Climate Change

There has been a significant media firestorm in the past few days about the science of climate change.  There are some basic facts that scientifically prove the Earth is changing.

  1.  Carbon dioxide absorbs heat.  More CO2, more heat gets trapped.  If the Earth didn’t have any CO2 in its atmosphere the planet would have average temperatures around zero degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. The amount of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere has varied over time, but has never been as high as it is right now.  Burning fossil fuels (gas, oil, coal, etc) produces CO2.  We started burning more of these fuels with the Industrial Revolution.  Current CO2 measurements are taken in Hawaii, to avoid big city pollution.  Historic data comes from taking ice samples from Antarctica known as ice cores.  This ice has a small amount of air trapped in it that is analyzed for its content.  There are both night/day and seasonal fluctuations, but averages are quite telling.  The data is summarized in one figure below.

Credit: Vostok ice core data/ JR Petit et al; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record and

Forecasting the exact implications of this change in concentration is difficult, since all areas will react differently.  However, many implications are already being observed.  Changes in overall sea level, ground ice cover, global average temperatures and arctic sea ice are all being observed and monitored by an number of programs around the world. NASA has an incredibly in-depth site dedicated to this science.

There is also an international body, known as the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) with representation by 195 countries, who is in charge of assessing climate change science worldwide.  They regularly publish reports of their findings.  The 5th Assessment Report, found in here or as a condensed summary here, concluded “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

Want to see how some of these things might directly affect you?  NOAA has a great sea level map.  You can zoom to see how a variety of different amounts of rise effects areas – note, for example, New Orleans, NYC metro, or Boston.


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