Over the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed more than twice as rapidly as the rest of the United States. Source: National Climate Assessment Report 2014
The menace of global warming has multiplied over the years and unfortunately, the situation continues to escalate with the developed and developing nations locking horns on the issue of implementing emission cuts. Global warming is no doubt a serious issue; all the more so because its effect on one component of the Earth triggers a series of ill-effects on other related components. Melting polar ice, for instance, raises the sea water level, and that, in turn, submerges the low-lying areas around the world.
Basically, global warming is the rise in the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere caused mainly due to the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These gases are mostly produced as a result of human activities (anthropogenic activities). Now that is not to say that their natural sources don't exist, but their impact is not as grave as that of anthropogenic sources.
Who is Affected by Global Warming?
Humans, animals, plants, climate, land ... you name it and it will be affected by global warming. In fact, some species of plants and animals are already on the verge of extinction. Studies indicate that around 15 - 37 percent of the plant and animal species will be wiped off the planet by 2050. A closer look and you will notice that the changes in climatic pattern have already become evident, glaciers are melting, sea level is rising ... to cut it short, we are already on the highway to hell.
Global Warming Effects
Like we said, the planet is getting warmer by the day, and just because the change is happening gradually, it doesn't mean we can afford to ignore it. In fact, the entire planet is threatened by the hazards of global warming and resultant climate change.
Effects on Animals
A large number of animal species will disappear from the planet as a result of the loss of habitat triggered by global warming. In fact, it's feared that sooner or later it will trigger a mass extinction, and one-third of the species will become extinct by 2050 itself.
- Polar Bears: Polar bears depend on ice formed on the sea when hunting. If the ice melts, their range will decrease to a great extent, and this loss of habitat will, in turn, lead to a decline in their population.
- Penguins: Melting sea ice will also result in a decline in the growth of algae, which, in turn, will affect the population of tiny organisms like krill and shrimp, which constitute an important part of the penguin diet. The resultant scarcity of food and loss of habitat will eventually drive the penguins to extinction.
- Arctic Fox: Warm temperature has been driving the Arctic fox further north in search of cooler habitat, but the rate at which we are losing colder regions, the animal is bound to lose the battle for survival sometime in the near future.
These were just a few animals which are threatened by global warming. The considerably long list includes caribou, frogs, butterflies, hibernating animals like bears and squirrels, migratory birds, and several species of fish.
Effects on Plants
Owing to the drastic changes in temperature, various plants have been experiencing difficulties in adapting to the areas where they previously flourished. The growing season of some plant species has also been altered, which, in turn, has disturbed the reproduction cycle of the species, giving a drastic blow to the plant population.
Even the changes in precipitation pattern can lead to hazardous effects on various plants species. In fact, the effects of global warming on agriculture best exemplifies this. Things will only get worse. Frequent rains will lead to flooding, whereas less rains will result in drought. In either case, it will lead to the destruction of agricultural fields. Even hurricanes, which are also known to intensify due to global warming, can have a disastrous effects on vegetation.
Furthermore, extinction of animals will also lead to negative effects on plants, either directly or indirectly. For instance, the extinction of tiger will result in an increase in the number of herbivores, and excessive feeding by them will deplete the forest cover. Similarly, the extinction of birds will affect the pollination process and hamper reproduction in plants. Owing to all these factors, numerous plant species are also expected to become extinct by the end of this century.
Effects on Weather
Increasing temperature will lead to adverse effects on the weather as well. Even minor alterations in global temperature will trigger a series of weather extremities and alter the climatic pattern. The number of natural calamities have increased over the period. Last three decades have witnessed a rise in the number of category 4 and category 5 storms. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) acknowledges the fact that the frequency of intense rains has increased over the last 50 years.
If heating of the ocean due to global warming gives rise to ferocious hurricanes, an increase in the temperature on land gives rise to intense heat waves. Soaring temperature accelerates evaporation of water and leads to drought in one part of the world and brings heavy rainfall and causes floods in the other part. While we can't conclude the serious effects of this phenomenon on weather based on a single drought year or a single devastating hurricane, the recent trend speaks volumes about these natural occurrences.
Effects on Glaciers
One of the more severe effects of global warming on the Earth is the melting of perennial and permanent ice covers on the planet. There are several thousands of glaciers spread all over the world, which form an important source of fresh water. The Global Land Ice Measurement from Space (GLIMS) is one of the several projects that monitor these glaciers. Their studies have revealed that these glaciers are disappearing at an alarming rate. This is viewed as one of the most prominent factors contributing to sea level rise.
- The rate at which the glaciers in Alaska are melting has accelerated, doubling over the period of last 5 - 7 years.
- The number of glaciers in the Glacier National Park in Montana had dropped from an estimated figure of 150 to 50 within a span of 150 years. It is expected to drop further, eventually leading to disappearance of all the glaciers in the park by 2030.
Melting glaciers can trigger flash floods in the surrounding regions. More importantly, the melted water flows into the oceans, thus causing the sea level to rise, which eventually leads to submerging of low-lying areas and tiny islands. It is believed that half the water that flows into the ocean as a result of glacial melting comes from Alaska.
Effects on Sea Levels
Yet another grievous effect of this phenomenon on the planet is the rise in sea levels, which are threatening to encroach up on land. If the sea level rises, it will result in a watery grave for several low-lying areas, tiny islands, and reclaimed portions of land. So how exactly is it affecting sea levels? Basics of geographical studies suggests that water expands when heated. In this case, rising global temperatures are causing the water bodies to heat and expand.
Another prominent reason for sea level rise is melting ice from the glaciers and polar ice sheets, which is again accelerated by global warming. These ice stores are far massive than we can imagine. In fact, melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet alone may cause the sea to rise by a whopping 10 meters.
- According to the IPCC, the sea levels have witnessed a rise of 6.7 inches in the last century.
- At the ongoing rate, the global sea levels are expected to rise by 22 inches by 2100.
If this happens, islands like Maldives and Tuvalu, and low-lying areas like Bangladesh and Florida in the United States, will go underwater. Also, important cities like Mumbai, Shanghai, and Florida will become vulnerable to the watery grave like the legendary city of Atlantis. In fact, the sinking of Maldives is the best possible example of destruction due to rise in sea levels.
Effects on Coral Reefs
The effects of global warming on the coral reefs are devastating to an extent that these reefs would be the first major ecosystem to be wiped off the planet. When the ocean water gets warm, the algae produces toxic oxygen compounds called superoxides, which are damaging for the corals. As a defense mechanism, the corals eject their algal lodgers, which leaves the reefs starved for nutrients and their color turns white in what is referred to as bleaching.
Global warming is threatening the coral reefs to a great extent, and if coral reefs are wiped off, it will affect one third of planet's marine biodiversity and other related ecosystems.
Effects on Humans
When the whole of the planet will be reeling under the effects of global warming, but obviously even humans will bear its brunt. In fact, we will be among the worst affected, as we are dependent on all the components of the environment we discussed above. Animals and plants are related to each other, so the extinction of either will put tremendous pressure on the dependent species, eventually leading to its extinction. We being dependent on both, should be more worried about such turn of events.
Irregular weather will have a severe impact on several human activities. Warm summers will mean more allergies and more disease spreading insects. Unnatural precipitation will lead to destruction of crops and affect the agriculture sector. Rising temperature will lead to warming of ocean bodies, which, in turn, will increase the frequency of hurricanes.
Destruction of coral reefs will lead to the loss of marine life including fish, which is an important constituent of our diet. Loss of glaciers will hamper the water supply for millions. Rise in sea level will alter the coastlines, thus affecting the tourism sector. The saline water from oceans will flow into river beds, thus making the river water unusable.
Coastal areas around the world are highly populated, so any rise in sea level will lead to a heavy impact on the people residing in coastal areas. Glaciologist's estimate that if melting of glaciers at the present rate continues, around 20 percent of Bangladesh will get submerged by 2020. Countries like Maldives, with the highest point of 2.4 meters above mean sea level (MSL), will get submerged if the sea water levels rise by 3 meters.
Effects on Economy
The repercussions of the aforementioned effects of global warming will also be felt on the economy of various nations. Those nations with an agriculture-led economy are likely to be the most affected. The phenomenon will trigger a series of changes in weather conditions, which will take its toll on agriculture and allied activities. Owing to unnatural precipitation pattern, crop failure will become a very common phenomenon.
Economies dependent on tourism―Maldives being an apt example of the same, will also bear the brunt of global warming. As the water levels rise, all the coastal area will get submerged leaving the world devoid of beautiful beaches. Considering that the world has become a global village, the domino effect will also be seen on other countries and more importantly, on the world economy.
Not everything about global warming would be bad though. Warmer climate will mean a longer growing season and hence, an increase in production. In the United States, it will melt the polar caps along the Northwest Passage, which will be a boon for the shipping industry. The problem is that its negative effects far exceed the positive effects, and thus, we need to be concerned about the future and try to find out a solution to this problem. The natural causes of global warming, which include water vapor and volcanoes, are beyond our reach, but we can make sure that anthropogenic causes are reduced. If we don't initiate the necessary steps soon, we will have to face its wrath sometime in the near future.
Skeptics argue that most of these problems are exaggerated. Turning a blind eye to the obvious signs of destruction, they argue that these effects are not going to affect us anytime soon. But then, when we know that a drop of 5° over a period can trigger an ice age, shouldn't we be worried about a rise of 5° and the devastating effects it can have on the planet?