The Earth set unofficial record high temperatures last week. Scientists said they were a clear sign of how pollutants released by humans are warming the environment. But the heat is also just one way the planet is telling us something is seriously wrong, they added.
“Heat sets the pace of our climate in so many ways ... it’s never just the heat,” said Kim Cobb. She is a climate scientist at Brown University in Rhode Island.
Dying coral reefs, more intense storms, and the wildfire smoke that much of North America experienced this summer are other signs of climate troubles.
“The increasing heating of our planet caused by fossil fuel use is not unexpected, but it is dangerous for us humans and for the ecosystems we depend on. We need to stop it, fast,” said Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
Other recent natural events also show that climate change has entered new territory.
Most of the planet is covered by oceans, which have taken in 90 percent of the recent warming caused by planet-warming gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.
In April, worldwide ocean temperature rose to 21.1 degrees Celsius, which scientists believe was caused by a combination of planet-warming gases and the early El Nino formation. El Nino is a period of warming Pacific Ocean waters.
Newly published data from the Copernicus Climate Change Service documented “exceptionally warm” ocean temperatures in the North Atlantic. And it documented “extreme” sea heat waves near Ireland, Britain, and in the Baltic Sea.
High levels of wildfire smoke are more common on the West Coast. But, recently, several rounds of wildfire smoke from wildfires in northern Canada brought dangerous air quality levels to eastern North America.
Scientists say that climate change will make wildfires and smoke more likely and intense and that the East Coast will see more of it.
El Nino arrives early
The current El Nino formed a month or two earlier than usual. It replaced La Nina that, with its cooling of Pacific waters, kept worldwide temperatures down. That means that it will have more time than usual to strengthen.
The World Meteorological Organization predicts there is a 98 percent chance that at least one of the next five years will be the warmest on record. One of these years would beat temperatures from 2016 when an exceptionally strong El Nino was present.
Shrinking Antarctic sea ice
Scientists are watching Antarctic sea ice shrink to record lows. On June 27, about 11.7 million square kilometers were covered by the ice sheet. Data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center found that the amount was almost 2.6 million square kilometers less than average for that date for the period from 1981-2010.
Put another way, an area nearly four times the size of the American state of Texas was gone from the ice sheet.
I’m Gregory Stachel.
Steve Wartenberg reported this story for The Associated Press. Gregory Stachel adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
pace – n. the speed at which something happens
coral reef – n. a long line of coral that lies in warm, shallow water
fossil fuel – n. energy in the form of gas, coal and oil that is taken from the ground and comes from the breakdown of old matter
ecosystem – n. everything that exists in an environment and how all those things interact
exceptionally – adj. not usual
shrink – v. to become smaller in amount, size, or value
sheet – n. a wide, flat surface or area of something
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