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February 3, 2013

Three numbers that will define our climate future

Climate data from all areas of the globe continue to pour in and the conclusions are always the same: our planet is heating up. 

A Dec. 23, 2012 press release from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, CO, details temperature changes on the Antarctic continent. The data were presented in a peer-reviewed paper in Nature Geoscience (doi:10.1038/ngeo1671).

The Byrd Station (star), on the map of Antarctica, has had a temperature increase of 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit in average annual temperature since 1958. This is almost three times larger than the average for the rest of the globe: the concern is that the glaciers will slide more quickly into the sea raising ocean levels.

The color scale, experimental design, and statistics to support this data can be found in the NCAR/UCAR Atmos News Release of December 23, 2012, “West Antarctica Warming Three times Faster…” The black circles are other permanent research stations with long-term temperature records.

Closer to home, the map of the United States from the National Climate Data Center shows the temperature ranking for the most recent 12 month period through December 2012. For the nation as a whole, it is the warmest year on record in the 118-year database: by far.

In early January 2013, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at California Institute of Technology issued the following graph of sea level changes over the past 20 years. The science and the technology they developed, with their French partners, have given us the most precise measurements yet of Earth’s global sea level changes. The data are from four different satellite and radar instrumentation systems and show increased sea levels over this period of time.

Everywhere on the globe these data, and more, support the same conclusion: our planet is warming.

But these are not the numbers that will define our climate future and those of our grandchildren. What will define that future are just three numbers.

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