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New data shows that the world is not warming in the same way everywhere, and the regions that aren't heating as fast reflect even worse environmental damage

As the Washington Post reported this week, climate change is heating the world unequally, with regions warming faster than others. Even the areas of the world that show less warming are showing these trends because of massive environmental damage brought about by climate change and humans. Take for example Greenland, where the Atlantic Ocean just south of is is cooling. This is due to the melting Greenland ice sheet—the largest ice sheet in the world, second only to Antarctica. The cold, freshwater finds its way to the ocean, cooling it.

Bees pollinating a coffee plant. This is how coffee beans are produced.


Temperature anomaly—how much hotter or colder it is in the last 5 years—in the North Atlantic, compared to 50-70 years ago. The light blue area shows where the ocean has cooled due to freshwater melting from the ice sheet and mixing with ocean water.

While at first we may think that the cooling of the North Atlantic may be a good thing, in fact that freshwater from the Greenland ice sheet affects one of the most important ocean currents in the world—The Gulf Stream—which is responsible for redistributing heat from the central Atlantic to the Eastern US and eventually, Europe. This current is the reason why Great Britain and Ireland don't look like Norway, with much less snow and a milder climate. The cold water coming off Greenland is affecting the Gulf Stream and slowing it down, to the slowest point ever recorded, according to new studies.

NASA illustration of how the Gulf Stream moves heat from the Central Atlantic to the North Atlantic, from West to East. 

In addition to cooling ocean currents, freshwater from the Greenland Ice Sheet (known as meltwater) is also affecting how salty the ocean is, and that also has an effect on the Gulf Stream's speed. If this sounds familiar, it's because filmmakers made a movie out of it called "The Day After Tomorrow," which exaggerated the effects of the Gulf Stream collapsing. No, we're not all about to freeze to death, but the collapse of the Gulf Stream will bring increased sea levels, and likely stronger tropical storms, even if these changes won't happen overnight.

Our reality shows a slower onset of these changes and that may be more treacherous because as humans we don't notice small changes, and we're easily confused by trends that are uneven. Take the case of India, for example. The Washington Post reports that increasing, dangerous levels of air pollution are causing heat not to penetrate as easily though the atmosphere, as smog clouds make it harder for sunlight to reach the most polluted areas of India.

While the areas in India experiencing lower temperature because of the smog may receive a small benefit, the air pollution that is blocking the sunlight will cause much worse health threats to the population. These uneven effects of climate change and environmental degradation may seem confusing at first, but they are, in fact, different sides of the same coin. The solution remains the same: reduce energy demand, reduce pollution and mitigate climate change.


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