It is abundantly clear that climate change is real. But what’s more – it has already begun to have a pernicious effect on natural ecosystems, globally.
According to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Science, 2016 has been the hottest year on record. While a target temperature rise of 1.5–2°C (2.7-3.6°F) compared to the pre-industrial climate is acceptable, 2016 was approximately 1.3°C (2.4°F) warmer than we had thought relative to the pre-industrial time period. To put in perspective – it translates to almost an extra decade of warming.
This global temperature rise than normal has begun to show dire effects on sea levels and existing flora and fauna. According to NASA analyses of ground-based observations and satellite data, global surface temperatures and Arctic sea ice extent — the two key climate change indicators — have broken numerous records through the first half of 2016. The culprit of course, is the rising concentrations of heat-trapping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere causing these anomalies.
A color coded map compiled according to independent analyses by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The map exhibits a progression of changing global surface temperatures anomalies for 1880 – 2016.
The Worrisome Case of the Arctic Sea Ice Collapse
In the northern hemisphere, as winter kicked into gear in 2016, the Arctic began witnessing an ominous trend. Less of the northern ocean was covered in ice than ever seen before in satellite records and imagery.
Why should anyone care about polar ice? The Arctic plays an important regulatory role in the global climate. The Arctic ice acts like a big mirror, reflecting sunlight back into space, thus regulating global temperatures. Burn up the arctic ice and it shall be like turning off the AC on the whole planet.
This animation released by NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio depicts the daily Arctic sea ice and seasonal land cover changes. Prior sea ice maximum at March 24, 2016, through Aug. 13, 2016
According to research estimates, up to 95 percent of the long-term decline in the Arctic sea ice has been driven by human activity like dark soot particles. These particles originate from factories and cars in Europe and Asia. They travel north, settle on the ice and absorb extra sunlight. This in turn affects the ecosystem indigenous to the north – fish, whales, seals, and, yes, polar bears – that relies on a balanced environment at the poles to survive. The imminent effects being species extinction and rampant flooding.
The Antarctic Sea Ice at its Record Lows
The Antarctic Sea Ice is facing the same fate as that of the arctic. This is how the Antarctic sea ice extent looked like in November 2016, compared with the historical median:
More unsettling images from NASA show the extent to which the regions around the arctic are changing due to rising temperatures
The shrinking size of the Helheim Glacier in Greenland
Climate Change claimed its first mammalian species
After a widespread search by an Australian government environmental group, the Bramble Cay melomys has been declared extinct. The Bramble Cay is a tiny rodent found exclusively on an island in the Great Barrier Reef. The group believes the extinction occurred due to a dramatic habitat loss coupled with the on going human induced climate change as the cause. This marks the the first time a mammal has died off due to climate change.
Research by U.S. Geological Survey has found that the American Pika populations are now disappearing from numerous areas that span from the Sierra Nevada to the Rocky Mountains. Populations within some areas are migrating to higher elevations likely to avoid reduced snowpacks and warmer summer temperatures. Pikas are strongly tied to rocky-talus habitat that is limited and patchily distributed. This gives them few options as temperatures continue to rise.
A study titled “Accelerating extinction risk from climate change“, performed a threat analysis to better understand the species most likely in line for climate change impact. Smaller ones living on small islands, like the melomys, or on “sky islands,” like the tops of mountains, are at the greatest risk of extinction since they can’t survive relocation.
Due to reduced ice in the Arctic, polar bears have become the first species to be listed as endangered. A population decline has been forecast owing to climate change. Polar bears need sea ice to hunt seals, which is an important food source. Sea ice is also a neccesity as for them to move across the large home ranges they need for foraging habitat. Additionally, walruses and other Arctic species are facing similar challenges as summer sea ice continues to retreat.
In 2008, polar bears were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act
The Dying Great Barrier Reef
The rising temperatures have taken a toll on The Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The Barrier Reef was once named as one of the seven wonders of the natural world. Warming of water bodies around the reef has caused widespread coral bleaching. This in turn has led to death of a fairly number of large species of flora and fauna indigenous to the reef. As the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rises, more of the gas is dissolving in the ocean. This is lowering the pH of the water (or making it acidic). Reef-building organisms are therefore finding it increasingly diffcult to construct their hard skeletons.
Coral bleaching due to rising temperatures has claimed more than 90 percent of the vibrant ecosystem of The Australian Great Barrier Reef
Climate Change and the Future
There is no denying the fact that a domino effect of ecosystem deterioration is underway. We know that the seas will rise (they already are). As a natural consequence, droughts and flooding will get more severe (they already have). We’re expecting higher heat waves, more intense storms, and ocean acidification (already ongoing). There is no escaping some of these changes. But unless we reign ourselves in, this will soon become a crisis without a solution.