Bcasterline via Wikimedia Commons
The aftermath of a forest fire in Washington state. A new European study says forests are endangered by climate change’s effects.
John Hyde/Design Pics/Corbis
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
Forests play a big role in reducing the effects of the greenhouse gas emissions that humans are pumping into the atmosphere, because of trees’ ability to absorb and store carbon. But even as they help to slow climate change, they’ve been punished by it.
In a disturbing new study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, Austrian scientists say that forests increasingly are endangered by problems such as massive wildfires, violent winds and outbreaks of destructive pests, which are intensifying as the result of climate change. While the study focused upon Europe, the same problems also threaten forests in North America and elsewhere.
The authors write that the severity of large wildfires across the planet has increased over the past decade. A 2014 study published in Geophysical Research Letters reported that in the western United States, the number of big fires over 1,000 acres in size and the total amount of forest consumed by them has been increasing steadily over the past 30 years. According to a research survey published by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute in 2013, the intensity of winter wind storms in northwestern Europe has increased over the past 60 years.
Another surging menace to trees comes from bark beetles. Outbreaks of the invasive Asian insects have reached “unprecedented levels” on both sides of the Atlantic, they say. In North America, the beetles already have destroyed millions of acres of forest over the past 12 years, and warming temperatures are allowing the beetles to spread to northern areas where they would not have been able to live in the past, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Climate Change Resource Center website.
The latest bad news for forests comes after a 2013 study by Dutch scientists that found that European forests may be reaching their “carbon saturation point,” and are absorbing less carbon dioxide than they have in the past.