The Planet Is Heating Up—and Fast
Glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, cloud forests are drying, and wildlife is scrambling to keep pace. It's becoming clear that humans have caused most of the past century's warming by releasing heat-trapping gases as we power our modern lives. Called greenhouse gases, their levels are higher now than in the last 650,000 years.
We call the result global warming, but it is causing a set of changes to the Earth's climate, or long-term weather patterns, that varies from place to place. As the Earth spins each day, the new heat swirls with it, picking up moisture over the oceans, rising here, settling there. It's changing the rhythms of climate that all living things have come to rely upon.
What will we do to slow this warming? How will we cope with the changes we've already set into motion? While we struggle to figure it all out, the face of the Earth as we know it—coasts, forests, farms and snow-capped mountains—hangs in the balance.
Temperatures are rising worldwide. That's causing weather to change. It is also affecting wildlife. The rising surface temperature is called global warming. Since 1850, Earth has warmed by about one degree F. Some places, such as Glacier National Park, have warmed up more. Some have warmed up less. WORLDWIDE WARMING
One degree may seem small. But it is causing big changes worldwide. In the Antarctic and Arctic, sea ice is melting. The meltdown forms clouds that can make more snowfall than usual. More snow can harm wildlife. Penguins in Antarctica are having a hard time finding a place to lay eggs. They normally lay eggs on dry ground in the spring. But more snow is falling today. The penguins have to lay their eggs in the snow. When the snow melts, the water rots many of the eggs. That's causing the number of penguins to drop. TROUBLE IN THE TROPICS
Earth's warmer areas are also affected. Tiny animals called coral polyps build huge reefs in warm ocean water. Reefs come in many different colors. Fish dart around the reefs. Lots of other creatures call coral reefs home. But many coral reefs are in trouble. Because of global warming, ocean water is heating up. If the water near a reef gets too warm, the polyps die. Then the once colorful reef turns white. When a reef dies, fish and other creatures have to find new homes, or they die too. WHAT'S GOING ON?
No one is sure what is causing the worldwide warm-up. Most scientists blame some gases in Earth's atmosphere. They point to one gas in particular—carbon dioxide. That gas keeps our planet warm by trapping heat from the sun. If there isn't enough of the gas, temperatures go down. If too much of the gas builds up, temperatures rise. Many things make carbon dioxide. For example, erupting volcanoes make it. Cars, trucks, factories, and power plants also make it. All these things combined may be causing the gas to build up in Earth's atmosphere. THE MELTDOWN
If the warming continues, glaciers in Glacier National Park will continue to melt. Of course, the park will still be there. Only the glaciers will be gone. The melting glaciers could push wildlife out of the area. Grizzly bears are one example. They often move into the park's meadows to eat berries and other favorite snack foods.
|Polar Bear Extinction? |[pic] | |Polar bears could be extinct in 100 years if | | |climate change continues to melt the North | | |Pole's ice. | | |The North Pole's 'permanent' ice is melting by| | |10% each year and is likely to speed up as the|...
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