The science of climate change

The science of climate change

            Climate change, also known as global warming, is the change in the environmental temperature due to the accumulation and locking in of gases in the atmosphere (Gregory et al., 2002).  The gases that are ensnared within the atmosphere are mainly generated from the activities that occur on the surface of the earth, of which are largely man-made (Choi and Fisher, 2003).  The rise in the temperature of the atmosphere is the result of the greenhouse effect, which pertains to the entrapment of the heat coming from the sun.  It should be understood that in a natural environment, the sun emits sunshine that warms the surface of the earth, after which the heat is later emitted back to the atmosphere.

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However, in the current global condition we live in, the heat is entrapped for an extended period of time due to the massive extent of air pollution that contains the heat from dissipating back to the atmosphere.  It has been scientifically established that the temperature of the atmosphere has significantly increased since the commencement of the industrial revolution, which is characterized by the heightened employment of chemicals and equipment in the production of various types of products, as well as materials, in industry (Rudiman, 2005).

            Four major gaseous compounds have been determined to be responsible for climate change.  One of these is carbon dioxide (CO2), which comprises almost half of the total gases that are responsible for the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere (Pearson and Palmer, 2000).  Carbon dioxide is a product of the combustion reaction of fossil fuels, which is simply the burning of coal, as well as natural gas.  Combustion of oil can also result in the generation of carbon dioxide, together with fuel energy.  Carbon dioxide gas also arises from deforestation efforts, which are common activities that are initiated in land development and industrialization schemes.

Although the natural fauna, including trees in the forest, require carbon dioxide in order to complete photosynthesis, industrialization and deforestation efforts are also associated with clearing trees and thus the massive removal of trees has decreased the recipients of the carbon dioxide gases emitted by human activities.  The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has thus markedly increased and further accumulated, in amounts that are far greater than what could be assimilated by what trees have been left behind in the fringes of the forests.

            Another gaseous compound that has been determined to play a role in climate change is the chlorofluorocarbon (CFC).  These gaseous compounds are the primary component of most plastic materials such as those disposable utensils and containers.  In addition, aerosol sprays also contain significant amounts of chlorofluorocarbons.  Approximately 25% of the greenhouse gases that are responsible for climate change are composed of chlorofluorocarbons (Revkin, 2005).  Methane gas is another component that is responsible for climate change, making up approximately 12% of the entire greenhouse gases.  This gas is derived from the decomposition of organic materials, as well as from agricultural species such as cattle and sheep.

Termites are also sources of methane gas, yet the amount released by these insects is minimal as compared to that released by industrial sites.  Nitrous oxide is another gaseous compound that plays a role in global warming and climate change.  This gas makes up around 6% of the entire amount of greenhouse gases.  Nitrous oxide is generated by industrial companies, as they manufacture products that are marketed within the country and around the world.  Nitrous oxide is also present in nitrogen-based fertilizers, as well as the manure excreted by livestock.  Volcanoes can also emit nitrous oxide gases, yet this emission only occurs intermittently and only during eruptions.

            Climate change is generally felt as the significant modification of the weather in specific regions around the world.  Such weather changes are not so obvious if temperatures from one year to the next are compared, but these are more obvious when the temperature of a region is compared to that of one or two decades ago.  It has been suggested by scientific researchers and meteorologists that the moment the surface of the Earth has attained a markedly high temperature, severe atmospheric changes may ensue.  This in turn can result in changes in the ocean levels, as well as tides.  Moreover, the weather patterns of particular regions around the world can change within a decade.  One of the most significant and observable change is that in the patterns of the weather, wherein summer days seem to be hotter than that of 10 or 20 years ago.  In the case of winter, climate change may result in extremely icy to freezing temperatures than the usual cold temperatures.  Other regions around the world may even experience a prolonged duration for summer or winter, while other parts of the Earth may only go through shorter summers.  In Asia, the summer season starts in March and lasts until May while the monsoon season comes in July and runs through August.  However, in the last few years, the summer season has shortened and could only be observed for the month of March and the rains come in April.

            The effect of climate change not only affects the temperature of the surface of the Earth, but also influences the level of the water in the sea (Lean et al., 2002).  There may be regions around the world where the sea level is high yet due to the significant increase in the temperature, massive evaporation has occurred and thus has dried up half of the contents of the sea.  The significant decrease in the amount of water may expose the land that is adjacent to that body of water.  This may be temporarily good for the residents who live by the water, yet the lowering of the sea level is not beneficial to the marine organisms that live under the sea.  In another part of the world, the sea level may increase and this may submerge towns and cities that are situated next to the sea.

            Climate change affects all countries, regardless of its position on the planet.  Even countries that are situated in higher latitudes are affected, as reports describe that these countries could potentially experience temperatures that are higher by 40%.  Precipitation will also change, wherein there may be more rainfall than what has been determined to be the average amount each year.  In colder countries, these regions may experience more snowfall than what they have received several decades ago.  This can result in avalanches, as well as cities that are frozen for extended period of time, such as weeks or months.  In the tropical countries, the typhoons can be stronger as the level of the sea has increased and the winds may be stronger and thus pushing the water towards to the mainland.  There are natural phenomena that have been described to occur more frequently than centuries ago (Smith and Reynolds, 2005).  One of these is the El Niño, which is only observed in specific regions around the world.  This phenomenon was only reported for a couple of times in the last few centuries, but the past few decades have been characterized by several occurrences of the El Niño phenomena.

            One important thing to consider about climate change is that this is not a simple change in the weather and temperature.  Climate change can also affect natural habitats.  The significant increase in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can support further growth of the forests, allowing the trees and shrubs to grow bigger and multiply.  On the other hand, the higher temperatures of the atmosphere can increase the overall sea temperature and thus this will facilitate fish life and allow algal organisms to flourish.  The benefits of warmer temperatures may thus be helpful, but only to specific species that are generally located in tropical countries.  The rest of the organisms that are living in colder temperate areas may find it difficult to thrive in such conditions of elevated temperatures.  There are also other marine species that are used to living in the cold temperatures of the deeper pits of the sea, such as the abyss.  Coral reefs are important marine ecosystems because they serve as nurseries for young fishes.  The reefs provide both nourishment, as well as protection to the young, and once these fishes have grown bigger and mature, they generally swim to other parts of the ocean to embark on predatory relationships with other marine organisms.  The increase in the temperature of the sea may destroy these coral reefs because these organisms are generally very sensitive to fluctuations in temperature.  In addition, coral reefs are also easily affected by changes in the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water (Haigh, 2003).  If any changes in temperature and oxygen occur in these regions, the coral reefs gradually deteriorate, thus decreasing the amount of areas where young fishes could take refuge and find nutrition.

            As for the human society, climate change may also bring in other additional problems that are of health concern (Torn and Harte, 2006).  The extended periods of rain can result in floods in the city and thus it is easy for infectious pathogens to be transmitted from one person to another through wading in the water.  Increase in rainfall can result in floods, which are good substrates for cholera, as well as malaria.  On the other hand, the significant decrease in rainfall can result in drought and markedly high temperatures, which in turn can be instrumental in the development of heat stroke, as well as respiratory diseases.

            There are currently a number of steps that have been suggested to help in the reduction of the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  Several countries from around the world have actively participated in an agreement to work towards the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and this has been called the Kyoto Protocol (Wigley, 2007).  In addition, the United National Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCC) was created in order to amend what has been described in the Kyoto Protocol.  To date, the United States, China and India have been identified as the prime countries that generate significant amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.  Despite such international efforts in combating climate change, every citizen around the world can help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted daily into the atmosphere.  For example, minimizing in the use of automobiles and instead riding bicycles can definitely decrease the amount of pollution in the air.  There are also methods in decreasing the amount of smoke that is emitted from barbecuing, as well as burning wood when cooking outdoors.  Industrial companies should also be more cautious in their methods of manufacturing specific products and these companies should employ high efficiency filters that could clean the air and smoke that is emitted by their machines.  Other groups have actively participated in planting more trees in areas that have been deforested, in order to make up for the loss of oxygen and increase the usage of the carbon dioxide gases that have accumulated in the atmosphere.  The decrease in the use of air-conditioners can also decrease the amount of chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere.

            Climate change is a global issue that has to be addressed by the entire world - The science of climate change introduction.  Since most of the signs of changes in the temperature, sea level and oxygen in the atmosphere have also been observed, it is thus important that international and national efforts be conducted in order to prevent the further degradation of the planet.

References

Choi, O. and Fisher, A. (2003). The impacts of socioeconomic development and climate change on severe weather catastrophe losses: Mid-Atlantic region (MAR) and the U.S.  Climate Change, 58, 149-155.

Gregory, J.M., Stouffer, R.J. and Raper, S.C.G. (2002).  An observationally based estimate of the climate sensitivity.  Journal of Climatology, 15, 3117-3121.

Haigh, J.D. (2003).  The effects of solar variability on the Earth’s climate. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematics, Physics and Engineering Science,  361, 91-111.

Lean, J.L., Wang, Y.M. and Sheeley, N.R. (2002).  The effect of increasing solar activity on the Sun’s total and open magnetic flux during multiple cycles: Implications for solar forcing of climate. Geophysical Research Letters, 29, 2224-2227.

Pearson, P.N. and Palmer, M.R.  (2000).  Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations over the past 60 million years.  Nature, 406, 695–699.

Revkin, A.C. (2005).  Rise in gases unmatched by a history in ancient ice. New York Times, November 25, 2005.

Rudiman, W. (2005). How did humans first alter global climate? Scientific American, March 2005 issue.

Smith, T.M. and Reynolds, R.W. (2005). A global merged land–air–sea surface temperature reconstruction based on historical observations (1880–1997). Journal of Climatology, 18, 2021-2036.

Torn, M. and Harte, J. (2006). Missing feedbacks, asymmetric uncertainties, and the underestimation of future warming. Geophysical Research Letters, 33, 10703.

Wigley, T. (2007). The Kyoto Protocol: CO2, CH4, and climate implications. Geophysical Research Letters, 25, 2285.

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