As climate change continues to roll along, the world is watching weather-related records fall and long-predicted catastrophes take place. Here’s a look at the mess we’re in right now.
Ice sheets are melting in Greenland and the Arctic.
NASA called it a “major melting event.” A European heat wave at the end of July scorched Greenland, where the melting surface ice records have fallen, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. From July 30 to Aug. 3, about 55 billion tons melted and ran off from Greenland — more than twice the average of past decades — and 90% of its surface felt temperatures above freezing.
On the plus side, 2019 is not looking likely to beat the loss from 2012, the record year for total ice melt from Greenland and the wider Arctic. Ice loss from Greenland is a bigger worry for coastlines worldwide than floating sea ice because it contributes to sea level rise.
Nevertheless, it's worth noting that the Arctic sea ice covering the ocean in July was the lowest ever seen in 29 years of satellite measurement.
Arctic wildfires are breaking records.
Along with melting ice, the Arctic is also seeing record numbers of wildfires, with more than 100 long-lived ones this summer, according to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. Often ignited by burning peat deposits, they released more than 50 megatons of carbon into the atmosphere in June, more than Arctic wildfires released in total over the preceding eight years.
Most severe in Alaska and Siberia, the fires are unusually flaring up in June, ahead of the heart of the wildfire season.
"Arctic wildfires are especially worrisome as particulate matter is more likely to settle on icy areas," noted the weather service in a statement. "This darkens the ice, leading to sunlight being absorbed rather than reflected, which could exacerbate global warming."
Record fires are scorching the Amazon.
While the world fiddles, the Amazon is burning and Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research is reporting a record of nearly 73,000 fires this year, up 80% from last year.
Deforestation for cattle ranches appears to be a big culprit, and NASA is still taking a wait-and-see approach to declaring the loss a historic one. That’s bad news from a climate change perspective because the Amazon soaks up a lot of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the air when it is expanding. But when the rainforest is burning, it sends a lot of carbon dioxide into the air.
The fires are bad enough to send smoke over cities such as São Paulo and several Brazilian states, as seen from space. “This is without any question one of only two times that there have been fires like this,” National Geographic Explorer-at-Large Thomas Lovejoy told the magazine. The slashing of the rainforest was a feared consequence of the election of a Brazilian government hostile to reining in logging.
Summer heat waves have smashed more records.
Although 2016 looks poised to keep its title as the warmest year on record, this summer has seen some ovenlike months, with June becoming the warmest June ever recorded, and July the hottest month — straight up — ever seen. Europe in particular fried in a brutal heat wave.
July was also the 415th consecutive month where temperatures beat the average for all months from 1900 to 1999, an unmistakable sign of a warming climate.
Climate scientists predicted such effects of climate change in comprehensive reports published since the 1990s. Whether the obvious arrival of climate change will spur any serious responses is the only thing that now looks uncertain about the future.