Intemperate Planet: How Natural Systems Magnify the Effects of Global Warming – Facts So Romantic

As Arctic ice warms and forms dark melt ponds, it absorbs more sunlight, accelerating global warming.Kathryn Hansen, ICESCAPE mission, NASA

Besides a few lucky astronauts, the entire human experience is contained within a narrow envelope of gas maintained in a relatively narrow temperature range on a single rock hurtling through the vacuum of space. That temperature range depends on a delicate balance between energy entering the atmosphere, from the Sun, and energy leaving the atmosphere, radiating back out. Lucky for us, Earth has natural processes that absorb and hold onto heat to counteract that cooling effect. It is these processes that keep our little rock nice and livably warm. Without the greenhouse effect keeping heat in, Earth’s average temperature would be stuck at an untenable 0 degrees Fahrenheit instead of its actual 59 degrees.

As the world becomes hotter, some of these warming processes become stronger, leading to more and more warming. (They can also be reversed, wherein cooling leads to more cooling.) I like to think of it as the planet being thrifty, trying to get two doses of heating out of a single source. However, pushing these systems into overdrive is the main danger associated…

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