Why our Climate System is getting out of hand 

Why our Climate System is getting out of hand 

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The headlines are everywhere – “warmest month“, „driest period“, „extreme precipitation events”. But why are they occurring so often now? Why are all continents affected? And what does it have to do with us humans?

Source: https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/access/monitoring/monthly-report/global/202304

To answer these questions, it’s important to better understand the climate system. It consists of different components: the atmosphere (all gases that surround the Earth), the biosphere (all living aspects), the lithosphere (the crust of the earth), the hydrosphere (liquid water), the cryosphere (frozen ice) and the anthroposphere (all human impacts). All these components interact with each other thereby making sure that changes in one affect all others. Thus, the melting of Greenland and Antarctic ice caps and sea-ice, even though geographically far away, impacts the local weather and climate conditions over Europe, f.i. via the Gulf Stream.

Illustration by KNOWING based on Kenneth W. Baldwin

The loop is reinforcing itself

But what is the actual role of ocean currents, such as the Gulf Stream, in the climate system? They are quite crucial as they continuously decrease the temperature difference between the cold polar and the warm equatorial regions. This temperature gradient is because the polar regions receive less incoming solar radiation and the white surfaces of the ice caps and sea ice reflect a lot of this energy back. Since our lifestyle, which is built on burning fossil fuels and using natural resources, causes an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, our actions directly increase the air temperature. Over the last decades the global (and local) temperature has risen in an unprecedented manner thereby reducing the temperature difference between the polar caps and the equator, melting the sea ice and ice caps, and changing the composition of the ocean – directly impacting the ocean currents. And so, the loop is closed and reinforcing itself.

The important point for us is that, due to the interconnectivity of the earth system, changes that occur far away have a local impact and actions taken at one point of the globe cause impacts at multiple places all over the globe – the well-known “butterfly effect”.

Source: https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/access/monitoring/monthly-report/global/202304