Evidence | Facts Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet

The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earths orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives.

Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.

The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95 percent probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia.1

Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. This body of data, collected over many years, reveals the signals of a changing climate.

The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century.2 Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA. There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response.

Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that the Earths climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. Ancient evidence can also be found in tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks. This ancient, or paleoclimate, evidence reveals that current warming is occurring roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming.3

The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.4 Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with the five warmest years on record taking place since 2010. Not only was 2016 the warmest year on record, but eight of the 12 months that make up the year from January through September, with the exception of June were the warmest on record for those respective months. 5

The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of more than 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.6

Image: Flowing meltwater from the Greenland ice sheet

An indicator of the current volume and the Antarctica and Greenland ice sheets using data from NASAs Grace satellite.

An interactive exploration of how global warming is affecting sea ice, glaciers and continental ice sheets world wide.

Image: The disappearing snowcap of Mount Kilimanjaro, from space.

Satellite observations reveal that the amount of spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased over the past five decades and that the snow is melting earlier.9

Image: Republic of Maldives: Vulnerable to sea level rise

Image: Visualization of the 2012 Arctic sea ice minimum, the lowest on record

An indicator of changes in the Arctic sea ice minimum over time. Arctic sea ice extent both affects and is affected by global climate change.

An interactive exploration of how global warming is affecting sea ice, glaciers and continental ice sheets worldwide.

NASAs Operation IceBridge images Earth’s polar ice in unprecedented detail to better understand processes that connect the polar regions with the global climate system.

The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950. The U.S. has also witnessed increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.12

The official website for NASA’s fleet of Earth science missions that study rainfall and other types precipitation around the globe.

Earths water is stored in ice and snow, lakes and rivers, the atmosphere and the oceans. How much do you know about how water is cycled around our planet and the crucial role it plays in our climate?

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent.13,14 This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the oceans. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year.15,16

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Evidence | Facts Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet

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