The Earth is changing faster than at any point in human memory as a result of human-caused global heating.
Since the mid-1800s, when we began burning fossil fuels at an industrial scale, we have been modifying our atmosphere and causing the globe to heat up. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, which causes hotter temperatures, rises in sea level, disruption to ecosystems and more extreme weather.
Scientists have forecast that if the world passes 2C of heating above pre-industrial levels, the consequences will be catastrophic for billions of people around the world. Governments signed the Paris agreement in 2015 in which they agreed to limit warming to 2C with an ambition to keep it below 1.5C.
This page will track a selection of the planet’s vital signs, from carbon dioxide levels to Arctic sea ice, and act as a reference point. The graphs are fed from data sources including Nasa, the US National Snow and Ice Data Center and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They will automatically update and follow the Earth’s climate trajectory, providing a visual representation of the climate crisis.
Global temperature change
Monthly temperature anomaly compared to 1951-1980 baseline
Earth’s temperatures have long fluctuated, but since the industrial revolution the planet has seen an unprecedented rise in temperatures, especially in recent decades. 19 of the 20 warmest years on record have been recorded since 2001, and the world is now about 1C above pre-industrial levels. The Paris agreement set a target not to exceed 2C, with the ambition to remain below 1.5C.
Weekly carbon count at Mauna Loa, Hawaii
4 Apr 2021
19744 Apr 2021
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which traps heat in the atmosphere and is one of the main contributors to global heating. Since the industrial revolution, levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have soared to above 400 parts per million, the highest level for millions of years. Readings are taken at an observatory on the Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii, and usually peak in May each year.
Ice mass subhead
Ice on land is melting at a rapid rate as well, especially in the northern hemisphere. Having remained relatively stable until the 1990s, Greenland is now losing ice at a rate of about 280 gigatonnes a year, while Antarctica is losing about 150 gigatonnes a year. The melting of Antarctica’s ice cap, which holds more than half of the Earth’s fresh water, would prove catastrophic for global sea level rise.
Global sea level change
As the world warms, ice stored at the poles and in glaciers melts, and sea levels rise. The rate of rise has accelerated in recent decades, and is now estimated at 3-4mm a year. Scientists have forecast that unless drastic action is taken to reduce emissions, sea levels could rise by about a metre by the end of the century, which would be catastrophic for many low-lying nations and populous coastal cities.
Arctic ice minimum
Arctic monthly mean sea ice extent
14.784 million m2
Source: European Environment Agency
Ice cover in the Arctic Ocean has fallen dramatically in recent decades as a result of global heating. This melting ice contributes to sea level rise and disrupts ocean and weather patterns. It normally reaches its annual low in September, at the end of the northern hemisphere summer. Some scientists believe the Arctic may reach a tipping point when the trajectory of sea ice loss becomes irreversible.
(This data is or might be dated as ‘The Guardian’ implements updates on their site…)