Climate 101 is a Mashable series which answers provocative and important questions about the Earth's warming climate.
Sometimes things are more than they seem.
Global nations will meet for the 26th consecutive time at a huge climate summit (COP26), to discuss ways to limit Earth’s global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) below pre-Industrial Revolution levels. This ambitious warming target is definitely lower than the current temperature at which civilization is headed to extreme 3 C (5.4 F).
However, 2 C, a global average temperature, is not a low- or moderate level of warming. Importantly, the warming will be greater in areas where people live, and the effects on the oceans will be long-lasting and significant. These profound effects are often overlooked by a small number.
"We need to avoid the trap that emphasizing the global average is leading us to make a lot of mistakes," Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist who is also the director of climate energy at Breakthrough Institute, an environment research center, stated.
Earth scientists insist that humans are not inevitably doomed by climate change. It's the exact opposite. The society still has a tremendous amount of influence on the matter. The greater the warming, the more severe the effects. However, Earth's inhabitants need to be aware of the extreme effects of a 2 C world. This is why it's important to avoid any warming above 2 C.
Average global temperatures for Earth. Credit: NASA
Heating the land
Humanity has increased Earth's surface temperature by 1.2 C since the late 19th century. That is a little more than 2 F. The oceans absorb heat in a phenomenal way, which reduces the global average. Hausfather said that on the ground, there has been a significant amount of warming, approximately 1.9 C or 3.5 F.
Humanity will surpass the 2C warming target in areas where people live and experience extremes such as severe heat, wildfires and drought.
Climate change increases the chances of extreme events occurring more often or breaking records. Hausfather stated, "It pushes boundaries of what is possible higher." "The extremes are what really affect people."
"The extremes are what really affect people."
For example, temperatures are higher in general
Recent evidence of increased odds for extremes is the record-breaking heat wave that swept the Pacific Northwest and parts Canada in June 2021. Portland saw temperatures of 116 F, surpassing the previous record by nine degrees.
Hausfather stated, "In a world with no climate change, that would be essentially impossible." He cited research that showed that the heat wave was a 1-in-150,000 year event.
However, in a 2 C world such an event would only occur "roughly every five to ten years," according to the researchers.
The oceans are constantly warming
Earth would be much hotter today if it wasn't for its incrediblely absorbent oceans. This is because most of the unnatural, man-made heat on the planet goes into the water and not the air.
Josh Willis, NASA oceanographer, stated that "over 90 percent of the heat from global warming has been warming the oceans."
While the ocean is providing a tremendous service to us, it does so at our expense and threatens our lives. Even if the world stabilizes its climate at around 2C of warming, the oceans still absorb heat. This is a natural process that continues for about a millennium.
Willis stated that the oceans will be affected by the amount of warming over the next 50 years.
Deep circulating currents are sometimes called conveyor belts. They cycle water from the ocean's top to its cold depths. This process can take up to 1,000 years. The ocean will stop absorbing excess heat from humanity when it reaches equilibrium or matches the warmer surface.
The seas at the top of 2,300 feet have warmed 1.5 C since the beginning of the 1900s. This is where the majority marine life lives. There are many consequences to an ocean that is constantly warming:
This is not all. The oceans absorb carbon dioxide naturally from the atmosphere which causes acidification. Today's CO2 levels, which are at their highest level in 3 million years, indicate that the oceans are acidifying rapidly. Scientists are still trying to figure out what this means for ocean life. However, they know that more acidic waters can prevent shell-building in important marine creatures such as corals, oysters, or clams. This could expose them to predators and damage.
Willis stated, "It is devastating to certain ecosystems."
Wills marveled at the vast oceans, especially the Pacific, while out on the sea. It makes up approximately one-third of the Earth's surface.
It's so large. Willis said that it seemed so permanent and immovable. It's changing because we are.