For scientists at SERC, global warming is more than an idea. It is a reality they have seen and felt. The decade from 2001 to 2010 was the warmest decade on record, and while not all places are feeling the heat equally, on average the temperature of the Earth is climbing.
Around the globe, SERC scientists have watched plants and animals move to new territory as regions grow warmer. Closer to home, they have seen evidence of global warming on SERC’s Maryland campus. Since 1987, the growing season at SERC has become a week longer, enabling the trees to grow larger and faster.
The science is simple: Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases trap energy from the sun. As greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to spike, more heat energy from the sun remains trapped in the lower atmosphere, where it warms the planet below. Since the Industrial Revolution, the global average temperature has risen by almost 1° Celsius. If nothing changes, by 2100 that figure is likely to pass 2° Celsius, enough to melt ice sheets, drown island communities and strain the water supply of billions of people.
SERC researchers investigate how environments are reacting to global warming now, and how they may respond in the future. For decades, they have tracked the swelling of trees in SERC forests and the northward migration of Florida’s tropical mangroves, no longer held back by winter cold snaps. They have uncovered the possibility of dead zones expanding as oceans warm. They’ve also set up warming experiments to examine how various plants and microbes will behave in a future, warmer climate. Explore the projects below to learn more about their work.