The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives.

The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95 percent probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia.1

Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. This body of data, collected over many years, reveals the signals of a changing climate.

The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century.2 Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA. There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response.

Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that the Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. Ancient evidence can also be found in tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks. This ancient, or paleoclimate, evidence reveals that current warming is occurring roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming.3

The evidence for rapid climate change is compelling:

Global temperature rise

The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.4 Most of the warming occurred in the past 35 years, with the five warmest years on record taking place since 2010. Not only was 2016 the warmest year on record, but eight of the 12 months that make up the year — from January through September, with the exception of June — were the warmest on record for those respective months. 5

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Earth’s vital signs: Global temperature

An indicator of current global average temperature as measured by NASA; updated annually.

Global Climate Change: Causes

An overview of the greenhouse effect and other contributors to abrupt climate change.

Graphic: Global warming from 1880 to 2017

A visualization of global temperature changes since 1880 based on NASA GISS data.

Warming oceans

The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of more than 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969.6

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Climate Kids: What is happening in the ocean?

An overview of the ocean’s role in climate change and how it stores and releases heat from the atmosphere.

Video: Oceans of climate change

A lighthearted look at the effect of climate change on the world’s oceans and the heat capacity of water.

Article: Warming ocean causing most Antarctic ice shelf mass loss

Ocean waters melting the undersides of Antarctic ice shelves are responsible for most of the continent’s ice shelf mass loss, a new study by NASA and university researchers has found.

Shrinking ice sheets

The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in mass. Data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment show Greenland lost an average of 281 billion tons of ice per year between 1993 and 2016, while Antarctica lost about 119 billion tons during the same time period. The rate of Antarctica ice mass loss has tripled in the last decade.7

Image: Flowing meltwater from the Greenland ice sheet

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Vital Signs: Land Ice

An indicator of the current volume and the Antarctica and Greenland ice sheets using data from NASA’s Grace satellite.

Global Ice Viewer

An interactive exploration of how global warming is affecting sea ice, glaciers and continental ice sheets world wide.

Glacial retreat

Glaciers are retreating almost everywhere around the world — including in the Alps, Himalayas, Andes, Rockies, Alaska and Africa.8

Image: The disappearing snowcap of Mount Kilimanjaro, from space.

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Interactive: Global ice viewer

An interactive exploration of how global warming is affect sea ice, glaciers and continental ice sheets worldwide.

Decreased snow cover

Satellite observations reveal that the amount of spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased over the past five decades and that the snow is melting earlier.9

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National Snow and Ice Data Center

As an information and referral center in support of polar and cryospheric research,NSIDC archives and distributes digital and analog snow, ice, and

Earth Observatory: Snow Cover

Time series of global snow cover from NASA’s Earth Observatory.

Sea level rise

Global sea level rose about 8 inches in the last century. The rate in the last two decades, however, is nearly double that of the last century and is accelerating slightly every year.10

Image: Republic of Maldives: Vulnerable to sea level rise

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Earth’s vital signs: Sea Level

An indicator of current global sea level as measured by satellites; updated monthly.

Quiz: Sea level

Test your knowledge of sea level rise with this interactive quiz.

Declining Arctic sea ice

Both the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice has declined rapidly over the last several decades.11

Image: Visualization of the 2012 Arctic sea ice minimum, the lowest on record

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Earth’s vital signs: Sea ice

An indicator of changes in the Arctic sea ice minimum over time. Arctic sea ice extent both affects and is affected by global climate change.

Interactive: Global ice viewer

An interactive exploration of how global warming is affecting sea ice, glaciers and continental ice sheets worldwide.

NASA’s Operation Icebridge mission

NASA’s Operation IceBridge images Earth’s polar ice in unprecedented detail to better understand processes that connect the polar regions with the global climate system.

Extreme events

The number of record high temperature events in the United States has been increasing, while the number of record low temperature events has been decreasing, since 1950. The U.S. has also witnessed increasing numbers of intense rainfall events.12

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Precipitation Measurement Missions

The official website for NASA’s fleet of Earth science missions that study rainfall and other types precipitation around the globe.

Precipitation Quiz

Earth’s water is stored in ice and snow, lakes and rivers, the atmosphere and the oceans. How much do you know about how water is cycled around our planet and the crucial role it plays in our climate?

Ocean acidification

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent.13,14 This increase is the result of humans emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and hence more being absorbed into the oceans. The amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the upper layer of the oceans is increasing by about 2 billion tons per year.15,16

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Curated from climate.nasa.gov

Sokha Hin
Sokha Hin is cofounder of OpenTeam. Engaged into creating a more sustainable economy. 10+ years track in innovation and digital startup environment. Discovered the so little-known reality of climate change at COP20, in Lima, Peru, Dec 2014. Engaged as a consequence into raising awarness of citizens worldwide and empowering citizens into concrete action through digital tools and spreading social entrepreneurship. The World can evolve only by providing a collective reponse, up to the stake of climate change.

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