Picture of the Day: The Planet Heats Up

More

616910main_gisstemp_2011_graph_lrg[1].jpg

Last year was the ninth warmest on record, and nine of the 10 warmest years in the modern meteorological record have occurred since 2000, according to a new analysis from NASA that compares temperatures to the mid-20th-century average. The only year among the top-10 warmest from the 20th century is 1998. Last year was marked by two factors that should have brought temperatures slightly down -- La Nina and low solar activity -- but despite these it was one of the warmest on record. 

Higher temperatures today are the result of higher concentrations of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide. In 1880, when the study's temperature record-keeping begins, the concentration of carbon dioxide was 285 parts per million. Today it is more than 390 parts per million and rapidly increasing. Many top climate scientists, including NASA's James Hansen, have argued that a level not exceeding 350 parts per million is necessary "if humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted." 

The above graph shows the difference between the annual average temperature and a baseline drawn from 1951 to 1980. The video below shows the geographic distribution of the changing temperatures. Blues indicate temperatures below the baseline and reds indicate temperatures above.

Below, recent Pictures of the Day:

Image: NASA.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

A Breathtaking Tour Above the Moab Desert

Filmmaker Ian Cresswell rigs an HD camera atop a remote-controlled "octocopter" for some spectacular aerial views.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more

Video

Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.

Video

What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In