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Global Warming I INTRODUCTION Global Warming, increase in the average temperature of the atmosphere, oceans, a nd landmasses of Earth.

The planet has warmed (and cooled) many times during the 4.65 billion years of its history. Atpresent Earth appears to be facing a rapid warming, which most scientists believe results, at least in part,from human act ivities. The chief cause of this warming is thought to be the burning of fossil fuels, such ascoal, oil, and natural gas, which releases into the atmosphere car bon dioxide and other substances knownas greenhouse gases. As the atmosphere bec omes richer in these gases, it becomes a better insulator,retaining more of the heat provided to the planet by the Sun. The average surface temperature of Earth is about 15XC (59XF). Over the last century, this average hasrisen by about 0.6 C elsius degree (1 Fahrenheit degree). Scientists predict further warming of 1.4 t o 5.8Celsius degrees (2.5 to 10.4 Fahrenheit degrees) by the year 2100. This tem perature rise is expected tomelt polar ice caps and glaciers as well as warm the oceans, all of which will expand ocean volume andraise sea level by an estimate d 9 to 100 cm (4 to 40 in), flooding some coastal regions and even entireislands . Some regions in warmer climates will receive more rainfall than before, but so ils will dry out fasterbetween storms. This soil desiccation may damage food cro ps, disrupting food supplies in some parts of the world. Plant and animal specie s will shift their ranges toward the poles or to higher elevations seekingcooler temperatures, and species that cannot do so may become extinct. The potential c onsequences of global warming are so great that many of the world's leading scie ntists have called for internationalcooperation and immediate action to countera ct the problem. II THE GREENHOUSE EFFECT The energy that lights and warms Earth comes from the Sun. Most of the energy t hat floods onto ourplanet is short-wave radiation, including visible light. When this energy strikes the surface of Earth, theenergy changes from light to heat and warms Earth. Earths surface, in turn, releases some of this heat aslong-wave i nfrared radiation.Much of this long-wave infrared radiation makes it all the way back out to space, but a portion remainstrapped in Earths atmosphere. Certain gas es in the atmosphere, including water vapor, carbon dioxide,and methane, provide the trap. Absorbing and reflecting infrared waves radiated by Earth, these gase sconserve heat as the glass in a greenhouse does and are thus known as greenhous e gases. As theconcentration of these greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increas es, more heat energy remains trappedbelow. All life on Earth relies on this gree nhouse effectXwithout it, the planet would be colder by about 33Celsius degrees ( 59 Fahrenheit degrees), and ice would cover Earth from pole to pole. However, a growingexcess of greenhouse gases in Earths atmosphere threatens to tip the balanc e in the other directionXtoward continual warming. III TYPES OF GREENHOUSE GASES Greenhouse gases occur naturally in the environment and also result from human a ctivities. By far themost abundant greenhouse gas is water vapor, which reaches the atmosphere through evaporation fromoceans, lakes, and rivers.Carbon dioxide is the next most abundant greenhouse gas. It flows into the atmosphere from many naturalprocesses, such as volcanic eruptions; the respiration of animals, which breathe in oxygen and exhalecarbon dioxide; and the burning or decay of organic matter, such as plants. Carbon dioxide leaves theatmosphere when it is absorbed into ocean water and through the photosynthesis of plants, especiallytrees. Pho tosynthesis breaks up carbon dioxide, releasing oxygen into the atmosphere and i ncorporatingthe carbon into new plant tissue.Humans escalate the amount of carbo n dioxide released to the atmosphere when they burn fossil fuels,solid wastes, a nd wood and wood products to heat buildings, drive vehicles, and generate electr icity. At thesame time, the number of trees available to absorb carbon dioxide t hrough photosynthesis has beengreatly reduced by deforestation, the long-term de

struction of forests by indiscriminate cutting of trees forlumber or to clear la nd for agricultural activities.Ultimately, the oceans and other natural processe s absorb excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.However, human activities have caused carbon dioxide to be released to the atmosphere at rates muchfaster than that at which Earths natural processes can cycle this gas. In 1750 there were abou t 281molecules of carbon dioxide per million molecules of air (abbreviated as pa rts per million, or ppm). Todayatmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are 368 ppm, which reflects a 31 percent increase.Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrat ion increases by about 1.5 ppm per year. If current predictionsprove accurate, b y the year 2100 carbon dioxide will reach concentrations of more than 540 to 970 ppm.At the highest estimation, this concentration would be triple the levels pr ior to the Industrial Revolution,the widespread replacement of human labor by ma chines that began in Britain in the mid-18th century andsoon spread to other par ts of Europe and to the United States.Methane is an even more effective insulato r, trapping over 20 times more heat than does the sameamount of carbon dioxide. Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane also comes from rotting organic waste in landfills, and it is relea sed from certain animals,especially cows, as a byproduct of digestion. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1700s, the amount of methane in the atmosphere has more than doubled.Nitrous oxide is a powerful insulating g as released primarily by burning fossil fuels and by plowing farmsoils. Nitrous oxide traps about 300 times more heat than does the same amount of carbon dioxid e. Theconcentration of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere has increased 17 percent over preindustrial levels.In addition, greenhouse gases are produced in many man ufacturing processes. Perfluorinated compoundsresult from the smelting of alumin um. Hydrofluorocarbons form during the manufacture of many products,including th e foams used in insulation, furniture, and car seats. Refrigerators built in som e developingnations still use chlorofluorocarbons as coolants. In addition to th eir ability to retain atmospheric heat,some of these synthetic chemicals also de stroy Earths high-altitude ozone layer, the protective layer of gases that shields Earth from damaging ultraviolet radiation. For most of the 20 th century these chemicalshave been accumulating in the atmosphere at unpreceden ted rates. But since 1995, in response toregulations enforced by the Montreal Pr otocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and itsamendments, the atmosph eric concentrations of many of these gases are either increasing more slowly ord ecreasing.Scientists are growing concerned about other gases produced from manuf acturing processes that pose anenvironmental risk. In 2000 scientists identified a substantial rise in atmospheric concentrations of a newlyidentified synthetic compound called trifluoromethyl sulfur pentafluoride. Atmospheric concentration s of this gas are rising quickly, and although it still is extremely rare in the atmosphere, scientists areconcerned because the gas traps heat more effectively than all other known greenhouse gases. Perhapsmore worrisome, scientists have b een unable to confirm the industrial source of the gas. IV MEASURING GLOBAL WARMING As early as 1896 scientists suggested that burning fossil fuels might change the composition of theatmosphere and that an increase in global average temperature might result. The first part of thishypothesis was confirmed in 1957, when rese archers working in the global research program called theInternational Geophysic al Year sampled the atmosphere from the top of the Hawaiian volcano Mauna Loa. T heir instruments indicated that carbon dioxide concentration was indeed rising. Since then, thecomposition of the atmosphere has been carefully tracked. The dat a collected show undeniably that theconcentrations of greenhouse gases in the at mosphere are increasing.Scientists have long suspected that the global climate, the long-term average pattern of temperature, wasalso growing warmer, but they w ere unable to provide conclusive proof. Temperatures vary widely all thetime and from place to place. It takes many years of climate observations to establish a trend. Recordsgoing back to the late 1800s did seem to show a warming trend, bu t these statistics were spotty anduntrustworthy. Early weather stations often we

re located near cities, where temperature measurementswere affected by the heat emitted from buildings and vehicles and stored by building materials andpavement s. Since 1957, however, data have been gathered from more reliable weather stati ons, locatedfar away from cities, and from satellites. These data have provided new, more accurate measurements,especially for the 70 percent of the planetary s urface that is ocean water ( see Satellite, Artificial). Thesemore accurate records indicate that a surface warmi ng trend exists and that, moreover, it has becomemore pronounced. Looking back f rom the end of the 20th century, records show that the ten warmestyears of the c entury all occurred after 1980, and the three hottest years occurred after 1990, with 1998being the warmest year of all.Greenhouse gas concentrations are increa sing. Temperatures are rising. But does the gas increasenecessarily cause the wa rming, and will these two phenomena continue to occur together? In 1988 theUnite d Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization establis hed a panel of 200leading scientists to consider the evidence. In its Third Asse ssment Report, released in 2001, thisIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC) concluded that global air temperature had increased0.6 Celsius degree (1 F ahrenheit degree) since 1861. The panel agreed that the warming was caused