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Heating Up

Aug 21, 2009
By Beth Anne Macaluso

NOAA logoA recent report issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)—the government agency responsible for tracking ocean and atmospheric conditions—paints a grim picture of the state of today’s global climate.

According to the report, both land and ocean surface temperatures during the month of July exceeded averages for the 20th century. Despite unusually cool July weather across much of the eastern U.S., overall global land and ocean surface temperatures were over a full degree higher than the 20th-century average of 60.4 degrees Fahrenheit. July 2009 clocked in an average temperature that was the fifth highest since NOAA began collecting data in 1880. Even more alarming, July’s average ocean surface temperature is the highest on record.

A degree or two increase may not seem like cause for alarm, but as FLYP reported last July, scientists are beginning to discover that the Earth has very specific boundaries regarding how much environmental stress it can withstand while still sustaining life as we know it. A shift in average temperature as seemingly minute as 1 degree Celsius—approximately 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit—could result in intense droughts, a large increase in the number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes, and the emergence of new deserts.

As Dr. Johan Rockström, a key figure in the effort to delineate the Earth’s “planetary boundaries,” points out, the globe has undeniable “absolute limits.” And if temperatures continue to climb, the Earth may be in real danger of surpassing these boundaries and reaching a point of no return.

 Tunisia desertification
Creeping desertification is threatening many countries around the world, including Tunisia (pictured above). Photo by James Hardy/Newscom

 




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