Explaining Climate Change Science

Turn on any news cast or read any political blog and/or website and you are bound to see something about climate change splashed across the screen.  Mainstream media and politicians continue the debate of whether global warming is real or is it a hoax.  While this website does not and will not touch upon local, national, or global politics, this will be a good forum to separate the truth from fiction regarding climate change.

Terminology 

First let me explain what the terminology are in relation to climate change.  The terms “climate change” and “global warming” are often used interchangeably.  While many people say “global warming” when talking about the rate of warming our planet is experiencing, scientists actually prefer “climate change” because it describes the changes to the whole system,  not just temperatures.

The Greenhouse Effect  

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This graph shows atmospheric carbon dioxide abundance measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawai’i.  The bright red line shows monthly measurements of carbon dioxide (in parts per million) while the solid dark red line represents the calculated average value. Data source:          climate.gov 

 

So before unpacking this debate, let’s discuss what exactly is the greenhouse effect.  In our atmosphere, there are major greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor (H2O) that absorb heat, or solar radiation, and radiates it back to the Earth’s surface. Other minute amounts of other gases come into play but for simplicity’s sake, we will just focus on the main two gases.  While this is necessary for life on our planet (without a natural greenhouse effect, the temperature of the Earth would be about 0°F instead of its present 57°F), there is great concern that human activities are enhancing the greenhouse effect.

Human Contributions to Climate Change

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This graph shows how the Earth’s globally averaged surface temperature is rising for more than a century.  Data source: climate.gov

Scientists have observed that the entire Earth is warming.  This is a cold hard fact as evidenced by the global average temperature warming.  While there is some natural component to global temperatures warming (water vapor), overall human activity has contributed greatly to the increase of atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases.  The rise in the atmospheric concentrations of these greenhouse gases has led to global-scale warming.  Still have doubts that we are contributing to the problem?  Most of the scientific community, including 97% of published climate scientists, have accepted that anthropocentric (human-influenced) climate change is conclusive.

Evidence of Climate Change

Let’s look at the proof that climate change is occurring.  First there has been a 0.8° C increase in the Earth’s temperature since pre-industrial times. A global average temperature rise of 2°C  or less is anticipated in coming years.  Sea levels have risen and will continue to rise throughout the world.  Lastly, widespread decreases in the extent of snow and ice.

What Does This Mean to You?

Climate change seems to occur on too large of a scale to affect you in your location.  Don’t bet on it.  The warming of Earth’s globally averaged surface temperatures have implications at home.  According to NOAA’s (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), the mean temperature in Illinois have slowly risen.  Although maximum temperatures showed a general upward trend, minimum temperatures have consistently risen. On both graphs, the gray line represents the annual temperature value. The blue line shows the overall trend in a fashion that smooths out the year-to-year variability in temperature. The light blue shaded area represents the 95% confidence interval for the trend.

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Illinois annual mean low temperatures. Data source: NCDC

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Illinois annual mean surface temperature.  Data source: NCDC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

While this post just provides a brief glimpse into the topic of climate change, I hope I have given you some solid evidence that climate warming is indeed occurring.  This hot button issue is continuously being debated in the political arena, but those in denial that this is a looming issue for all humans need to face the truth.  We need to find ways to cease our contribution of greenhouse gases.  Some ways you can start are: 1) reduce, reuse, recycle, 2) use less heat and air conditioning 3) buy energy efficient products 4) drive less or drive smart (carpool) 5) use less hot water 6) plant a tree.  Hopefully together we can halt any further damage to Earth so future generations can enjoy what we take for granted on our beautiful planet.

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