The heat is on

Popular Science - - CHARTED - By Rachel Felt­man / in­fo­graphic by Sto­ryTK

2016 WAS OUR PLANET’S HOTTEST YEAR SINCE HU­MANS be­gan keep­ing records, with av­er­age global land and wa­ter sur­face tem­per­a­tures spik­ing to 58.69 de­grees Fahren­heit. That’s 1.69 de­grees warmer than the 20th-cen­tury av­er­age. It might not sound like a lot, but the dif­fer­ence be­tween our cur­rent global av­er­age and one dur­ing an an­cient ice age—when the U.S. sat un­der

glaciers 3,000 feet deep—is only 5 de­grees or so, ac­cord­ing to the cli­mate record pre­served in ice and trees. The same record shows that changes of this mag­ni­tude sim­ply don’t hap­pen over a mere cen­tury. Hu­man fin­ger­prints are all over the re­cent tem­per­a­ture trends. In­dus­try boomed in the late 1800s, send­ing new pollutants into the air. As a re­sult, car­bon diox­ide and other green­house gases, which trap heat inside Earth’s at­mos­phere, have mul­ti­plied. One es­ti­mate sug­gests that CO2 emis­sions in 2011 were 150 times higher than in 1850. Nat­u­ral fluc­tu­a­tions, such as El Niño, played a part. But if global warm­ing is like rid­ing the up es­ca­la­tor, these cy­cles amount to jump­ing up or crouch­ing down along the way: Tem­per­a­tures might rise or fall, but over­all, cli­mate change keeps push­ing them sky­ward.

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