NASA’s climate change scientists predict precipitation changes

Shaina Lee, Reporter

When it comes to perceptions about the reality of our planet, science oftentimes takes a backseat to belief. Either we don’t understand the extent we harm our environment, or we do, but choose to think otherwise. This Earth Day, it is especially imperative that we analyze a critical phenomenon that has been targeted as myth—climate change.


So, how do we know the earth is warming?

The heating of earth’s climate isn’t anything new. In fact, over the last 650,000 years the planet has experienced seven cycles of extreme peaks and troughs in temperature, typically due to small changes in Earth’s orbit that altered the amount of solar energy the planet received, according to NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). However, the difference now is that “over the past 100 years or so, temperatures have been rising exceptionally fast,” Dr. Allegra LeGrande, a climate scientist from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said.

How could we possibly have climate data from such a long time ago, when human civilization didn’t exist? According to scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the answer lies within glacial ice cores from environments such as Greenland, where the thickness of each level reveals how much snow fell in a particular year. Also, the chemical composition of the snow shows the concentration of a particular form of oxygen that indicates colder temperatures. Along with this, scientists have been able to find evidence in tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks, which have all supported the conclusion that, according to NASA, “the current warming is occurring ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming.”

Presently, scientists have observed the sea level rising at a rate in the last decade nearly double that of the past century. Scientists also see ocean temperatures warming, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, decreased snow cover, and ocean acidification resulting from higher CO2 concentrations.

What is causing the earth to warm?

We know, based on NASA’s data from satellites measuring the energy output of the sun, that the amount of solar energy the planet has received has not changed, and has in fact dropped slightly. Thus, we can rule this out as a factor.

The greenhouse effect has proven to be the main contributor, which occurs when sunlight passes through the atmosphere and warms the earth’s surface, and molecules such as carbon dioxide and methane trap the heat radiating from earth towards space, thus heating the atmosphere. This mechanism, as a result of the exponential increase in concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, is the driving force behind the rapid climate change occurring today—and humans are to blame.

Since the Industrial Revolution, CO2 concentrations have increased by more than a third, as a result of burning fossil fuels (i.e. oil and coal), and vast deforestation, which has removed organisms responsible for the intake of CO2. According to NOAA, these levels have never been above 300pmm, but are currently at 400pm—the highest we’ve seen in thousands of years, at the fastest rate (just within the past 150 years), resulting after the industrial development of human civilization.

This assertion is backed by the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community. According to The Consensus Project, 97% of published peer-reviewed climate papers agree that global warming is happening and humans are the cause, while little to no scientific publications have been released rejecting this conclusion. In addition, 200+ leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements backing this position.

What are the effects?

If carbon emissions continue at their current rate and temperatures continue to rise, the environment will suffer. According to NASA’s climate scientists, we’ll see more droughts and heat waves and changes in precipitation patterns, which will negatively impact the soil and food supply, and there will be an increase in natural disasters such as hurricanes. Sea levels will eventually flood coastal cities and make the soil and water more acidic due to ocean acidification. Hotter temperatures will increase the amount of regions in which disease-carrying insects such as mosquitos can thrive, and epidemics such as malaria and Zika will spread globally.

Aside from the climate change itself, unregulated emissions will increase air pollution, a major human health hazard, and will disrupt ecosystems, deplete our natural resources, increase acid rain, and deplete biodiversity, which will make life on earth unsustainable.


But here’s the catch—it doesn’t have to be this way. We can better preserve our species and ecosystems if we start reducing our carbon footprint by decreasing emissions, and switch to alternate forms of energy. “If we wait until the effects become unbearable for humans, it won’t be reversible then,” Hope Club president Marcy Ledvinka (’17) said.

However, we cannot move forward towards a sustainable future if the reality of what is happening isn’t acknowledged. “I personally believe that the school system hasn’t put much emphasis on teaching about climate change in science classes,” Ledvinka said. “I don’t think much is taught about climate change outside of high school either and the fact environmental science isn’t a mandatory science to take worsens the odds of anybody knowing anything about it.”

To some, misinformation is reason people haven’t been able to accept climate change. “A lot of people have the warped viewpoint that climate change isn’t real because of what their parents or government think when they really never have gotten the chance to hear the facts,” Ledvinka said. AP Environmental student Lindsay Bull (’17) attributes this to “false information on television and social media.”