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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)
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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
The Four Corners region of the southwestern U.S.– where Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico meet — is one of the most ruggedly scenic locales you could imagine.
But Four Corners has another, more puzzling distinction. As a 2014 study of data from a European satellite by NASA and University of Michigan researchers revealed, a 2,500-square mile area near the intersection produces the nation’s biggest concentration of methane, a greenhouse gas that’s many times more potent than carbon dioxide, and a significant contributor to global warming.
Now, as scientists launch a team effort to figure out the cause for the massive methane plume, another more troubling question arises. Is the hotspot an anomaly, or an indication that previous measurements have underestimated the amount of methane that’s being released into the atmosphere?
If the latter is true, it could have disturbing implications for the struggle against climate change.
Nobody knows yet why Four Corners is giving off so much methane — an amount equivalent to almost 15 million tons of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent of adding 3.1 million cars to the road every year, according to ThinkProgress.
For much of the 2003-2009 period in the satellite study, the area didn’t have a lot of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and gas,a process that some are concerned is a source of methane emissions. But Four Corners is a major coal mining area, and a source of coal-bed methane, which supplies about 8 percent of the nation’s natural gas.
The plume discovered over Four Corners, raises the possibility that large amounts of methane are escaping from the mines — a problem that hasn’t been factored into the equation before.
There’s also the possibility, as ThinkProgress notes, that we’ve simply been underestimating the amount of methane that human activities are releasing, and that there are other large, yet-undiscovered plumes elsewhere on the planet.
A 2014 review of study data concluded that actual U.S. methane emissions are about 61 percent higher than government estimates.
Photo: Satellite data has revealed a massive methane hotspot in the Four Corners region. Credit: NASA