Climate Change Daily Earth Science Repost

Regional temperatures: Location, location, location

Saying that global temperatures are one degree warmer than 50 years ago is like saying Americans were making 14% less money in 1993 than they were in 1973. I was personally making a lot more money in 1993 than in 1973 since I had transitioned from high school to the workforce. Global temperatures, like wage data, reflect averages. On average, Americans were making 14% less money in 1993, but individual circumstances varied greatly. Likewise, global temperature changes don’t necessarily reflect local temperature changes.

 According to NASA Earth Observatory, average temperatures in southern California rose 1.5°C in the last half of the 20th century. Global temperatures rose 0.7°C during the same period. California is heating twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

As the earth heats up, the effects will not be evenly distributed. Earth deals with heat through a dynamic process involving atmospheric and oceanic circulation. Air and water currents can move heat from one area to another. The net effect is that heat dissipates in some areas and concentrates in others. 

When we speak of global warming, we focus on the global average. Temperatures have risen globally by about 1.2°C since the industrial revolution and about 1.0°C in the last 60 years. The background rate of temperature rise since the last ice age has been about 0.1 °C per 100 years, so we can see that the current rate of heating is about 16 times faster than the normal background rate. If that seems unnatural to you, then your instincts are correct. It is not natural; it’s human-made.

Regional warming is more important

Geographically speaking, some places are more favorable than others for higher temperatures, particularly if you are one of the 600 million people who live within 10 meters of sea level. An extra 6°C temperature rise at the equator will melt the ice in your drink as you sit on the beach and watch a sunset. However, an extra 6°C rise at the North Pole will melt the Arctic ice, and there won’t be a beach for you to sit on.

Unfortunately for beach dwellers, the most significant warming anomalies will be in the Arctic, where night temperatures are predicted to be 6°C higher when we get a mere 2°C average global temperature rise. Everyone can grasp that a 6°C temperature rise melts more ice than a 2°C rise. 

As of this writing in 2019, Arctic Sea ice has declined 40% over the past 40 years. That may just be the spark before the fire. Any conversation on the Arctic shouldn’t forget Greenland. As the Greenland ice sheet melts, it could add 6 to 7 meters of sea-level rise by itself. During a 2019 heatwave in Greenland, the island was losing 12.5 billion tons of ice per day. 

It matters if global temperatures rise. But it matters even more how that average rise distributes itself geographically: Location, Location, Location.

(Updated May 19, 2020)


Arctic Warming (Source: ArcheanWeb) – Also:

Rising seas: Let’s look at the numbers (Source: ArcheanWeb) – Also:


California Temperatures on the Rise (NASA Earth Observatory – Also:

How is today’s warming different than the past? NASA Earth Observatory – Also:

State of the climate: Sea level – Also:

Allowable CO2 emissions based on regional and impact-related climate targets – Also:

Global warming: uneven changes across planet – Also:

A devastating Arctic temperature rise that could submerge coastal cities and trigger species extinction is now locked in Also:

Greenland’s Massive Ice Melt Wasn’t Supposed To Happen Until 2070 – Also:

2019 Was the Second-Hottest Year Ever, Closing Out the Warmest Decade (By Henry Fountain and Nadja Popovich; New York Times) –  Also:

Feature Image: Global Temperature Distribution (Source NASA) –

William House
William is an earth scientist and writer with an interest in providing the science "backstory" for breaking environmental, earth science, and climate change news.