coldest winter on record at the South Pole when a polar vortex emerged.
These cases do not mean that warming was not occurring, but rather the result of weather events and patterns.
Thefor example, that it was recently discovered that it is almost warming up compared to the rest of the planet, it had its coldest year since 2013. But even that short cold spell was still the 13th warmest year on record in the region, as the amount of Arctic sea ice that could survive more melting seasons has reached its second-lowest rate.
Warming and rising oceans
The decline of sea ice, which is able to reflect solar radiation and prevent it from entering the depths of the ocean, is putting the oceans to the test. The seas hold 90% of the planet’s warming, and when there is less protection but more of an attack from rising greenhouse gas concentrations and warmer temperatures, the oceans will warm up and melting ice will cause an increase.
Last year, global ocean heat content, which measures temperatures from the surface over 6,000 feet below, hit a record high. Global mean sea levels also hit a record as they rose just under 4 inches from the 1993 average, when recordings of satellite measurements began.
And the rising sea will only continue to do so. A new study released this week found that Greenland– ice still attached to thicker areas but not fed by larger glaciers – alone will raise global sea level by at least 10 inches.
This will happen regardless of what the world does to tackle climate change, which means that, at the very least, many coastal areas face a devastating, if not deadly, future. The global average means that some areas will see an even higher surge and face extreme tides and storms. Researchers don’t know when this will happen, but they say it could happen within the next 80 years, making climate resilience strategies more important than ever.
Information for mitigation and adaptation
While the report paints a bleak picture of the state of the planet, the researchers said that, taken seriously, it can help governments plan better to tackle climate change and better adapt their nations for sure things to come.
“The 2021 AMS State of the Climate provides the latest synthesis of scientific understanding of the climate system and the impact people are having on it,” said Paul Higgins, associate executive director of the American Meteorological Society. “If we take it seriously and use it wisely, it can help us thrive on a planet that is always smaller than the impact of our operations.”
Many of the existing ramifications of climate change – prolonged droughts, warmer temperatures and more intense storms – cannot be reversed. As Dan Blumstein, a researcher and professor of ecology at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability previously told CBS News, the changes that need to be made today will ensure that the current state of affairs.
“You can’t put genius back in the bottle,” he said. “The devil with climate change is that we can stop burning carbon tomorrow, all carbon tomorrow, and we would still have burning effects from the carbon that’s in the atmosphere.”
NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad said the data presented in the report is “clear”: “We continue to see more compelling scientific evidence that climate change has a global impact and shows no signs of slowing.”
“With many communities affected by 1,000-year floods, exceptional drought and historic heat this year,” he said, “it demonstrates that the climate crisis is not a future threat, but something we must address today as we work to build a ready climate. – and the world – which is resilient to extremes caused by the climate “.
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