￼NASA's two-year mission dedicated to studying carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. just before 3 a.m. Pacific Time on July 2, 2014.
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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
NASA Launches Carbon-Tracking Satellite
A long-awaited NASA satellite to make the first precise, global measurements of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere reached orbit on Wednesday, setting the stage for a more detailed understanding of the planet’s changing climate -- and if any mitigation efforts are working.
The satellite, called Orbiting Carbon Observatory, or OCO, blasted off atop a Delta 2 rocket from a fog-shrouded Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 2:56 a.m. PDT/5:56 a.m. EDT. An hour later, it was released from the rocket’s second stage.
Over the next few weeks, OCO will fly itself to join a train of polar-orbiting environmental satellites circling about 440 miles above Earth.
NASA expected to have OCO collecting data five years ago, but the original spacecraft was lost when its launcher’s payload shroud failed to open.
“Seldom do we get a second chance to be able to do a mission like this,” Geoffery Yoder, a NASA deputy associate administrator, told reporters at a post-launch news conference.
Orbital Sciences Corp built both the original OCO and the replacement, but lost the launch contract to United Launch Alliance.
An initial attempt to fly OCO-2 on Tuesday was scuttled less than a minute before liftoff because of a problem with the launch pad’s water system. Technicians replaced a faulty valve and the rocket blasted off right on schedule early Wednesday.
“There was pure joy ... at spacecraft sep (separation). I can tell you that,” launch director Tim Dunn said in a post-launch interview on NASA Television.
The satellite will be positioned to overfly the same point on Earth at the same time of day every 16 days, allowing scientists to ferret out patterns in carbon dioxide levels on a seasonal basis.
That should help unravel a long-standing mystery about how about half the carbon dioxide that is put into the atmosphere is reabsorbed by forests and oceans.
The trend seems to hold even in light of the increased amounts of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning and other human activities, said project scientist Michael Gunson, with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
“We still aren’t quite sure ... which are the key processes involved here,” Gunson told reporters before launch.
“Trying to get to a point of understanding the details of those processes will give us some insight into the future and what’s likely to happen over next decades, even if we continue to consume more and more fossil fuels and emit more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,” Gunson said.
NASA intends to freely and widely distribute OCO data in hopes that research organizations will use it to make better climate predictions.
“We’d also hope that policy-makers might use some of this information to, for example, start to take a look at the impact of some of the emission-reduction activities that go or, or deforestation and understanding what’s happening globally,” added OCO program executive Betsy Edwards, at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC.
Scientists hope to be releasing the first measurements from OCO by early next year.