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There are multiple climate change indicators that we can easily associate global warming with, such as rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and peculiar weather patterns. Out of the numerous indicators, I find wildfires to be one of the most intriguing and relevant considering the recent wildfires that have struck Tennessee. People do not commonly associate wildfires and climate change since, how could rising temperatures possibly spark a wildfire? Climate change might not be igniting the flame, but it definitely is setting the perfect conditions for a wildfire to thrive. According to Washington Post reporter, Angela Fritz, Gatlinburg, TN has had the hottest and driest autumn on record and the Great Smoky Mountains region has been in an “exception drought” for months (Fritz). This, mixed with 50-80 mph gusts of winds creates “the worst possible conditions imaginable”, as Gatlinburg Fire Department Chief Greg Miller puts it. Wildfires can be a common occurrence in many forests around the world. However, in recent years, they have reached an unnatural level of frequency and intensity. Take for example Alaska, “home to most of the boreal forest in the United States, had its second-largest fire season on record in 2015, with 768 fires burning more than five million acres” (Gillis). Temperatures are rising especially quick in northern regions like Alaska, Russia, and northern Canada, compared to the rest of Earth. This excess heat leads to snow cover melting prematurely and forests drying out earlier than in the past. It may even be increasing lightning, which often sets off the most devastating wildfires (Gillis). Canadian and Alaskan data show sharp increases in the area burned in recent decades, and in parts of Alaska having fires that have been at their worst in the past 10,000 years. Scientists explanations for the increase of fires is the early melting of the spring snowpack across the Northern Hemisphere, leading to a dryer landscape earlier in the fire season. Scary stuff. But what’s, even more, scarier is that this year’s April snowpack in the Northern Hemisphere was the lowest since records began half a century ago, according to David Robinson, a climatologist at Rutgers University who tracks snow cover (Gillis). But this is not the only region in the world breaking new records. This past summer was the hottest on record for California, being more than 3 degrees above the 20th-century average, according to NOAA. Over the last few decades, global warming has had a profound impact on wildfire activity in the Western United States. And with “more warming all but inevitable due to the climate-altering greenhouse gasses humans have already put into the atmosphere, California, and other Western states are likely to face ever-more-dangerous fire conditions going forward” (Roth). With rising temperatures, “soils and vegetation are losing moisture earlier in the spring and staying dry later in the fall, meaning they’re flammable for more of the year” (Roth). These changes mean extended fire seasons, with more fires burning even longer. Mark Cochrane, a fire ecologist at South Dakota State University, conducted a study on the average lengths of fire seasons. He found that globally, “the average fire weather season — the period during which fires are most likely to burn — grew by 19 percent from 1979 to 2013…and in Southern California, prime fire conditions persisted nearly 50 days longer in 2013 than they had in 1979” (Roth). These statistics are no natural coincident. They are the direct consequence of climate change and years of human carelessness.
As I stated earlier, there are a variety of climate change indicators that one can easily associate to global warming. Rising sea levels are typically one of the more commonly thought of indicators; however, it seems many do not understand the severity this indicator will have on coastal towns across the United States, and around the world. As ice on land melts and makes its way to the ocean, and since warm water expands, the ocean begins to swell itself. According to NASA, “seas are currently rising at a rate of 3.5 millimeters per year, which converts to about 1.4 inches per decade” (Mooney). Now that might not sound like a whole lot or very rapid, but that comes out to be nearly 14 feet a century! By 2116, the geography of thousands of miles of global coastline could look significantly different. Though, many scientists have long expected that the story should be worse than this. Predictions suggest that, “seas should not only rise but that the rise should accelerate, meaning that the annual rate of rising should itself increase over time…that’s because the great ice sheets, Greenland and Antarctica, should lose more and more mass, and the heat in the ocean should also increase” (Mooney). Many coastal towns, such as Miami Beach; Charleston, S.C.; and Norfolk, Va., are already experiencing the consequences of rising sea levels through “tidal flooding”. This type of flooding most often produces only a foot or two of standing salt water but strains life in coastal towns by killing trees and lawns, blocking neighborhood streets, clogging storm drains, and polluting supplies of freshwater (Gillis). But this is only the beginning according to scientists. In a scientific study, climatologists “reconstructed the level of the sea over time and confirmed that it is most likely rising faster than at any point in 28 centuries, with the rate of increase growing sharply over the past century — largely, they found, because of the warming that scientists have said is almost certainly caused by human emissions” (Gillis). The two largest metropolitan areas in the United States, New York City, and Los Angeles, are directly adjacent to the ocean. This puts millions of Americans in jeopardy of health, well-being, and employment risks. In New York City, sea levels are already rising well above the global average and are only progressing (Misra). Since 1900, the New York City metro area sea level have risen by a foot. Experts say that areas sea levels could increase another foot in 15 years and three feet by 2080, destroying the homes and workplaces of tens of thousands (Misra). It seems each day mankind is witnessing record breaking history all around the world since record keeping began. Something has happened over the past several decades. Our world is finally reacting to the years of exploitation by its human inhabitants. Wildfires and rising sea levels are just two of the many climate change indicators that are proving something is very wrong with our planet. Anyone can see that the consequences of these two indicators alone should be a cause for concern and that climate change is all too real
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