Traveling with NASA’s “weather machine”


Marina Fernández Marina Fernández Lorenzo Pasqualini
climatic time machine
Do you want to go back in time? Use the “NASA time machine” and find out about the ongoing climate changes.

There NASA has developed recently a series of very easy to use tools, which allow us to travel back in time and see, thanks to maps and images, how Earth’s climate is changing.

There “climate time machine” it allows us to go back and advance in time, showing chow they change with the years four climate indicators key to our planet.

Faced with so many percentage values, figures grouped by decades, averages by region and other data that can confuse us when it comes to climate change, NASA organized this mass of information by creating a clear and simple summary to visualize. Let’s see what it’s about.

Sea ice

The melting of sea ice is one of the key indicators of the change in the earth’s climate. NASA offers a collection of satellite images, sorted in chronological order, by to be able to travel in the past 40 years through the Arctic circle.

The images used are always those taken at the end of each summer, in order to show the annual minimum of sea ice and make a comparison that can be valid year after year. Just at the end of summer the sea ice layer reaches its minimum extension, leaving only the perennial ice in view.

Read also. 5 curiosities about climate change

Seeing these pictures it is clear how the area of ​​the Perennial ice in the Arctic has been falling steadily since satellite recording began in 1979. The constant melting of sea ice brings important consequences that alter the local ecosystem and are reflected in different indicators: water salinity, changes in sea currents, changes in regional and global meteorological models, etc.

Hielo marino
The reduction of sea ice is greatest in September. Source: Satellite observations, NASA Scientific Visualization Studio.

According to the last special report on the oceans and the IPCC cryosphere, the extent of Arctic sea ice is continuously decreasing in all months of the year, but the reductions are stronger in September (a loss of –12.8 ± 2.3% every decade in the period 1979-2018).

This reduction is unprecedented in the past 1000 years. Arctic sea ice shrinks, coinciding with a change in the type of ice, increasingly “younger”: since 1979, the real proportion dice often (with at least 5 years of accumulation), it is decreased of a About 90%. At least half of the sea ice lost and observed in recent times is attributable to the increase in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.

Read also. April 2020, hot world record: only hot in April 2016

Sea level

This is another of the indicators used by NASA for time travel. According to recent satellite observations, they have emerged thinnings of the Greenland ice sheet at lower altitudes. A partial melting of this ice sheet would cause a 1 meter rise in the seas.

The images displayed by this NASA time machine show what effect would it have on coastal regions every meter of sea level rise, up to 6 meters. The areas that would be flooded are colored red. If the Greenland ice sheet melts completely, the sea level will rise from 5 to 7 meters.

increase in nivel del mar
NASA map shows the effect of rising seas in coastal areas for every meter of increase (up to 6 meters)

The global mean sea level (GMSL) is increasing, and in an accelerated way: the sum of the contributions from the glaciers and the ice sheet is now the main source of this increase.

Carbon dioxide

In this time series we show i general changes in the concentration and distribution of carbon dioxide (CO2) since 2002, in a range of heights between 3 and 12 km approximately.

Concentration of carbon dioxide
CO2 concentration and distribution, from September 2002 to December 2016. Source: Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS)

The regions colored in yellow and red show higher concentrations I say2, while the blue and green areas indicate lower concentrations, measured in parts per million (according to data from the Atmospheric Infrared Probe (AIRS)).

Read also. The lockdown does not stop CO2: new historical maximum of concentration

Global temperature

This is the last leg of the trip with NASA’s climate time machine and it is the most used variable when it comes to climate change: rising global temperatures. In this map divided by colors it is possible to identify a progression of changes in global surface temperatures from 1884 to 2019. Dark blue indicates colder areas than the average, while dark red indicates warmer areas than the average.

Global temperature
Change in global surface temperatures from 1884 to 2019. Source: NASA / GISS.

According to the IPCC report, which reflects the long-term warming trend since pre-industrial times, the observed global average surface temperature (GMST) for the decade 2006-2015 was between 0.75 ° C and 0.99 ° C higher than the average in the period 1850-1900. There is more warming than the global annual average in many terrestrial regions, two or three times higher in the Arctic.

Warming is generally higher on land than on the ocean. Human activities are estimated to have caused around 1.0 ° C of global warming above pre-industrial levels, with a likely range of 0.8 ° C to 1.2 ° C. Global warming is likely to reach +1.5 ° C between 2030 and 2052, if it continues to increase at the current rate.

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