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Climate-Heat Link Traced Back to 1930s

Climate change has played a role in record-breaking warm years since the 1930s, new findings suggest. Continue reading →

The world endured a warm year as President Roosevelt wrangled with crippling drought during the first year of his second term. Scientists now say global temperatures that year, in 1937, were record-breaking for the time. The heat record fell again two years later. More records were set in 1940, 1941 and 1944.

For the first time, climate scientists have identified greenhouse gas pollution's role in global temperatures measured during record-breaking years back to 1937, as industrialized cities and nations continued burning coal to power factories and trains.

"What we found was that we could actually detect human influence on extreme events a lot earlier than we'd thought," said Daniel Mitchell, an Oxford University physicist who researches climate change. He was part of an international team of scientists that published the findings this week in Geophysical Research Letters.

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The most recent global record, set in 2015, easily surpassed a record set just one year earlier. The first two months of 2016 appear to have broken monthly temperature records.

The team of scientists used Earth models to simulate likely temperatures for each year since 1901. Some model runs simulated the effects of greenhouse gas pollution present in the atmosphere at that time; others did not.

By comparing the results, the researchers concluded it was more likely than not that greenhouse gas pollution played a role in setting all of the last 16 yearly global temperature records.

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The record set last year saw average temperatures of 1°C (1.8°F) above those of the late 19th century. A United Nations climate agreement was struck in Paris in December, aiming to keep warming "well below" 2°C (3.6°F).

The warming effects of fossil fuel use and deforestation remained relatively slight 80 years ago, when compared with the heavy hand they have played in rapid-fire records set more recently. Even so, the researchers concluded that greenhouse gas pollution in 1937 doubled the likelihood of reaching that year's high average temperature.

It would have been "virtually impossible" for Earth to have reached record annual average temperatures during this century's four record-busting years were it not for the effects of greenhouse gas pollution, said Andrew King, a climate change researcher at the University of Melbourne.

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King, who led the research, said the group was surprised to see how far back they could detect the role of global warming in fueling record temperatures.

"It's just kind of scary that we've been influencing the climate for a very long time, and we haven't really done anything substantial to limit our emissions," King said. "We've just made the problem worse and worse."

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Global warming can contribute to drought.

You've heard a lot about how human-driven climate change will lead to hotter temperatures, cause sea levels to rise and make storms more intense. But it's projected to have plenty of other unpleasant and even disastrous effects as well. Here are 10 of them. Scientists believe that rising temperatures will lead to increased evaporation of the Great Lakes' water, and precipitation won't make up the difference. That means we're likely to see declines in water levels over the next century, and one study predicts they may drop as much as 8 feet.

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By altering the wild environment, climate change makes it easier for newly mutated microbes to jump between species, and it's likely that as a result, diseases will emerge and spread across the globe even more rapidly.

A recent Nature article reported that male Australian central bearded dragons have been growing female genitalia because of rising temperatures, a phenomenon that had not previously been observed in that species.

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Rising sea levels are wiping out beaches all over the world already. Importing fresh sand and building them up again is only a temporary solution. To make matters worse, there's currently a sand shortage, due to demand from fracking, glass and cement making.

Bark beetles are eating old growth forests, because the winters aren't cold enough to kill them off. So more trees like this American Elm will die.

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Warmer temperatures mean there will be more water vapor trapped in the atmosphere, leading to more lightning. A University of California-Berkeley study predicts that lightning strikes will increase by about 12 percent for every degree Celsius gained.

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Wine grape harvests are being hurt. Regions that have historically supplied the world’s best wine will no longer be hospitable climates to grow wine grapes, according to research by the Environmental Defense Fund and others.

Coffee flavor depends upon really narrow conditions of temperature and moisture, and climate change is going to wreak havoc with that. Worse yet, as coffee growing regions become warmer, pests that couldn't survive in the past will ravage the crops. This is already being seen in Costa Rica, India and Ethiopia, which have experienced sharp declines in crop yields.

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Scientists say that as ice sheets and glaciers melt, the weight that's removed from the Earth's crust changes the stresses upon volcanoes. That unloading effect can trigger eruptions.

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