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Understanding the Acceleration of Earth's Heat Content and Its Implications

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Zara Nwosu
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Understanding the Acceleration of Earth's Heat Content and Its Implications

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The Earth's climate system is exhibiting a substantial acceleration in its heat content since the 1960s, according to recent studies. The estimated in-situ Global Ocean Heat Content (GOHC) acceleration is 0.30 ±0.28 (W/m2)/decade from 2002 to 2020. This acceleration is robust over a multidecadal scale, indicating a long-term change in our climate system. However, due to uncertainties in the observing system and methodological choices, drawing firm conclusions about the increased rate of acceleration over the past two decades has been challenging.

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The Acceleration of Earth’s Heat Content

Data indicates that global temperatures have been on the rise since the 1960s, with 2022 ranking as the 5th warmest year on record since 1880. The rate of global warming has accelerated in the past 6-7 years, reflecting an increased growth rate of the total global climate forcing and Earth's energy imbalance. Projections for global temperatures in 2022 and 2023 continue to signal warming, alongside warnings about the average global temperature increase exceeding 1C above pre-industrial levels.

Global Dimming and Brightening

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The Earth experienced a decline in the amount of sunlight reaching its surface, a phenomenon known as global dimming, from the 1950s to the 1980s. This was attributed to an increase in atmospheric particulate matter due to air pollution. However, global dimming began to reverse after the 1980s, alongside reductions in particulate emissions, in what is referred to as global brightening. This reversal contributed to the acceleration of global warming which began in the 1990s. Though the process is similar to reductions in direct sunlight after volcanic eruptions, uncertainties remain about the models' representation of aerosol impacts on weather systems.

Climate Change Impact in the United States

The United States has experienced a significant temperature increase of 2.6°F (1.4°C) since 1970. This shift has led to extreme weather events, floods, and droughts, with impacts on tropical cyclones and sea level rise affecting various regions. The U.S. has emitted a large share of greenhouse gases, contributing significantly to the current climate change, with one of the highest per capita emissions globally. These changes have had far-reaching impacts on agriculture, the economy, human health, and indigenous peoples, and are now seen as a national security threat.

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Climate Crisis as a Health Emergency

The climate crisis is increasingly being viewed as a health emergency. Rising temperatures have led to increased mortality from hurricanes and cyclones and a global loss of life from floods, droughts, and food insecurity. The physical science behind global heating, extreme weather disasters, and air pollution epidemiology is now being included in educational courses to better equip the next generation with the knowledge to combat climate change.

In conclusion, the acceleration of Earth's heat content points to a significant long-term change in our climate system. There is an urgent need for further investigation and quantification to better understand and attribute the recent increase in acceleration. Moreover, the global climate observing system must be maintained and improved to effectively monitor climate change. This will allow us to better prepare for and mitigate the far-reaching impacts of climate change on our planet and society.

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