Minnesota’s climate will change faster than any other state in the US, except for Alaska. What do we need to know about this change?
The last ice age ended 10,000 years ago. Since then, until about 1900, Earth had a very consistent climate. This is the period that encompasses human history. For hundreds of thousand of years before that the Earth cycled between ice ages and warmer periods. While changing climate has always impacted the Earth, in the last 100 years the rate of change has surpassed anything found in the past.
A great analogy to think of when considering climate change is a bathtub. Heat from the sun enters the bathtub, our Earth. The heat starts to fill up the bathtub. Like all good bathtubs, there has been a drain to keep the heat from overflowing the bathtub. However, recently this drain has become smaller and is letting less heat out. Additionally, we are taking carbon out of the Earth and burning it, which is released into the atmosphere as heat. This is also filling up the bathtub. We know this is happening because we can see the increased temperature and we know there is more carbon in the atmosphere (which generates heat).
Over the last 100 years our bathtub has been filling up very fast! Much of this excess heat has been going into the ocean, which has saved us from feeling the true affects of how much warmer our earth has gotten. The ocean cannot do this forever. One of the consequences of the ocean absorbing the heat is that it has caused ice melt. Over the last forty years there has be a reduction in about 15% to 20% of the area ice covers in the Arctic and we lost about 50% of the volume of ice. Greenland is losing ice even more quickly than the Arctic. As a result of this ice melting, the global sea level has risen about 8 inches since 1900. The rate of rising oceans is accelerating.
Beyond oceans, our soil is also getting warmer. This is causing permafrost to melt in places like Alaska, impacting the structures built on that land. Our air is about 1.2 degrees Celsius warmer than 1900. The last five years are the warmest years on record.
How Will This Impact Minnesota?
The fastest warming area on the Earth is the high northern latitudes. This is largely due to ice melt. Think about how our weather tends to be colder if there is a lot of snow on the ground than if there is none. As the ice in the Arctic melts, the areas that are impacted by cold arctic weather (such as Minnesota) are experiencing warming. Since 1951, Minnesota has warmed 1 or 2 degrees Fahrenheit in spring and fall. Summer has warmed in northeast Minnesota but cooled in southwest Minnesota. Irrigated agriculture has directly impacted the spread of warming in southwest Minnesota. Parts of Minnesota have warmed 3 or 4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950. Minnesota will continue to warm between 4 and 9 degrees Fahrenheit in the future. The only state that is expected to warm faster than Minnesota is Alaska.