Analyze This: How hot will it get? | Science News for Students

Analyze This: How hot will it get?

Temperatures are rising because of human-caused climate change
Sep 20, 2018 — 6:20 am EST
a photo of a sunset in Tehran with an orange-red sky

Because of climate change, it’s getting hotter across the globe.

Ahmadmahmood/iStockphoto

Global temperatures have risen by an average of 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since 1850. That’s when people began using fossil fuels in high quantities to provide energy. Burning that coal, oil and natural gas boosted the amount of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere each year. That has added to the thermal “blanket” surrounding the planet. With a heavier blanket, temperatures on the ground began to rise. And it will continue to get warmer in the coming years and decades.

There are a number of different ways to see the effects of those rises in average temperature. One is by comparing the number of days each year that reach 35° Celsius (95° Fahrenheit) or higher. Another is looking at average temperatures for a single season, such as summer.

But just as weather isn’t the same from place to place, temperatures have been rising at different rates in different places. Temperatures in Alaska, for instance, have been rising twice as fast as those across the rest of the globe.

two temperature maps of the continental United States showing how much warmer temperatures are projected to be in the mid-21st century
These maps below compare late 20th century temperatures to projections for the mid–21st century. The number of days each year above 35° Celsius (95° Fahrenheit) is expected to rise across the United States. Average summer temperatures will reach new heights if greenhouse gas emissions remain high.
U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program

Data Dive:

1. Read the caption. Find your state (or pick a U.S. state if your state isn’t shown or you live outside the United States). Explain what each map tells you about that state. Be as detailed as possible, give appropriate units and explain the timeframe of the data shown.

2. Look at the map labeled “Change in number of days above 95˚ F.” Do you notice any general trends for different parts of the country? Describe them.

3. Look at the map labeled “Change in average summer temperatures.” Do you notice any general trends for different parts of the country? Where will temperatures rise the most? Where will they rise the least?

4. What is the overall purpose of these visualizations? Why are they paired together here? Is one map more effective at communicating the overall temperature trend than the other? Explain.

5. What information is missing from these maps that you would like to know? Explain.


Analyze This! explores science through data, graphs, visualizations and more. Have a comment or a suggestion for a future post? Send an email to sns@sciencenews.org.

Power Words

atmosphere     The envelope of gases surrounding Earth or another planet.

average     (in science) A term for the arithmetic mean, which is the sum of a group of numbers that is then divided by the size of the group.

fossil     Any preserved remains or traces of ancient life. There are many different types of fossils: The bones and other body parts of dinosaurs are called “body fossils.” Things like footprints are called “trace fossils.” Even specimens of dinosaur poop are fossils. The process of forming fossils is called fossilization.

fossil fuel     Any fuel — such as coal, petroleum (crude oil) or natural gas — that has developed within the Earth over millions of years from the decayed remains of bacteria, plants or animals.

greenhouse gas     A gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect by absorbing heat. Carbon dioxide is one example of a greenhouse gas.

natural gas     A mix of gases that developed underground over millions of years (often in association with crude oil). Most natural gas starts out as 50 to 90 percent methane, along with small amounts of heavier hydrocarbons, such as propane and butane.

thermal     Of or relating to heat. (in meteorology) A relatively small-scale, rising air current produced when Earth’s surface is heated. Thermals are a common source of low level turbulence for aircraft.

weather     Conditions in the atmosphere at a localized place and a particular time. It is usually described in terms of particular features, such as air pressure, humidity, moisture, any precipitation (rain, snow or ice), temperature and wind speed. Weather constitutes the actual conditions that occur at any time and place. It’s different from climate, which is a description of the conditions that tend to occur in some general region during a particular month or season.

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