Cherniak: Warming global temperatures are a sobering trend
Park Record contributor
We’re over a third of the way through 2019, so I thought I’d share some information on the planet’s land and ocean temperatures and how these warming conditions are impacting the physical and biological conditions of our natural world.
According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, April of 2019 was the planet’s second warmest April since record keeping began in 1880. March was its second warmest, February its fifth warmest and January its third warmest.
As a whole, the January-through-April time period was the third warmest on record with only the 2016 and 2017 time periods warmer. Additionally, the five warmest January-through-April stretches have all occurred since 2010.
The NCEI also tracks global ocean temperatures and during April the average temperature of the collective sea surfaces was the second warmest April on record. For the first four months of 2019, global ocean temperatures are the third warmest on record, behind only 2016 and 2017.
Warmer air and oceans contribute to sea ice conditions at both poles. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Arctic sea ice extent during April was the lowest recorded for that month in the 41 years of record keeping. What’s more, the top five “lowest” Aprils have all occurred in the past five years.
The rate of loss for Arctic sea ice continues to be on a record pace, with sea ice extent observed in the third week of May what is typically observed in mid-June.
With respect to Antarctica, the NSIDC reports that this April marked the third consecutive April that the Antarctic sea ice extent was below average — nearly 17% below the 1981–2010 average. This was the third smallest April extent in the 41 years of record keeping, behind only the Aprils of 1980 and 2017.
On the biological front, the United Nations recently released a report on biodiversity and ecosystems that is sobering to say the least. Compiled by hundreds of scientists and based on thousands of separate studies, the report is a comprehensive look at not just the decline of biodiversity around the planet but the rate at which that decline is occurring.
According to the report, the abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by some 20% over the past century. And with the human population approaching 7.8 billion, large-scale activities like farming, logging, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”
Approximately 75% of the world’s land area has been significantly altered by human activity, the report found. More astounding is the fact that approximately 85% of the world’s wetlands have disappeared since the 18th century. Most of them drained to make room for farming, logging and development. This is most troubling as a number of studies show that wetland and estuary-type systems remove and sequester tremendous amounts of carbon. Finally, warmer lands, atmospheres and oceans could accelerate changes and declines to biodiversity as well. The report estimates that the fraction of species at risk of climate-related extinction is 5% at 3.6 degrees of warming and 16% at 8 degrees Fahrenheit.
We rely on the planet’s ecosystems for our own health and wellness, be it physical, economic, cultural, emotional or spiritual. Any loss of biodiversity, whether by a changing climate, overconsumption, overharvesting or sources of waste will be a loss for us as a species as well.
Christopher Cherniak is a professional civil/environmental engineer who has worked as an environmental consultant since 1985.
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