One degree Fahrenheit might not sound like a lot, but picture the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of a cup of water that amount. Multiply that for a swimming pool. Do so again for a planet, say Earth.
For biology and environmental studies professor Dan Perlman of Brandeis University in Waltham, that's the import of a new report citing the past decade as the globe's warmest on record, by nearly one degree.
"That, along with all the other evidence, continues to support the idea that we're in store for something really big here," Perlman said this past week, citing his belief that man-made emissions are artificially warming the Earth. "It's like it's another few bricks in our certainty."
The report, issued Tuesday by the National Climatic Data Center, found that the decade 2000 to 2009 had the highest average temperature dating back to the start of record-keeping in 1880. The decade was 0.96 degree warmer than the 129-year average, breaking the record of 0.56 degree warmer set by the '90s and continuing a trend from the '60s.
Also, while 0.96 degree represents a significant amount of energy, Perlman said, that number is an average for the globe, with some places staying flat or cooling and others, like the polar north, spiking.
"There are some places that are really getting hammered," he said.
Scientists like Perlman and many others attribute most of the warming since the mid-20th century to human activities such as the release of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere through fossil fuel burning. They say the evidence and causal relationships are well-established.
"How certain do you want to be?" asked Larry McKenna, a professor in Framingham State College's department of physics and earth sciences. "We're getting up to the 99 percent level."
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