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Lynyrd Skynyrd fans raising money for site markers. Can't sleep? Two-thirds of the warming has occurred since , at a rate of roughly 0. But why should we care about one degree of warming? After all, the temperature fluctuates by many degrees every day where we live. The global temperature record represents an average over the entire surface of the planet.
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The temperatures we experience locally and in short periods can fluctuate significantly due to predictable cyclical events night and day, summer and winter and hard-to-predict wind and precipitation patterns. But the global temperature mainly depends on how much energy the planet receives from the Sun and how much it radiates back into space—quantities that change very little. The amount of energy radiated by the Earth depends significantly on the chemical composition of the atmosphere, particularly the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
A one-degree global change is significant because it takes a vast amount of heat to warm all the oceans, atmosphere, and land by that much. In the past, a one- to two-degree drop was all it took to plunge the Earth into the Little Ice Age.
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A five-degree drop was enough to bury a large part of North America under a towering mass of ice 20, years ago. The maps above show temperature anomalies, or changes, not absolute temperature. They depict how much various regions of the world have warmed or cooled when compared with a base period of In other words, the maps show how much warmer or colder a region is compared to the norm for that region from Global temperature records start around because observations did not sufficiently cover enough of the planet prior to that time.
The period of was chosen largely because the U. The GISS temperature analysis effort began around , so the most recent 30 years was Though there are minor variations from year to year, all four records show peaks and valleys in sync with each other. All show rapid warming in the past few decades, and all show the last decade as the warmest. To conduct its analysis, GISS uses publicly available data from 6, meteorological stations around the world; ship- and buoy-based observations of sea surface temperature; and Antarctic research station measurements.
These three data sets are loaded into a computer analysis program—available for public download from the GISS web site—that calculates trends in temperature anomalies relative to the average temperature for the same month during The objective, according to GISS scientists, is to provide an estimate of temperature change that could be compared with predictions of global climate change in response to atmospheric carbon dioxide, aerosols, and changes in solar activity.
Temperatures in a given year or decade might rise 5 degrees in one region and drop 2 degrees in another.
Exceptionally cold winters in one region might be followed by exceptionally warm summers. Or a cold winter in one area might be balanced by an extremely warm winter in another part of the globe. Generally, warming is greater over land than over the oceans because water is slower to absorb and release heat thermal inertia. Warming may also differ substantially within specific land masses and ocean basins.