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Chapter 20: The Atmosphere, Climate and Global Warming


Fundamental Global Warming Questions Weather and Climate The Origin of the Global Warming Issue The Atmosphere How We Study Climate The Greenhouse Effect The Major Greenhouse Gases Climate Change and Feedback Loops Causes of Climate Change The Oceans and Climate Change Forecasting Climate Change Potential Rates of Global Climate Change Potential Environmental, Ecological and Human Effects of Global Warming

Fundamental Questions About Global Warming

Concern arises from two pieces of evidence:

Increase in average surface temperature of the Earth from 1860 to the present

0.2C per decade since 1960

Increase in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere

Measured on Mauna Loa in Hawaii by Charles Keeling

Fundamental Questions About Global Warming

What is the origin of rapid warming in the geologic record?

Is the present rapid warming unprecedented or at least so rare that many living things will not be able to respond successfully to it? To what extent, have people caused it?
What are likely to be the effects on people? What are likely to be the effects on all life on Earth? How can we make forecasts about it and other kinds of climate change? What can we do to minimize potential negative effects?

Weather and Climate


whats happening now in the atmosphere near the earths surface

Temperature, pressure, cloudiness, precipitation, winds

Climate is the average weather

Usually refers to long periods of time Classified mainly by latitude and wet/dry

The Climate is Always Changing

Climate has warmed and cooled may times in Earths history

Times of high temp involve relatively ice free periods Times of low temp involve glacial events

The Origins of the Global Warming Issue

Relationship between chemistry of planets atmosphere and planets surface temperature

Certain gases trap heat energy and warm the planet Since this idea was first introduce has stirred controversy

The Atmosphere

Thin layer of gases that envelops Earth

Held near the surface by gravitation and pushed upward by thermal energy.
Nitrogen (78%) Oxygen (21%) Argon (0.9%) Carbon dioxide (0.03%) Water vapor Trace amounts of other gases/pollutants

Comprised of

Dynamic system

Structure of the Atmosphere

Made up of several vertical layers

Troposphere - bottom layer

Where weather occurs Temperature decrease with elevation At the top is tropopause - acts as a lid

Stratosphere - above the troposphere

Stratospheric ozone layer just above the tropopause Protects again UV radiation

Atmospheric Processes

Processes generally defined by pressure, temperature, and water vapor content

Pressure is force per unit area

Caused by the weight of overlying atmospheric gases on those below Decreases with altitude Low pressure systems usually bring clouds High pressure systems usually bring clear skies

Atmospheric Processes

Temperature is the relative hotness or coldness of materials

Measure of thermal energy

Water vapor content is how much water is in the gaseous form

Varies from 1% to 4%

Atmospheric Processes

Atmosphere moves due to

Earths rotation Differential heating

Produces global patterns of prevailing winds and latitudinal belts of high and low pressure

What Makes the Earth Warm

Almost all the energy from the sun Sunlight comes in a wide range of electromagnetic radiation

Long to short wavelengths Most of the radiation that reaches the Earth is in the infrared and visible wavelengths

What Makes the Earth Warm

Under typical conditions Earths atmosphere:

Reflects ~30% of the electromagnetic energy that comes in from the sun absorbs ~25% The remaining ~45% gets to the surface

Radiates back to the atmosphere or into outer space

How We Study Climate

Instrumental Records

Climate measurements began in 1860s Data from pre 19th century is

Estimates Extrapolated Interpolated

We have very accurate data since 1960

Improved instrumentation

How We Study Climate

Historical Records

Go back a few centuries

Mostly qualitative

Books, newspapers, journal articles, personal journals, ships logs, travelers diaries, and farmers logs

Paleoproxy records

Proxy data- not strictly climatic, but provides insight into climate

Tree rings, sediments, ice cores, fossil pollen, corals, and carbon-14 (14C)

Proxy Climate Records

Ice Cores
Polar ice and mountain glaciers have ice records that go back 100s or 1000s of years
Oldest is 800,000 years

Ice cores have small bubbles of air

Can measure carbon dioxide and methane levels from the time the ice was created

Proxy Climate Records

Tree Rings

Many trees create one growth ring per year

Width, density and ionic composition of the ring are indicative of climate

Proxy Climate Records


Biological material (ex: pollen) is deposited on the land and stored for extended periods in lake, bog, and pond sediments Pollen is useful
Quantity of pollen is an indicator of relative abundance of each plant species Pollen can be dated Can be used to construct a climate history

Proxy Climate Record


Coral exoskeleton made of calcium carbonate

Carbonate contains isotopes of oxygen Used to determine temp of water in which the coral grew

Proxy Climate Record

Carbon-14 and sun sunspots

The Green House Effect

Each gas in the atmosphere has its own absorption spectrum

Certain gases are especially strong absorbers in the infrared They absorb radiation emitted by the warmed surfaces of the Earth They then re-emit this radiation This increases the temperature of the earths surface

The Green House Effect

Natural phenomenon Major greenhouse gases include

Water vapor Carbon dioxide Methane Some oxides of nitrogen CFCs

Greenhouse Effect

No one doubts that the greenhouse effect exists and affects planets The puzzle arises on the Earth about relative importance of greenhouse gases in affecting climate Evidence indicates that carbon dioxide, methane, and temperature rise and fall together Most scientists conclude that greenhouse gases are causing climate change

Positive and Negative Feedbacks

The atmosphere and its interactions w/ the ocean and land surfaces experience positive and negative feedbacks Negative feedback

Warms temps warm air and lead to increased evaporation Evaporation leads to more cloud formation which reflects more sunlight which could cool the surface.

Positive and Negative Feedbacks

Positive feedback

Warms temps warm air and lead to increased evaporation but instead of clouds forming remain as water vapor Water vapor is a greenhouse gas. The warmer it gets the more water vapor, and the process continues

Causes of Climate Change

19th century

Scientists began to understand that climate changed greatly over long periods There were times of continental glaciations Evidence - debris at the edges of existing glaciers which looked the same as those deposited at lower elevations 100,000 year cycles divided into 20,000 40,000 year periods

Cycles were apparent

Causes of Climate Change

Milankovitch Cycles

Explain why climate changes Earth is like a wobbling top following an elliptical orbit around the sun

Three Cycles
1. 26,000 year

Earth Does not keep its poles at a constant angle in relation to the sun Wobble around the pole makes a complete cycle in 26,000 years

Causes of Climate Change

2. 41,000 years

The tilt of wobble also varies over a period of 41,000 years

Elliptical orbit around the sun also changes Sometimes it is a more extreme ellipse; other times it is closer to a circle and this occurs over 100,000 years.

3. 100,000 years

Causes of Climate Change

The combination of these lead to periodic changes in the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth

Milankovitch showed that these variations correlated with major glacial and interglacial periods

Dont account for all climate variations

Solar Cycles

The Sun Goes Through Cycles

Sometimes hotter, sometimes cooler Documented by differing amounts of isotopes trapped in glacial ice

Variability of solar input of energy explains some of the climatic variability too

Atmospheric Transparency Affects Climate and Weather

Transparency of atmosphere to radiation affects the temp of the Earth

From the sun coming in From the Earths surface going out Volcanoes, forest fires and farming put dust into the atmosphere Chemical and physical comp of atmosphere can make it warmer or cooler

Dust and aerosols absorb light

The Oceans Effect on Climate Change

Water has the highest heat capacity of any compound

Large amount of heat energy is stored in oceans As CO2 increases in atmosphere it also increases in the oceans

Ocean absorbs dissolved CO2

The Oceans Effect on Climate Change

Climate system driven (in part) by ocean conveyor belt

A global circulation of ocean waters If the conveyor was shut down, major changes in climate would occur

El Nio and Climate

El Nio refers to a specific periodic variation of Pacific Ocean currents Under non-El Nio conditions

Trade-winds blow west across the tropical Pacific Warm surface water pile up in Western Pacific

El Nio and Climate

During El Nio years

Trade winds weaken Western moving current weakens or reverses

As a result eastern equatorial ocean unusually warm High rates of precipitation and flooding in Peru

Changes global atmospheric circulation

Causes changes in weather in regions that are far removed from tropical Pacific

El Nio and Climate

Surface water temperature rise off the South American coast inhibits the upwelling of nutrient-rich cold water from deeper levels

Upwelling releases carbon dioxide El Nio events reduce the amount of oceanic carbon outgassing

Forecasting Climate Change

Two ways to forecast the future:

Empirical and theoretical

Empirical approach is to go back to the geological idea of uniformitarianism

The past is the key to the future Has led to the extensive research on climates and atmospheric conditions of the past

Predicting the Future of the Climate

Problem with Empirical approach

Temperature records are recent and not widespread

Difficult to extrapolate, interpolate and estimate Reconstructing temp records

Hadley Meteorological Center in Great Britain

Predicting the Future of the Climate

Computer simulation General Circulation Models (GCM)

Based around the atmosphere being divided into rectangular solids

Each a few km high and several km N or S For each the flux of energy and matter is calculated to each adjacent cell

Steady state model - cannot account for randomness

Potential Rates of Global Climate Change

Global surface temp has increased 0.2C/ decade in the past 30 years.

Eight warmest years have occurred since 1997 Continued warming of 0.2C /decade is projected.

Potential Rates of Global Climate Change

By 2030

CO2 concentration in the atmosphere will have doubled from pre-Industrial Revolution concentrations Average global temperature will have risen approximately 1 to 2C
Even greater temperature increases at poles Polar amplification

Potential Effects of Global Warming

Changes in River Flow

Melting of glacial ice & reductions in snow cover

Rainfall will likely increase, but runoff will be more rapid than if snow slowly melts Reservoirs will overflow - more water will flow to the ocean

Potential Effects of Global Warming

Rise in Sea Level

Since last ice age, sea level has risen 1 ft/century

Global warming could double this

A major warming could increase sea levels

1. Expansion of liquid water as water warms 2. Melting of ice sheets on land whose waters then flow into the ocean

About half the people on Earth live on or near the coast - vulnerable to flooding

Potential Effects of Global Warming

Rise in sea level could:

Threatens island nations Increase coastal erosion on open beaches and cause property loss. Cause landward progression of estuaries and salt marshes Lead to lost of coastal wetlands Threaten ground water supply in coastal communities

Tuvalu, the worlds smallest nation, may succumb to sea level rise

Potential Effects of Global Warming

Glaciers and Antarctic Ice Cap

Far more glaciers are retreating than advancing worldwide Northern Hemisphere sea ice coverage has declined an average of 10.7% per decade since 1970s

Potential Effects of Global Warming

Potential Effects of Global Warming

The central ice cap on Antarctica is growing

This is consistent w/ prediction of global climate change models As Earth warms, more snow falls on Antarctica

The rate of melting of the Greenland ice sheet has doubled since 1998

Potential Effects of Global Warming

Changes in Biological Diversity

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report states that

approximately 220% of species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction as global mean temperatures exceed a warming of 2 to 3C above preindustrial levels.

Potential Effects of Global Warming

Black guillemots

Birds that nest on Cooper Island, Alaska,

Recession of sea ice occurred before chicks were mature enough to survive on their own Parent birds feed on Arctic cod found under the sea ice

The abundance of this species has decreased

Distance from feeding grounds to nest must be <30 km In recent years - 250km to feeding grounds

Lost an important source of food for locals

Potential Effects of Global Warming

Agricultural Productivity-globally

Likely to increase in some regions and decline in others Locations most likely negatively effected
Mid-latitude food production Lands in the southern part of the N. Hemisphere

May become more arid & soil moisture relationships will change

Human Health Effects

Difficult to forecast

Adjusting to Potential Global Warming

Two types


Learn to live with future global climatic change


Work to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases

Adjusting to Potential Global Warming

How can carbon dioxide emissions be reduced?

Energy planning that relies heavily on energy conservation and efficiency Use of alternative energy sources or natural gas Use of mass transit Greater economic incentives to energyefficient technology Higher fuel-economy

Adjusting to Potential Global Warming

Burning forests to convert land to agriculture

Accounts for ~20% of anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide Reduce this by minimizing burning and protecting the worlds forests
Planting more trees Increase biospheric sinks for carbon dioxide


Adjusting to Potential Global Warming

Geologic sequestration of carbon is another possible mitigation measure

Capture carbon dioxide from power plants and industrial smokestacks

Compress the gas and change it to a mixture of both liquid and gas Inject it deep underground

Have the potential to sequester as much as 1,000 gigatons of carbon

International Agreements to Mitigate Global Warming

Two major approaches

1. International agreements in which each nation agrees to some specific limit on emissions 2. Carbon trading

Carbon Trading

A nation or nation agrees to a cap of carbon emissions

Then corporations and other entities are issued emission permits, allowing a certain quantity of emissions These can be traded Overall nation does not exceed the cap

International Agreements to Mitigate Global Warming


First international meeting to discuss limiting greenhouse gases held (Toronto, Canada) Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. General blueprint for reduction of global emissions suggested US thought it would be to costly and no legally binding limits set


International Agreements to Mitigate Global Warming


Legally binding limits discussed in Kyoto, Japan.

US eventually agreed to cut emissions to 7% below 1990 levels (leading scientists recommend cuts 60-80% below) Became a formal treaty in 2006