Photos from space reveal what climate change looks like, from melting Arctic ice to rampant California fires
- Earth has warmed, on average, 1 degree Celsius in the last century due to greenhouse-gas emissions that trap heat on the planet.
- The consequences are becoming increasingly visible on the ground and even from space.
- July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded. This summer, vast areas of the Arctic were engulfed in flames.
- A recent United Nations report projected that sea levels could be 3 feet higher by 2100 due to warming oceans and melting glaciers.
- Here's what that all looks like from above.
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News on the climate front has been dire this year.
Atmospheric carbon-dioxide hit its highest concentration in recorded history in May: 415 parts per million. The more greenhouse gases we emit, the more the planet warms, and the more we experience extreme and often deadly weather events.
Many of these disasters are so devastating that they can be seen from space.
In 2019 alone, satellites captured images of the northeastern US ravaged by a polar vortex event, Europe's back-to-back deadly heat waves, and wildfires that spread through California as well as parts of Russia, Greenland, and Canada. Photos from space also show how Antarctic and Arctic glaciers are melting at unprecedented rates: The extent of Arctic sea is currently the second smallest it has been since 1979.
These 19 images show what our warming planet looks like from afar.
Every September, Arctic sea ice hits its minimum extent. Since the 1980s, that minimum has decreased by about 13% per decade.
The Northwest Passage, a sea route that connects the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, is often choked with sea ice, but in August 2016, it was nearly ice-free.
Greenland's ice sheet is melting six times faster than it was in the 1980s.
Antarctica's melting is also speeding up. In the 1980s, Antarctica lost 40 billion tons of ice annually. In the last decade, that number jumped to an average of 252 billion tons per year.
Melting glaciers, coupled with warming oceans (because water, like most things, expands when heated), present a grave threat to coastal communities in the form of rising seas.
Sea-level rise also increases the risk of flooding during high tides and storm surges.
Climate change also appears to be making hurricanes wetter and more sluggish.
Hurricane Dorian was a prime example of this trend: After it made landfall, the storm stalled over the Bahamas for 24 hours, dumping 30 inches of rain and causing devastating flooding.
Rising temperatures may also be linked to more frequent cold-weather snaps like the one that hit the US in January.
The frequency of winter polar-vortex events has increased by up to 140% over the past four decades, a 2017 study found.
Temperature spikes are also linked to higher wildfire risk. This year, plumes of smoke that engulfed parts of Russia and Greenland were big enough to see from space.
Individual wildfires can't be directly linked to climate change, but accelerated warming increases their likelihood, size, and frequency.
That warming trend is becoming more and more apparent. This year is on pace to be the third hottest on record globally, according to Climate Central.
In the US, large wildfires now burn more than twice the area they did in 1970, likely due to climate change.
In the western US, the average wildfire season is 78 days longer than it was 50 years ago, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.
In California specifically, the portion of the state that burns from wildfires every year has increased more than five-fold since 1972, a recent study found.
In addition to wildfires, rising temperatures make extreme heat waves more frequent. Europe was hit by back-to-back deadly heat waves over the summer.
The frequency and severity of droughts are increasing, too.
Lakes and reservoirs around the globe are also drying up, since evaporation rates skyrocket when temperatures climb.
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