What Can We Expect from This Year's El Nino?
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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
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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
El Niño -- or to be precise, the El Niño Southern Oscillation, or ENSO -- is back, scientists say. So get set for some freaky stuff to happen around the world this summer and fall.
The U.S. government’s Climate Prediction Center now puts the chances of El Niño, which occurs naturally once or twice a decade, at 70 percent in the Northern Hemisphere this summer, and 80 percent during the fall and winter.
In the extreme weather phenomenon, the waters of the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of South America becomes abnormally warm, and moist rising water vapor forms thunderstorm clouds, which in turn cause the upper atmosphere to become warmer than usual too, according to this handy primer from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
As that warm air branches out, it moves upward in altitude toward the poles and then sinks back into the tropics in loops that are called Hadley cells. All this change disrupts weather conditions across the planet, and that in turn tends to cause a cascade of weird and disturbing events, ranging from heavy rains and flooding to food shortages.
One 2011 study even found that El Niño was associated with an increased risk of civil war in tropical countries.
According to the center's latest forecast, the first warning signs were in March, when sea surface temperatures (SSTs) began to rise abnormally. Over the past four weeks, above-average SSTs have been observed across the Pacific Ocean, near Indonesia, and in the eastern Atlantic Ocean.
In a 2013 Nature article, researchers reported that the frequency of El Niño events is increasing due to climate change. If you remember lava lamps, you'll enjoy this psychedelic-like animation showing the day-to-day fluctuation of El Niño's equatorial temperature effects.
Photo: Satellite and sensor data indicate that El Niño conditions developing in the equatorial Pacific Ocean are similar in ways to those of May 1997, a year when the weather phenomenon was really potent. Credit: NOAA