What is climate change? Is it the same thing as global warming? Definitions, latest news.
Two terms – climate change and global warming – point to the same existential threat: Global temperatures have risen dramatically in about the past 150 years and scientists say they're on pace to radically alter life on Earth in coming decades.
Temperatures on our planet have fluctuated based on natural processes many times in the past, but experts say this extraordinary run of warming is different.
Global temperatures already have risen about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since about 1850, NASA says.
In the past, it took roughly thousands of years for global temperatures to change that much.
Such rapid change is alarming and is already disrupting the delicate balance of life on Earth.
The global warming trend comes as the human population exploded in recent centuries and technological advances spewed enormous amounts of chemicals and gases into the atmosphere. Some of them, called greenhouse gases, are excellent at trapping heat.
How does climate change affect you?: Subscribe to the weekly Climate Point newsletter
READ MORE: Latest climate change news from USA TODAY
Here's what to know about climate change:
Is climate change the same thing as global warming?
Yes and no.
The terms have different meanings, although they're often used interchangeably, according to NASA.
While the term "global warming" was used frequently in the past, the term "climate change" is used more often today because it includes the cascading consequences of rising temperatures occurring around the world – melting glaciers, rising seas, drought and more. "Global warming" refers more narrowly to the trend of rising temperatures.
FACT CHECK: False claim the rotation of Earth's core is responsible for climate change
RECYCLING: Recycle the pizza box or trash it? Here's the answer.
What is causing climate change?
The Earth's climate changes through a variety of natural processes, but federal scientists say the rapid warming experienced recently is primarily caused by human activities that emit heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
That's why global efforts to fight climate change are so focused on eliminating the burning of fossil fuels, the most notable source of harmful greenhouse gases.
CLIMATE CHANGE CAUSES: Why scientists say humans are to blame.
EXPLAINER: What is carbon dioxide, anyway? How does it cause global warming?
What are 5 effects of climate change?
Rising seas: Warming temperatures heat up oceans, causing water to expand, and melt huge amounts of ice. The higher sea levels aren't just felt at the coast but also far inland along rivers.
Drought: A "megadrought" in the West has been supercharged by warmer temperatures and a lack of rain.
Wildfires: Drought provides ideal conditions for wildfires. What's worse: Fires release massive amounts of greenhouse gases, which fuels more climate change.
Rain: A USA TODAY analysis of a century of precipitation data shows how, east of the Rockies, more rain is falling – and in more intense bursts.
Hurricanes: Evidence shows climate change is causing wetter hurricanes, but scientists say more data is needed before settling questions over future frequency.
EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE: How they disrupt our daily life, fuel disasters
TORNADOES: Why have there been so many tornadoes in the US this year? Is climate change to blame?
What is the latest climate change news?
Global sea surface temperatures rose sharply in March and continued to rise during much of April, and oceanographers and climate scientists are watching with trepidation.
“There has been a striking increase in sea surface temperatures,” said Robert Rohde, lead scientist for Berkeley Earth. “We have above average temperatures nearly everywhere in the ocean.”
Sea surface temperatures rose to a higher level than ever observed for the same time period in March and stayed there for more than a month, he said.
Record high temperatures in the ocean are further evidence of a warming world where increasing greenhouse gas emissions are forcing an artificial increase in temperatures on top of natural variations in climate, scientists say. Warmer oceans have detrimental impacts on marine life and coastal ecosystems and drive extreme weather patterns, additional ice melt and rising sea levels.
READ MORE: Spring ocean temperatures are shockingly hot around the globe. Scientists aren’t sure what happens next.
Contributing: Dinah Voyles Pulver, Elizabeth Weise and Doyle Rice
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Climate change explained: Definitions, news, updates on global warming