Thermometers & Stopwatches
I do not think much about thermometers, nor need to, because it seems that the temperature is all around me every day. It is on my phone, on television, in the newspaper. Heck, it is even on the signs in front of several banks near where I live and go to school, although I am not sure why it is always banks that seem to display the temperature.
Even though these devices and their displays are ubiquitous in our daily lives, I think that understanding a small bit about thermometers as a scientific measuring device is important to all of us to understand what is happening, what is changing all around us right now. We see it, feel it, sense it but it is increasingly important that we understand it because this fairly simple and old device, the thermometer, is quietly defining a growing catastrophe that our planet and places like South Florida face.
The thermometer’s development evolved over time with early and important contributions coming from Galileo and Sir Isaac Newton until Daniel Fahrenheit created a temperature scale in 1724 that led to the device that is universally used today. By 1880 thermometers were being widely used to measure atmospheric temperature on a daily basis all over earth and the use of those measurements continues to this day. In fact, worldwide about 6,300 meteorological stations collect publically available data that scientists assemble as part of their monthly analysis.
So what does my iPhone’s weather app, our local bank’s sign and the thermometer have to do with anything? A lot, actually. Scientists all over the planet used these devices to determine that 2014 was the warmest year in 135 years of recorded, historical data. That is, until scientists announced that temperatures in 2015 were even warmer and had broken the ‘old’ record from just a year earlier.
And now comes yesterday’s report that the Earth Sciences Division of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) published yesterday and in doing so announced that July 2016 was the warmest single month in the 136 year history of recorded data (since 1880 when records began to be kept). This news is yet further evidence that our climate is, in fact, changing and that the change continues to be a warmer and warmer planet. In fact, in announcing the July results, NASA predicted that 2016 will become the warmest year in recorded history, breaking the ‘old’ record of 2015. As NASA’s GISS Director Gavin Schmidt explained; “It appears almost a certainty that 2016 also will be the warmest year on record.”
Now, we can debate the cause (it cannot be a coincidence that the world industrialized between the mid 1700’s and mid-1800’s, going from hand/man operated devices to machines, along with the creation of factories [all of which were, and most of which remain, powered by fossil fuel burning technologies such as gas and coal], and temperatures and carbon in our atmosphere have done nothing but rise ever since), but we need not talk about any of that. The science, and thermometers, say it all. July, I have learned, is historically always earth’s warmest month. Until last month, July 2016, the record for the single hottest month on earth had been, you guessed it, July of 2015, just last year. By NASA’s calculations, July 2016 was 1.51 degrees Fahrenheit (0.84 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1950-1980 global average. That might not seem like much but over such a short time frame that increase is disastrous.
And the scary thing, to use a phrase climate scientist Chris Field uses, is that July 2016 was not only the hottest month in recorded history but marks the 10th month in a row that earth has set a new record, according to NASA.
“The scary thing is that we are moving into an era where it will be a surprise when each new month or year isn’t one of the hottest on record,” said Chris Field, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution and Stanford University.
This new record and all the records that have been broken in recent years tell one cohesive story, said Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies: “The planet is getting warmer. It’s important for what it tells us about the future.”
So what do these warming trends and records mean to you and me and why should we care? What the thermometer is telling us, 6,300 of them worldwide being analyzed by leading scientist all over the planet every month, is that the warmer earth becomes, the more glacial ice will melt in Greenland and Antarctica and the more that the ice melts the more water is placed into our oceans that then causes our sea levels to rise and rise.
In South Florida those rising seas threaten the very existence of places like Miami Beach, the Florida Keys and the Everglades. In my lifetime the damage is about to become catastrophic if mankind does not act and change our reliance on fossil fuels. And that reality, along with the indisputable science, reminds me of another measuring device (in this case one invented in 1821), the stop watch. Folks, the stop watch clock of time for us to address our warming planet is ticking down and we all must act now before it’s too late. Time is, so says the science, running out.
To learn more about NASA GISS’ monthly temperature analysis, visit: data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp and to learn about the NASA GISS, visit: www.giss.nasa.gov. Please also visit The Sink or Swim Project’s Home Page (http://miamisearise.com/) for the latest news from NASA and their daily news feed (nasa.gov).