Earth nearing warmest point in a million years, may see rougher El Niños

The earth is the warmest it has been in the last 12,000 years and is within 1.8 degrees of its highest average temperature in the past million years, scientists report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The global surface temperature has increased 0.36 degrees each of the last three decades, more rapidly than during the century up to 1975. “If further global warming reaches [3.6 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit], we will likely see changes that make earth a different planet than the one we know,” said NASA’s James Hansen, lead author of the study. “The last time it was that warm was … about 3 million years ago, when sea level was estimated to have been about [80 feet] higher than today.” Hansen and his colleagues are also concerned that warming of the Pacific Ocean could lead to stronger and more destructive El Niño weather patterns; they say global warming affects El Niños much as it does tropical storms. We’ll batten down the hatches.