Global Warming Predictions for the 21st Century

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Global sea levels could rise by as much as two feet in the next century.

Learn about upcoming global warming predictions for water levels and temperatures for the planet earth.

The prognosis for climate change in the U.S. in the 21st century looks pretty hot — but don’t rush to the beach.

Global warming predictions show the temperature in this country could rise anywhere from 5 degrees Fahrenheit to 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the next century, according to a federal report released in June by the U.S. Global Change Research Program. Coastal erosion, water shortages, sweltering summers, winter floods, and an increase in insect-borne diseases like the West Nile virus are only a few of the consequences we can expect.

David Easterling, principal scientist for the National Climactic Data Center and one of the report’s researchers, says the hydrologic cycle — the cycle by which water leaves and returns to the land — may experience some of the most profound changes. As Easterling explains, warmer air holds more moisture, which increases the potential for heavy rainfall and flooding. Warming could also affect sea levels by melting glaciers and polar ice caps. In the past century alone, the earth’s oceans rose approximately 10 centimeters, while in this century they could rise by as much as two feet.

“Global warming does occur naturally,” says Easterling. “But it’s enhanced by the presence of greenhouse gases. It’s a physical fact that [these] gases will cause some warming.”

Since gases like carbon dioxide trap heat in the atmosphere, the most logical and achievable solution to global warming would be to reduce man-made greenhouse gas emissions — the burning of fossil fuels and large-scale deforestation are two of the most prominent contributors. Stabilizing emissions, however, is not enough. Easterling points out that carbon dioxide has a “long residence time,” staying in the atmosphere for about 100 years. Says Easterling: “There’s going to be change, period. People have to be aware of that change and be able to adapt to it.”

–Jennifer Richler