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habitable ranges on Earth.

How Will Global Warming Change Earth?

The impact of increased surface temperatures is significant in itself. But global warming will have additional, far-reaching effects on the planet. Warming modifies rainfall patterns, amplifies coastal erosion, lengthens the growing season in some regions, melts ice caps and glaciers, and alters the ranges of some infectious diseases. Some of these changes are already occurring.

Photograph of Lake Powell showing the bathtub ring exposed by the low lake level.

Global warming will shift major climate patterns, possibly prolonging and intensifying the current drought in the U.S. Southwest. The white ring of bleached rock on the once-red cliffs that hold Lake Powell indicate the drop in water level over the past decade—the result of repeated winters with low snowfall. (Photograph ©2006 Tigresblanco.)

Changing Weather

For most places, global warming will result in more frequent hot days and fewer cool days, with the greatest warming occurring over land. Longer, more intense heat waves will become more common. Storms, floods, and droughts will generally be more severe as precipitation patterns change. Hurricanes may increase in intensity due to warmer ocean surface temperatures.

Maps of predicted future precipitation based on global circulation models.

Apart from driving temperatures up, global warming is likely to cause bigger, more destructive storms, leading to an overall increase in precipitation. With some exceptions, the tropics will likely receive less rain (orange) as the planet warms, while the polar regions will receive more precipitation (green). White areas indicate that fewer than two-thirds of the climate models agreed on how precipitation will change. Stippled areas reveal where more than 90 percent of the models agreed. (©2007 IPCC WG1 AR-4.)