NASA’s Operation IceBridge keeps track of the world’s shifting glaciers and ice sheets, such as Alaska’s Sheridan Glacier, photographed during a flight in August 2018. Sheridan Glacier has a floating tongue that is quickly eroding (the glacier portion that extends beyond the shoreline and floats on the water).
On August 18, 2019, Iceland arranged a memorial service for the first glacier to perish due to climate change. Okjökull, a historical body of ice that occupied 14.6 square miles (38 square kilometers) in the Icelandic Highlands at the turn of the twentieth century, was the deceased group. However, its heyday has passed. Okjökull lost its standing as an official glacier in 2014 after shrinking to less than 1/15 of its former size.
Later, a plaque commission to commemorate the disappearing landmark. Hikers, scientists, and Iceland’s Prime Minister, Katrin Jakobsdóttir, were among the 100 people who attended the solemn installation ceremony. Jakobsdóttir warned the press that if current trends persist, her country will lose even more of its famous glaciers in the immediate future.
The proof is overwhelming: greenhouse gas emissions (along with other human activities) drastically alter our climate. As a result, California’s wildfire season is lengthening; Russian infrastructure has destabilized by thawing permafrost; and, indeed, much of the world’s glaciers are rapidly melting.
With public interest increasing, two new words have entered the lexicon: “climate change” and “global warming,” Although they use interchangeably, they have different definitions.
Weather and Climate
There is another misunderstanding—the distinction between weather and climate—the state of the environment in a specific location. Location refers to the weather on the globe. Temperature, humidity, wind speed, air pressure, and visibility are all factors that influence the weather at any given time.
Another way to put it, the weather is fickle. It takes days, hours, or even minutes to play out. As a result, it is prone to rapid change, which is why so many of us crave frequent updates. You are inquiring about the weather when you inquire if your hometown is “supposed to get some rain” on a given day.
Weather should not be confused with the environment. The latter has a much broader reach. Climate is essentially a reflection of an area’s long-term weather averages and trends. Those often identified through decades (at the very least) of careful observation. Given the size disparity, it is understandable that the atmosphere changes much more slowly than the weather.
Despite this, improvements do occur. All of the world’s regional climates averaged together to create the “global climate,” which is subject to change over time, much like its regional components.
2018 has so far been the fourth hottest year on record. Higher than average temperatures show in red, whereas those lower than typical are blue.
The Times Have Changed
So, what does the word “climate change” really mean? In its broadest sense, climate change refers to any long-term changes in one or more climate-related variables — such as average rainfall — in the same area.
It is worth noting that this applies to both regional and global climates. Let us say northern Europe saw a drastic increase in rainstorms, which lasted for decades. Regardless of what happened elsewhere globally, the hypothetical situation will be considered a case of regional climate change.
Global warming, on the other hand, is, well, global. More specifically, the term refers to an increase in the average surface temperature of a planet. Moreover, here on Earth, the number has been steadily increasing.
The (NOAA) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say that the average surface temperature of our homeworld rose by 1.71 degrees Fahrenheit between 1880 and 2016. (0.95 degrees Celsius).
It is nothing to sneeze at, mind you. A small change in global temperature of a few degrees can have enormous consequences. Our planet was just about 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) colder fifteen thousand years ago, during a geologically recent ice age. Nonetheless, the temperature was sufficient to hold nearly a third of the planet’s surface ice-covered.
However, alas, we have gotten off track. The most important takeaway here is that global warming is a form of climate change, but climate change does not necessarily manifest global warming.
A Problem That Has Never Seen Before
As strange as it might seem, recent warming caused by our greenhouse gas emissions may be contributing to a rise in both floods and droughts. Although some areas of the world are experiencing increased precipitation, soils in some of the world’s drier regions are at risk of losing a significant amount of moisture.
Dr. Nathan Steiger contact me for more information. Steiger, an atmospheric scientist at Columbia University, studies the impact of climate change on human cultures in the past and present.
“The same kinds of destructive climate events that occur today, such as prolonged and severe heat and cold, droughts, and floods, have historically affected communities the most,” he writes in an email. “Many of these disruptive climate extremes made worse by human mismanagement of their environments in the past. Due to no fault of their own. However, often these disruptive climate extremes were made worse by human mismanagement of their environments.”
He uses soil erosion caused by agriculture as an example of the latter. “Areas that lose dense, fertile soils are more prone to drying out during droughts, making droughts worse than they would otherwise be.”
Steiger co-authored a significant thesis that publishes in the journal Nature in 2019. His team examined the history of significant and minor climate changes over the past two centuries using ice cores, coral samples, historical documents, and other lines of evidence.
During that period, there were many irregular periods, including the exceptionally hot “Medieval Climate Anomaly,” which lasted from 800 to 1200 CE.
The majority of these occurrences were regional. Nonetheless, Steiger and his colleagues discovered that the single hottest time in the last 2,000 years for 98 percent of the Earth was the late twentieth century when global temperatures were utterly soaring.
Let us take a look back for a moment. Over 20 centuries, our forefathers have never seen a climate-related phenomenon as uniformly impactful — or, to be honest, worrying — as modern-day climate change.
Aren’t we fortunate?