Climate Change Term Paper Essay

INTRODUCTION

Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average (e.g., more or fewer extreme weather events). Climate change may be limited to a specific region or may occur across the whole Earth.

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The most general definition of climate change is a change in the statistical properties of the climate system when considered over long periods of time, regardless of cause.

Accordingly, fluctuations over periods shorter than a few decades, such as El Niño, do not represent climate change.

The term sometimes is used to refer specifically to climate change caused by human activity, as opposed to changes in climate that may have resulted as part of Earth’s natural processes. In this sense, especially in the context of environmental policy, the term climate change has become synonymous with anthropogenic global warming.

Within scientific journals, global warming refers to surface temperature increases while climate change includes global warming and everything else that increasing greenhouse gas levels will affect.

REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE

According the Government Environmental Protection Agency webpage http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/glossary.html#F on the topic: Glossary of climate change terms, factors that can shape climate are called climate forcings or “forcing mechanisms”. These include processes such as variations in solar radiation, deviations in the Earth’s orbit, mountain-building and continental drift, and changes in greenhouse gas concentrations. There are a variety of climate change feedbacks that can either amplify or diminish the initial forcing. Some parts of the climate system, such as the oceans and ice caps, respond slowly in reaction to climate forcings, while others respond more quickly.1

From NASA Earth Observatory webpage on the topic: “Glossary”. http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Glossary/index.php?mode=alpha&seg=b&segend=d, stressed that natural changes in the components of earth’s climate system and their interactions are the cause of internal climate variability, or “internal forcings.” Scientists generally define the five components of earth’s climate system to include Atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere (restricted to the surface soils, rocks, and sediments), and biosphere.2

Andrew S. Gale, author of the book: “A Milankovitch scale for Cenomanian time” on his topic Terra Nova emphasized that slight variations in Earth’s orbit lead to changes in the seasonal distribution of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface and how it is distributed across the globe. There is very little change to the area-averaged annually averaged sunshine; but there can be strong changes in the geographical and seasonal distribution. The three types of orbital variations are variations in Earth’s eccentricity, changes in the tilt angle of Earth’s axis of rotation, and precession of Earth’s axis. Combined together, these produce Milankovitch cycles which have a large impact on climate and are notable for their correlation to glacial and interglacial periods, their correlation with the advance and retreat of the Sahara, and for their appearance in the stratigraphic record.3

BODY

CAUSES
On the broadest scale, the rate at which energy is received from the sun and the rate at which it is lost to space determine the equilibrium temperature and climate of Earth. This energy is distributed around the globe by winds, ocean currents, and other mechanisms to affect the climates of different regions.

Factors that can shape climate are called climate forcings or “forcing mechanisms”. These include processes such as variations in solar radiation, deviations in the Earth’s orbit, mountain-building and continental drift, and changes in greenhouse gas concentrations. There are a variety of climate change feedbacks that can either amplify or diminish the initial forcing. Some parts of the climate system, such as the oceans and ice caps, respond slowly in reaction to climate forcings, while others respond more quickly.

Forcing mechanisms can be either “internal” or “external”. Internal forcing mechanisms are natural processes within the climate system itself (e.g., the thermohaline circulation). External forcing mechanisms can be either natural (e.g., changes in solar output) or anthropogenic (e.g., increased emissions of greenhouse gases).

Ocean variability
The ocean is a fundamental part of the climate system, some changes in it occurring at longer timescales than in the atmosphere, massing hundreds of times more and having very high thermal inertia (such as the ocean depths still lagging today in temperature adjustment from the Little Ice Age).

Short-term fluctuations (years to a few decades) such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, the Pacific decadal oscillation, the North Atlantic oscillation, and the Arctic oscillation, represent climate variability rather than climate change. On longer time scales, alterations to ocean processes such as thermohaline circulation play a key role in redistributing heat by carrying out a very slow and extremely deep movement of water, and the long-term redistribution of heat in the world’s oceans.

Orbital variations
Slight variations in Earth’s orbit lead to changes in the seasonal distribution of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface and how it is distributed across the globe. There is very little change to the area-averaged annually averaged sunshine; but there can be strong changes in the geographical and seasonal distribution. The three types of orbital variations are variations in Earth’s eccentricity, changes in the tilt angle of Earth’s axis of rotation, and precession of Earth’s axis. Combined together, these produce Milankovitch cycles which have a large impact on climate and are notable for their correlation to glacial and interglacial periods, their correlation with the advance and retreat of the Sahara, and for their appearance in the stratigraphic record.

Solar output
Variations in solar activity during the last several centuries based on observations of sunspots and beryllium isotopes. The period of extraordinarily few sunspots in the late 17th century was the Maunder Minimum. The sun is the predominant source for energy input to the Earth. Both long- and short-term variations in solar intensity are known to affect global climate.

Volcanism
In atmospheric temperature from 1979 to 2010, determined by MSU NASA satellites, effects appear from aerosols released by major volcanic eruptions (El Chichón and Pinatubo). El Niño is a separate event, from ocean variability.

Volcanic eruptions release gases and particulates into the atmosphere. Eruptions large enough to affect climate occur on average several times per century, and cause cooling (by partially blocking the transmission of solar radiation to the Earth’s surface) for a period of a few years. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, the second largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century (after the 1912 eruption of Novarupta) affected the climate substantially. Global temperatures decreased by about 0.5 °C (0.9 °F). The eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 caused the Year Without a Summer. Much larger eruptions, known as large igneous provinces, occur only a few times every hundred million years, but may cause global warming and mass extinctions

Plate tectonics
Over the course of millions of years, the motion of tectonic plates reconfigures global land and ocean areas and generates topography. This can affect both global and local patterns of climate and atmosphere-ocean circulation.

The position of the continents determines the geometry of the oceans and therefore influences patterns of ocean circulation. The locations of the seas are important in controlling the transfer of heat and moisture across the globe, and therefore, in determining global climate. A recent example of tectonic control on ocean circulation is the formation of the Isthmus of Panama about 5 million years ago, which shut off direct mixing between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Human influences
In the context of climate variation, anthropogenic factors are human activities which affect the climate. The scientific consensus on climate change is “that climate is changing and that these changes are in large part caused by human activities,” and it “is largely irreversible.” “Science has made enormous inroads in understanding climate change and its causes, and is beginning to help develop a strong understanding of current and potential impacts that will affect people today and in coming decades.

Glaciers
Glaciers are considered among the most sensitive indicators of climate change. Their size is determined by a mass balance between snow input and melt output. As temperatures warm, glaciers retreat unless snow precipitation increases to make up for the additional melt; the converse is also true.

Glaciers grow and shrink due both to natural variability and external forcings. Variability in temperature, precipitation, and englacial and subglacial hydrology can strongly determine the evolution of a glacier in a particular season. Therefore, one must average over a decadal or longer time-scale and/or over a many individual glaciers to smooth out the local short-term variability and obtain a glacier history that is related to climate.

Arctic sea ice loss
The decline in Arctic sea ice, both in extent and thickness, over the last several decades is further evidence for rapid climate change. Sea ice is frozen seawater that floats on the ocean surface. It covers millions of square miles in the polar regions, varying with the seasons. In the Arctic, some sea ice remains year after year, whereas almost all Southern Ocean or Antarctic sea ice melts away and reforms annually. Satellite observations show that Arctic sea ice is now declining at a rate of 11.5 percent per decade, relative to the 1979 to 2000 average.

Vegetation
A change in the type, distribution and coverage of vegetation may occur given a change in the climate. Some changes in climate may result in increased precipitation and warmth, resulting in improved plant growth and the subsequent sequestration of airborne CO2. A gradual increase in warmth in a region will lead to earlier flowering and fruiting times, driving a change in the timing of life cycles of dependent organisms. Conversely, cold will cause plant bio-cycles to lag. Larger, faster or more radical changes, however, may result in vegetation stress, rapid plant loss and desertification in certain circumstances.

Precipitation
Past precipitation can be estimated in the modern era with the global network of precipitation gauges. Surface coverage over oceans and remote areas is relatively sparse, but, reducing reliance on interpolation, satellite data has been available since the 1970s. Quantification of climatological variation of precipitation in prior centuries and epochs is less complete but approximated using proxies such as marine sediments, ice cores, cave stalagmites, and tree rings.

Sea level change
Global sea level change for much of the last century has generally been estimated using tide gauge measurements collated over long periods of time to give a long-term average. More recently, altimeter measurements — in combination with accurately determined satellite orbits — have provided an improved measurement of global sea level change. To measure sea levels prior to instrumental measurements, scientists have dated coral reefs that grow near the surface of the ocean, coastal sediments, marine terraces, ooids in limestones, and nearshore archaeological remains. The predominant dating methods used are uranium series and radiocarbon, with cosmogenic radionuclides being sometimes used to date terraces that have experienced relative sea level fall.

CONCLUSION

In light of the contexts of this manuscript, the researcher concluded that global warming refers to surface temperature increases while climate change includes global warming and everything else that increasing greenhouse gas levels will affect. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average (e.g., more or fewer extreme weather events).

Scientists have made many projections about how global warming will affect weather, glacial ice, sea levels, agriculture, wildlife, and human health. Many changes linked to rising temperatures are already being observed.

In a warmer world, scientists predict that more people will get sick or die from heat stress, due not only to hotter days but more importantly to warmer nights (giving the sufferers less relief). More frequent and intense heat waves will further contribute to this trend.

Responding to the challenge of controlling global warming will require fundamental changes in energy production, transportation, industry, government policies, and development strategies around the world. These changes take time. The challenge today is managing the impacts that cannot be avoided while taking steps to prevent more severe impacts in the future.

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