Earth’s Global Temperature Is The Warmest In Thousands Of Years
The planet is undeniably warming. The last three Julys have been the three warmest on record and may be the warmest months on the planet in roughly 120,000 years.
According to Mashable, after NASA announced that July 2018 was the third warmest month since accurate record keeping began in 1880, climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf, head of Earth System Analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, noted that this last July—known for soaring Arctic temperatures and record-breaking heat waves—was probably one of the warmest months since the Eemian, the interglacial period which began about 130,000 years ago and ended about 115,000 years ago.
The Eemian was, on average, around 1.8 to 3.6 Fahrenheit warmer than it is today. At the time, heat-seeking hippos roamed Europe, and sea levels, as a result of melted ice sheets, were 20 to 30 feet higher than today, meaning most of Florida was submerged.
The Eemian, however, had natural causes, given the Earth’s orientation to the sun at the time, scientists say. The warmer and cooler ages happened over thousands of years, however, the last 150 years of global warming have been induced by humans, who have released greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by burning coal and other fuels.
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Fluctuations in the Earth’s temperature have always existed, however, “the key thing is that since industrialization, we’ve been put on a completely different schedule,” says Pat Bartlein, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Oregon.
Scientists believe we are experiencing the warmest climate in the last 120,000 years, surpassing a warm period around 7,000 years ago, during the post-ice age Holocene.
“I agree entirely that it’s very likely the last few summers have been the warmest in the last 100,000-115,000 years,” says David Black, a paleoclimatologist at Stony Brook University. “It’s very probable that we’ve begun to exceed the warmest part of the Holocene.”
“It is safe to say that it’s true,” adds Jennifer Marlon, a research scientist at Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. “You’ll find a scientific consensus among experts even on that point now I’d bet, which says a lot.” Marlon says that during the Holocene only the northern hemisphere experienced warmer summers, “but now we are warmer year round.”
In 2013, Rahmstorf already noted that the current climate had exceeded the warmest period of the Holocene. “There’s been further warming,” Rahmstorf says. The three warmest years on record have been 2015, 2016, and 2017.
As Earth continues to warm rapidly, some scientists believe we may see Eemian-like conditions in the future, says Black, which would result in much warmer temperatures and higher seas. “Humans are putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate,” says Black. “There isn’t an ideal climate analog in the past that we can explore to see what we might expect in the future.”
The difference between the Eemian period and now is the amount of carbon dioxide that’s is in the air. Today, carbon dioxide concentrations are the highest they’ve been in 800,000 years. During the Eemian, concentrations averaged 280 parts per million, or ppm. Today they’re at 409 ppm.
“The pace isn’t even close — this isn’t natural,” says Kristopher Karnauskas, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at Colorado Boulder.
With all the carbon in the atmosphere, the problem is how much more warming we can expect. “We put all this carbon in the air, now it’s going to take a while for everything to catch up,” Marlon says. “The big question is, how quickly will everything catch up?”
Global temperature changes occur over centuries, Karnauskas says, however, there is already more than enough carbon in the atmosphere to increase temperatures much more. “Even under the best case scenario, we’re going to double the warming we’ve already seen,” Karnauskas says, who added that we need to do away with fossil fuels.
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