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How will the Earth system change in the future?

As the world consumes ever more fossil fuel energy, greenhouse gas concentrations will continue to rise and Earth's average temperature will rise with them. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (or IPCC) estimates that Earth's average surface temperature could rise between 2°C and 6°C by the end of the 21st century.

For most places, global warming will result in more hot days and fewer cool days, with the greatest warming happening over land. Longer, more intense heat waves will happen more often. High latitudes and generally wet places will tend to receive more rainfall, while tropical regions and generally dry places will probably receive less rain. Increases in rainfall will come in the form of bigger, wetter storms, rather than in the form of more rainy days. In between those larger storms will be longer periods of light or no rain, so the frequency and severity of drought will increase. Hurricanes will likely increase in intensity due to warmer ocean surface temperatures. So one of the most obvious impacts of global warming will be changes in both average and extreme temperature and precipitation events.

Scientists are also monitoring the great ice sheets on Greenland and West Antarctica, both of which are experiencing increasing melting trends as surface temperatures are rising faster in those parts of the world than anywhere else. Each of those ice sheets contains enough water to raise sea level by 5 meters and if our world continues to warm at the rate it is today then it is a question of when, not if, those ice sheets will collapse. Some scientists warn we could lose either, or both, of them as soon as the year 2100.

Ecosystems will shift as those plants and animals that adapt the quickest will move into new areas to compete with the currently established species. Those species that cannot adapt quickly enough will face extinction. Scientists note with increasing concern the 21st century could see one of the greatest periods of mass extinction of species in Earth's entire history. Ultimately, global warming will impact life on Earth in many ways. But the extent of the change is up to us.

Related missions:

*Sort missions by clicking the column headers.

DivisionNameLaunch DatePhase
Earth ACRIMSAT
ACRIMSAT is the latest in a series of long-term solar-monitoring missions, utilizing the proven Active Cavity Radiometer Irradiance Monitor III (ACRIM III) instrument. This mission is part of SMD's Earth Systematic Missions program.
19991220 December 20, 1999 3Operating
Earth Aqua
Aqua obtains a set of precise atmosphere and oceans measurements to understand their role in Earth's climate and its variations. Aqua carries six state-of-the-art instruments to observe the Earth's oceans, atmosphere, land, ice and snow covers, and vegetation, providing high ...
20020504 May 04, 2002 3Operating
Earth Aquarius
Aquarius is a focused satellite mission to measure global sea surface salinity (SSS). Its instruments measure changes in SSS equivalent to about a "pinch" (i.e., 1/6 of a teaspoon) of salt in 1 gallon of water. By measuring SSS over ...
20110610 June 10, 2011 3Operating
Earth Aura
The Aura satellite hosts a suite of scientific instruments designed to make the most comprehensive measurements ever undertaken of atmospheric trace gases. Aura's objective is to study the chemistry and dynamics of the Earth's atmosphere with emphasis on the upper ...
20040715 July 15, 2004 3Operating
Earth CALIPSO
The CALIPSO satellite was developed to help scientists answer significant questions and provide new information about the effects of clouds and aerosols (airborne particles) on changes in the Earth's climate. Understanding these components will provide the international science community with ...
20060428 April 28, 2006 3Operating
Earth GPM
GPM Constellation follows the success of Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) in initiating the measurement of global precipitation, a key climate factor. Its science objectives are: to improve ongoing efforts to predict climate by providing near-global measurement of precipitation, its ...
20140227 February 2014 2Development
Earth LDCM/Landsat 8
Landsat 8 is the latest NASA/USGS mission to extend the Landsat record of multispectral, medium resolution, seasonal global coverage or Earth's land surfaces.
20130211 February 11, 2013 3Operating
Earth OCO
OCO provided space-based observations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal human-initiated driver of climate change. This mission used mature technologies to address NASA's highest priority carbon cycle measurement requirement. OCO generated precise global maps of the abundance of CO2 ...
20090224 February 24, 2009 4Past
Earth OSTM
OSTM measures sea surface height to an accuracy of < 3.3 cm every ten days. Sea surface topography measured by satellite altimeters has numerous applications important to global environmental monitoring including predicting hurricane intensification, improving tide models, mapping deep ocean ...
20080620 June 20, 2008 3Operating
Earth SMAP
The Soil Moisture Active-Passive (SMAP) will use a combined radiometer and high-resolution radar to measure surface soil moisture and freeze-thaw state, providing for scientific advances and societal benefits. This mission is part of SMD's Earth Systematic Missions program.
20141030 October 2014 2Development
Earth Terra
Terra (formerly EOS AM-1) is the flagship satellite of NASA's Earth observing systems. Terra is the first EOS (Earth Observing System) platform and provides global data on the state of the atmosphere, land, and oceans, as well as their interactions ...
19991218 December 18, 1999 3Operating
Earth TOMS-EP
The Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer, launched in July 1996 onboard an Earth Probe Satellite (TOMS/EP), continues NASA's long-term daily mapping of the global distribution of the Earth's atmospheric ozone. This NASA-developed instrument, measures ozone indirectly by mapping ultraviolet light emitted ...
19960702 July 02, 1996 4Past
Earth TRMM
TRMM is a joint mission between NASA and the National Space Development Agency (NASDA) of Japan. TRMM is particularly devoted to determining rainfall in the tropics and subtropics of the Earth. These regions make up about two thirds of the ...
19971127 November 27, 1997 3Operating