Climate change is closely related to ozone depletion, global warming and the greenhouse effect. 1. Tidal power is a form of renewable energy in which tidal action in the oceans is converted to electric power. Paleoclimatologists study these natural archives by collecting cores, or cylindrical samples, of sediments from lakes, bogs, and oceans; by studying surface features and geological strata; by examining tree ring patterns from cores or sections of living and dead trees; by drilling into marine corals and cave stalagmites; by drilling into the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland and the high-elevation glaciers of the Plateau of Tibet, the Andes, and other montane regions; and by a wide variety of other means. Undoubtedly, people have always been aware of climatic variation at the relatively short timescales of seasons, years, and decades. Fortunately, climatic change also leaves a variety of signatures in the natural world. People burn fossil fuels and convert land from forests to agriculture. The occurrence of multiple epochs in recent Earth history during which continental glaciers, developed at high latitudes, penetrated into northern Europe and eastern North America was recognized by scientists by the late 19th century. Students of Earth system history are not just concerned with documenting what has happened; they also view the past as a series of experiments in which solar radiation, ocean currents, continental configurations, atmospheric chemistry, and other important features have varied. Even though these natural causes contribute to climate change, we know that they are not the primary cause, based on scientific evidence. For example, the chemical weathering of the rising Tibetan Plateau may have played an important role in depleting the atmosphere of carbon dioxide during a global cooling period in the late Cenozoic Era. Learn about the causes and effects of water scarcity at a global level, and about its strategies and solutions. Learn about the devastating environmental setbacks that have occurred over the last 50 years. Both its physical properties and its rate and direction of motion are influenced by a variety of factors, including solar radiation, the geographic position of continents, ocean currents, the location and orientation of mountain ranges, atmospheric chemistry, and vegetation growing on the land surface. As a result, changes in vegetation, which are partially controlled by climate, can in turn influence the climate system. Orbital variations play major roles in pacing glacial-interglacial and monsoonal patterns. (A carbon sink is any process that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by the chemical conversion of CO2 to organic or inorganic carbon compounds.) The luminosity, or brightness, of the Sun has been increasing steadily since its formation. Some of these natural cycle… Vegetation also influences greenhouse gas concentrations; living plants constitute an important sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide, whereas they act as sources of carbon dioxide when they are burned by wildfires or undergo decomposition. Feedbacks are among the most recently discovered and challenging causal factors to study. Human activity is the main cause of climate change. Others are part of the Earth system but external to the atmosphere. In general, greenhouse gas concentrations have been particularly high during warm periods and low during cold phases. Some factors, such as the distribution of heat within the oceans, atmospheric chemistry, and surface vegetation, change at very short timescales. In a very real sense, climate variation is a redundant expression—climate is always varying. Paleoclimate records from tree rings, coral, and ice cores indicate a clear warming trend spanning the entire 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century. This becomes obvious when scientists probe beyond changes in the average temperature of the planet and look more closely at geographical and temporal patterns of climate change. Burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. Both human-made and natural factors contribute to climate change: • Human causes. However, these phrases are not exact synonyms. Carbon dioxide is emitted from volcanoes and vents in rift zones and subduction zones. Low solar luminosity during Precambrian time underlies the faint young Sun paradox, described in the article Climate Change Throughout History. Cows and sheep produce large amounts of methane when they digest their food. These written documents and records provide information about climate change in some locations for the past few hundred years. Extreme weather events can compound many of these health threats. Causes of Climate Change. Since the late 20th century the development of advanced technologies for dating rocks, together with geochemical techniques and other analytical tools, have revolutionized the understanding of early Earth system history. Biblical scripture and other early documents refer to droughts, floods, periods of severe cold, and other climatic events. Targeting upper-elementary-aged children, the site includes interactive games, hands-on activities, and engaging articles that make climate science accessible and fun. Different influences on climate lead to different patterns seen in climate records. Climate change and water. Climate change, periodic modification of Earth ’s climate brought about as a result of changes in the atmosphere as well as interactions between the atmosphere and various other geologic, chemical, biological, and geographic factors within the Earth system. The most important mechanisms are described in this section. Climatic changes of the past 200–300 years, especially since the early 1900s, are documented by instrumental records and other archives. 2. Each of the last 3 decades has been successively warmer than any preceding decade since 1850(1). The extent to which these factors contribute to recent and ongoing climate change is an important, emerging area of study. Take this quiz to test your knowledge. The feedbacks involve different components that operate at different rates and timescales. New sources of data, analytical tools, and instruments are becoming available, and the field is moving quickly. What causes climate change? Climate change is a phrase that is often used interchangeably with the phrases global warming or the greenhouse effect. The “Maunder minimum,” a period of drastically reduced sunspot activity between AD 1645 and 1715, has been suggested as a contributing factor to the Little Ice Age. Individual volcanic eruptions can release large quantities of sulfur dioxide and other aerosols into the stratosphere, reducing atmospheric transparency and thus the amount of solar radiation reaching Earth’s surface and troposphere. The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa had more dramatic consequences, as the spring and summer of the following year (1816, known as “the year without a summer”) were unusually cold over much of the world. Second, the tilt of Earth’s axis with respect to the Sun, which is primarily responsible for Earth’s seasonal climates, varies between 22.1° and 24.5° from the plane of Earth’s rotation around the Sun. Many of the causes of climate change are external to the Earth system. Rising sea level, reduced ice cover, thawing of permafrost, loss of marine habitat, changing ecosystems. A full understanding of the Earth system requires knowledge of how the system and its components have changed through time. Concentrations of greenhouse gases have varied substantially during Earth’s history, and these variations have driven substantial climate changes at a wide range of timescales. Ongoing climatic changes are being monitored by networks of sensors in space, on the land surface, and both on and below the surface of the world’s oceans. It is much easier to document the evidence of climate variability and past climate change than it is to determine their underlying mechanisms. Variations in carbon dioxide release by volcanoes and ocean rifts over millions of years can alter the chemistry of the atmosphere. The causes of climate change can be divided into two categories, human and natural causes. Climate is often defined loosely as the average weather at a particular place, incorporating such features as temperature, precipitation, humidity, and windiness. Earth system science is composed of a wide range of disciplines, including climatology (the study of the atmosphere), geology (the study of Earth’s surface and underground processes), ecology (the study of how Earth’s organisms relate to one another and their environment), oceanography (the study of Earth’s oceans), glaciology (the study of Earth’s ice masses), and even the social sciences (the study of human behaviour in its social and cultural aspects). Therefore, climate, which results from the physical properties and motion of the atmosphere, varies at every conceivable timescale. Greenhouse gases are gas molecules that have the property of absorbing infrared radiation (net heat energy) emitted from Earth’s surface and reradiating it back to Earth’s surface, thus contributing to the phenomenon known as the greenhouse effect. Written by Stephen T. Jackson, Professor Emeritus of Botany, University of Wyoming. Emissions are low; even a massive volcanic eruption such as Mount Pinatubo releases only a fraction of the carbon dioxide emitted by fossil-fuel combustion in a year. Volcanic Activity; Volcanic activity is well known to change the climate. The atmosphere is a dynamic fluid that is continually in motion. Tectonic movements of Earth’s crust have had profound effects on climate at timescales of millions to tens of millions of years. Nevertheless, a full appreciation of the nature and magnitude of climatic change did not come about until the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a time when the widespread recognition of the deep antiquity of Earth occurred. This variation occurs on a cycle of 41,000 years. The pursuit of this understanding has led to development of Earth system history, an interdisciplinary science that includes not only the contributions of Earth system scientists but also paleontologists (who study the life of past geologic periods), paleoclimatologists (who study past climates), paleoecologists (who study past environments and ecosystems), paleoceanographers (who study the history of the oceans), and other scientists concerned with Earth history. These two processes create a 26,000-year cycle, called precession of the equinoxes, in which the position of Earth at the equinoxes and solstices changes. Causes of climate change - human and natural factors A natural function of the Earth's atmosphere is to keep in some of the heat that is lost from the Earth. 1. Some, such as tectonic activities, operate at timescales of millions of years, whereas others, such as vegetation, soil, wetland, and ocean sources and sinks, operate at timescales of hundreds to thousands of years. The gases released into the atmosphere during this process act like an invisible ‘blanket’, trapping heat from the … At geologic timescales, however, release of this greenhouse gas can have important effects. Studies of Earth system history also specify the full array of states the system has experienced in the past and those the system is capable of experiencing in the future. Paleoclimatologists study the traces of these effects, devising clever and subtle ways to obtain information about past climates. Scottish geologist James Croll proposed that recurring variations in orbital eccentricity (the deviation of Earth’s orbit from a perfectly circular path) were responsible for alternating glacial and interglacial periods. 3. Carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapour are the most important greenhouse gases, and they have a profound effect on the energy budget of the Earth system despite making up only a fraction of all atmospheric gases. Start your free trial today for unlimited access to Britannica. Most of the evidence of past climatic change is circumstantial, so paleoclimatology involves a great deal of investigative work. Explore the major threats to biodiversity. Even the chemical weathering of rock constitutes an important sink for carbon dioxide. The nature of the evidence for climate change is explained, as are the principal mechanisms that have caused climate change throughout the history of Earth. Find out how global warming affects climate, and explore the different ways climate change is occurring. Ice sheets, sea ice, terrestrial vegetation, ocean temperatures, weathering rates, ocean circulation, and greenhouse gas concentrations are all influenced either directly or indirectly by the atmosphere; however, they also all feed back into the atmosphere, thereby influencing it in important ways. Others, such as the position of continents and the location and height of mountain ranges, change over very long timescales. For example, red beds indicated aridity in regions that are now humid (e.g., England and New England), whereas fossils of coal-swamp plants and reef corals indicated that tropical climates once occurred at present-day high latitudes in both Europe and North America. Burning fossil fuels Over the past 150 years, industrialised countries have been burning large amounts of fossil fuels such as oil and gas. Orbital variation is now recognized as an important driver of climatic variation throughout Earth’s history (see below Orbital [Milankovitch] variations). No two years are exactly alike, nor are any two decades, any two centuries, or any two millennia (see also Climate Change Throughout History). Radiative forcing is a measure of the influence a given climatic factor has on the amount of downward-directed energy from the Sun impinging upon Earth’s surface. Changes occurring in the sun can cause climate to become warmer during periods of stronger solar intensity and cool during periods of weaker solar intensity.Studies suggest that solar variations have played a role in past climate change. This effort is being facilitated by the development of an interdisciplinary science called Earth system science. They are frequently confronted with conflicting evidence, but this, as in other sciences, usually leads to an enhanced understanding of the Earth system and its complex history. Fingerprinting is a powerful way of studying the causes of climate change. Natural causes of climate change. Sustainability is the long-term viability of a community, set of social institutions, or societal practice. Recognition of global climate change as an environmental issue has drawn attention to the climatic impact of human activities. Perhaps the most intensively discussed and researched topic in climate variability is the role of interactions and feedbacks among the various components of the Earth system. For example, different forms and densities of vegetation on the land surface influence the albedo, or reflectivity, of Earth’s surface, thus affecting the overall radiation budget at local to regional scales. The leading cause of climate change is human activity and the release of greenhouse gases. The primary human activity affecting the amount and rate of climate change is greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Cutting down forests (deforestation). Tectonic activity also influences atmospheric chemistry, particularly carbon dioxide concentrations. Climate change is a term that refers to major changes in temperature, rainfall, snow, or wind patterns lasting for decades or longer. Topographic and bathymetric changes in turn have had strong effects on the circulation of both the atmosphere and the oceans. All historical sciences share a problem: As they probe farther back in time, they become more reliant on fragmentary and indirect evidence. include burning fossil fuels, cutting down forests, and developing land for farms, cities, and roads. High-quality instrumental records spanning the past century exist for most parts of the world, but the records become sparse in the 19th century, and few records predate the late 18th century. Nonhuman life on Earth is suffering. Over the last 50 years, human activities – particularly the burning of fossil fuels – have released sufficient quantities of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to trap additional heat in the lower atmosphere and affect the global climate. In fact, the 20th century was the warmest of the past 10 centuries, and the decade 2001–10 was the warmest decade since the beginning of modern instrumental record keeping. The most well-known and the most important greenhouse gas is CO2. Vegetation also influences greenhouse gas concentrations; living plants constitute an important sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide, whereas they act as sources of carbon dioxide when they are burned by wildfires or undergo decomposition. Radiative energy from the Sun is variable at very small timescales, owing to solar storms and other disturbances, but variations in solar activity, particularly the frequency of sunspots, are also documented at decadal to millennial timescales and probably occur at longer timescales as well. Climate change: A Summary of the Science. For example, cyclothems—which are interbedded marine, fluvial, and coal beds characteristic of the Pennsylvanian Subperiod (318.1 million to 299 million years ago)—appear to represent Milankovitch-driven changes in mean sea level. A small change in the output of the sun’s energy can influence climate change. Researchers studying climatic changes predating the instrumental record rely increasingly on natural archives, which are biological or geologic processes that record some aspect of past climate. Today Earth is closest to the Sun (perihelion) near the December solstice, whereas 9,000 years ago perihelion occurred near the June solstice. A number of processes influence greenhouse gas concentrations. Who are some of the past and present voices in the fight to protect our planet? Major Causes of climate change. Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to rec… And as weather varies from day to day, so too does climate vary, from daily day-and-night cycles up to periods of geologic time hundreds of millions of years long. A recent example is the 1991 eruption in the Philippines of Mount Pinatubo, which had measurable influences on atmospheric circulation and heat budgets. The third cyclic change to Earth’s orbital geometry results from two combined phenomena: (1) Earth’s axis of rotation wobbles, changing the direction of the axis with respect to the Sun, and (2) the orientation of Earth’s orbital ellipse rotates slowly. Geologists and paleontologists in the 19th and early 20th centuries uncovered evidence of massive climatic changes taking place before the Pleistocene—that is, before some 2.6 million years ago. These movements have changed the shape, size, position, and elevation of the continental masses as well as the bathymetry of the oceans. Test your knowledge of this "hot" topic with this quiz. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. The human cause of climate change is not disputed by any scientific body of national or international standing. Climate Change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment. It is becoming increasingly clear that human impacts on vegetation cover can have local, regional, and even global effects on climate, due to changes in the sensible and latent heat flux to the atmosphere and the distribution of energy within the climate system. Milankovitch proposed that the mechanism that brought about periods of glaciation was driven by cyclic changes in eccentricity as well as two other orbital parameters: precession (a change in the directional focus of Earth’s axis of rotation) and axial tilt (a change in the inclination of Earth’s axis with respect to the plane of its orbit around the Sun). Since the Industrial Revolution there has been a large increase in human activities such as fossil fuel burning, land clearing and agriculture, which affect the release and uptake of carbon dioxide. Weathering rates are related to the mass, elevation, and exposure of bedrock. Your actions as an informed consumer have great power, and consumer-driven change is already happening. This article addresses the concept of climatic variation and change within the set of integrated natural features and processes known as the Earth system. All these factors change through time. There is little doubt among climatologists that these greenhouse gases affect the radiation budget of Earth; the nature and magnitude of the climatic response are a subject of intense research activity. Because different components of the Earth system change at different rates and are relevant at different timescales, Earth system history is a diverse and complex science. Which gases play an important role in climate change? New England and Europe experienced snowfalls and frosts throughout the summer of 1816. While we have experienced environmental challenges, 50 years of progress has shown us what we can do when we pull together. Sea levels are risin… Human activities also yield releases of other greenhouse gases, such as methane (from rice cultivation, livestock, landfills, and other sources) and chlorofluorocarbons (from industrial sources). 1. Wherever possible, paleoclimatologists try to use multiple lines of evidence to cross-check their conclusions. In the last 130 years, the world has warmed by approximately 0.85oC. Indeed, studies show that solar variability has played a role in past climate changes. Some very rare records date back over 1,000 years. Techniques for extracting paleoclimatic information are continually being developed and refined, and new kinds of natural archives are being recognized and exploited. Pollution is one of the most serious yet easiest problems to overcome because it relies on human actions. However, there are lots of natural causes that also lead to changes in the climate system. The sun is the ultimate source of supply of energy for the earth’s climate system. evidence from tree rings, pollen samples, ice cores, and sea sediments. This regulation of latent heat flux by vegetation can influence climate at local to global scales. The changing environment is expected to cause more heat stress, an increase in waterborne diseases, poor air quality, and diseases transmitted by insects and rodents. 1. Britannica Earth Scientist John Rafferty examines Earth’s current episode of mass extinction. These greenhouse gas emissions have increased the greenhouse effect and caused Earths surface temperature to rise. For instance, climate influences the distribution of vegetation on Earth’s surface (e.g., deserts exist in arid regions, forests in humid regions), but vegetation in turn influences climate by reflecting radiant energy back into the atmosphere, transferring water (and latent heat) from soil to the atmosphere, and influencing the horizontal movement of air across the land surface. Emissions trading is an environmental policy that seeks to reduce air pollution efficiently by putting a limit on emissions, giving polluters a certain number of allowances consistent with those limits. Earth scientists and atmospheric scientists are still seeking a full understanding of the complex feedbacks and interactions among the various components of the Earth system. Climate data from volcanic events indicate that just one large eruption is enough to cause global cooling of around 0.3°C and between 1 and 2 years. Test your knowledge with this quiz. Climatic changes of the past 200–300 years, especially since the early 1900s, are documented by instrumental records and other archives. Rapid changes in an external factor can push the climate system into a new mode. Together, they make up an integrated Earth system, in which all components interact with and influence one another in often complex ways. The main causes of climate change are: Humanity’s increased use of fossil fuels – such as coal, oil and gas to generate electricity, run cars and other forms of transport, and power manufacturing and industry Deforestation – because living trees absorb and store carbon dioxide Human activities—especially fossil-fuel combustion since the Industrial Revolution—are responsible for steady increases in atmospheric concentrations of various greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Variations in the rate of spreading in rift zones and the degree of volcanic activity near plate margins have influenced atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations throughout Earth’s history. The causes of climate change can be divided into two categories - those that are due to natural causes and those that are created by Such changeability in carbon dioxide concentrations probably accounts for much of the climatic variation that has taken place during the Phanerozoic Eon. The orbital geometry of Earth is affected in predictable ways by the gravitational influences of other planets in the solar system. The past 50 years encompass nearly all of the major milestones in U.S. environmental legislation. Other historical documents, including ship’s logs, diaries, court and church records, and tax rolls, can sometimes be used. These experiments provide opportunities to learn the relative influences of and interactions between various components of the Earth system. Do you know about the threats facing nonhuman life on Earth? Most come from the combustion of … Burning coal, oil and gas produces carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide. You may know all about what happens to water aboveground, but what do you know about groundwater? What causes climate change? These and other feedbacks among the various components of the Earth system are critical for both understanding past climate changes and predicting future ones. Climate is influenced by a multitude of factors that operate at timescales ranging from hours to hundreds of millions of years. The carbon cycle causes an exchange of CO2 between the biosphere and the oceans on the one hand and the atmosphere on the other. These orbital variations cause changes in the latitudinal and seasonal distribution of solar radiation, which in turn drive a number of climate variations. Temperature rise is accelerated or tempered by climate feedbacks, such as loss of sunlight-reflecting snow and ice cover, increased water vapour (a greenhouse gas itself), and changes to land and ocean carbon sinks. Naturalists of this time, including Scottish geologist Charles Lyell, Swiss-born naturalist and geologist Louis Agassiz, English naturalist Charles Darwin, American botanist Asa Gray, and Welsh naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, came to recognize geologic and biogeographic evidence that made sense only in the light of past climates radically different from those prevailing today. Increasing livestock farming. Both definitions acknowledge that the weather is always changing, owing to instabilities in the atmosphere. Causes of Climate Change. For example, the uplift of the Tibetan Plateau during the Cenozoic Era affected atmospheric circulation patterns, creating the South Asian monsoon and influencing climate over much of the rest of Asia and neighbouring regions. Natural cycles can cause the climate to alternate between warming and cooling. Their influences have been identified in climatic changes over much of the Phanerozoic. One of the first things the IPCC concluded is that there are several greenhouse gases responsible for warming, and humans emit them in a variety of ways. In general, the greater the tilt, the greater the solar radiation received by hemispheres in summer and the less received in winter. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, people have burned more and more fossil fuels and changed vast areas of land from forests to farmland. Ongoing climatic changes are being monitored by networks of sensors in space, on the land surface, and both on and below the surface of the world’s oceans. Carbonic acid, formed from carbon dioxide and water, is a reactant in dissolution of silicates and other minerals. A second type of human impact, the conversion of vegetation by deforestation, afforestation, and agriculture, is receiving mounting attention as a further source of climate change. NASA’s Climate Kids website brings the exciting science of climate change and sustainability to life, providing clear explanations for the big questions in climate science. Most of this attention has focused on carbon dioxide emission via fossil-fuel combustion and deforestation. Many of the causes of climate change are external to the Earth system. Climate change encompasses not only rising average temperatures but also extreme weather events, shifting wildlife populations and habitats, rising seas, and a range of other impacts. Vast amounts of CO2 are also released by the burning of fossil fuels. Croll’s controversial idea was taken up by Serbian mathematician and astronomer Milutin Milankovitch in the early 20th century. 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