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The effects of global warming are frequently projected decades into the future, but two recent reports -- one from theU.S. Global Change Research Program
and the otherfrom the U.N.
-- put into sharp focus visible consequences of our warming planet. An increase in temperature, extreme weather, loss of ice and rising sea level are just a few of changes we can measure right now. Let's take a look at some of the most concerning trends.BLOG: War Of The Words: Climate Change Or Global Warming?
Glaciers are shrinking worldwide and permafrost is thawing in high-latitude and high-elevation areas, reports this year's Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.BLOG: Dire Outlook For Climate Impacts, New Report Says
Only a few extinctions are attributed to climate change, reports the IPCC, but climate change that occurred much more slowly, over millions of years, caused major ecosystem shifts and species extinctions. Land and sea animals are changing their geographic ranges and migratory patterns due to climate change.NEWS: Climate Change: Why Haven't We Done More?
Sea level around the world has increased by about 8 inches since 1880, reports the 2014 National Climate Assessment, which projects a 1 to 4 foot rise by the end of the century.PHOTOS: Craziest Environmental Ideas (That Could Work)
Massimo Brega/The Lighthouse//Vi/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis
Excess CO2 is dissolving in the ocean and decreasing the pH of seawater. The ocean is about 30 percent more acidic than it was in pre-industrial times. More acidity in the oceans makes it harder for animals to form calcium carbonate shells and skeletons and erodes coral reefs.11 Health Threats from Climate Change
The probability of a Sandy-like storm deluging New York, New Jersey and other parts of the East Coast has nearly doubled compared to 1950, according to the American Meteorological Society. Even weaker storms will be more damaging now than they were 10 years ago because of rising sea levels. Superstorm Sandy cost the nation $65 billion, according to the 2014 National Climate Assessment, and 2012's Hurricane Isaac cost $2.3 billion.
The global sea level rises along with the temperature for two major reasons. For one, heat causes water to expand, which causes the existing water to take up more space and encroach on the coast. At the same time, ice at the poles and in glaciers melts and increases the amount of water in the oceans.PHOTOS: Melting Glaciers
Across the United States, heavy downpours are on the rise, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. Increases in extreme precipitation are expected for all U.S. regions, reports the 2014 National Climate Assessment.NEWS: Shrinking Greenland Glacier Smashes Speed Record
Ted Soqui/Ted Soqui Photography/Corbis
The most recent IPCC report states with "very high confidence" that current climate-related extremes like heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones and wildfires are showing that countries around the world, at all development levels, are significantly unprepared. The American Meteorological Society estimates that approximately 35 percent of the extreme heat in the eastern United States between March and May 2012 resulted from human activities' effects on climate. The AMS warned that deadly heat waves will become four times more likely in the north-central and northeastern United States as the planet continues to warm.NASA: Global Warming Goes On
A massive oceanic heat wave is rolling toward the eastern Pacific Ocean right now, a telltale signal of a brewing El Niño.
An El Niño is a natural climate cycle marked by warmer-than-average temperatures in the waters of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Forecasters won't make their final call until later this summer, but all signs point to an El Niño this year, perhaps one as powerful as what occurred in 1982 or 1997. But even a weak El Niño could hike global temperatures to record levels, scientists think.
"If we have the El Niño that most are predicting, I think there's a good chance that it'll end up breaking the global temperature record set in 2010," said Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University in College Station.
That's because Earth's temperature is already rising, so any year with a boost from El Niño could easily break records. [How El Niño Causes Wild Weather All Over the Globe (Infographic)]
The warmest years in the past decade, 2005 and 2010, followed weak El Niño years, according to NASA temperature records.
This year's predicted El Niño could increase global surface temperatures by 0.18 to 0.36 degrees Fahrenheit (0.1 to 0.2 degrees Celsius), depending on the intensity of the event, said Wenju Cai, a climate scientist at CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, a government research organization in Aspendale, Australia.
When an El Niño occurs, the equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean experiences several months of higher-than-average sea-surface temperatures. Since 1950, years during or just after an El Niño were hotter than average because this surface ocean warming adds to the planet's overall temperature, according to NASA records.
Here's how it works: An El Niño pumps up heat from deeper ocean layers to the surface. Then, some of the ocean's resulting surface heat is released to the atmosphere, warming the air.
Most of this stored ocean heat comes from sunlight, but the release adds to the overall rise in temperatures caused by global warming, Cai said. "There's no doubt the underlying trend is caused by greenhouse warming," he said.
"Usually, the increase occurs more toward the latter part of the El Niño, when there is a mini-global warming," said Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.
However, the record-setting temperature record may not occur until 2015. The fever from El Niño tends to lag a few months behind the start of the associated climate event, so the heat may not hit next year. During the 1997 El Niño, the Pacific Ocean heating kicked off in May 1997, but global temperatures peaked in 1998, at four times above average.
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