Climate Science and its Importance

Climate vs. Weather

What is climate? What, then, is weather? These two questions seem simple enough, but the vast majority of people do not know that answers to these simple questions. Climate is the average of weather over time and space or the description of the long-term weather pattern of a specific area. Weather, on the other hand, refers to patterns present in a shorter period of time of one or two months. Therefore, weather is the short term effect of human behaviors on long term climate change.

But why is mapping climate and weather change important? As humans, we have a major impact on the world. The world population has increased immensely over the past 30 years to over 7 billion people, yet humans are still trying to live as we did when there was a population of only 2 billion people. As a result, carbon emissions from cars, factories, homes, etc have more than tripled, resulting in a phenomenon commonly referred to as global warming - i.e. the general increase of the world's temperature thanks to the entrapment of greenhouses gases, or GHG (such as CO2). Temperature changes are correlated to the intensity of natural storms: warmer air means nastier storms.

Climate Science

The current focus of climate science involves carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere acts as a blanket over the planet by trapping long wave radiation, which would otherwise radiate heat away from the planet. As the amount of carbon dioxide increases, so will its warming effect. 

Diagram of carbon dioxide blanket demonstrating trapped gases Figure 1: Model of long wave radiation involved in the Carbon Cycle (University of Chicago)

Carbon Dioxide is the largest contributor (currently responsible for around 63% of GHG) to this atmospheric "blanket" and its role increases each year. The effects of the burden of the increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will remain for thousands of years if we only rely on the natural mechanisms of erosion and sedimentation to process the added carbon. Informed human intervention is necessary if GHG emissions are to be controlled and lessened.

Areas of Carbon Dioxide Extraction Figure 2: Ecology: Organisms and Their Environment (Shmoop)

As you can see from this model, humans play two major roles in the Carbon Cycle: extraction of fossil fuels and the burning of fossil fuels. Humans need to be responsible for their role in the creating and releasing of carbon if a natural balance is to be reached. The goal cannot be to just eliminate all carbon dioxide because, aside from that being impossible, many living organisms require carbon dioxide as a staple. Rather, the reduction and control of emission is an attainable goal that can help reestablish a semblance of balance.

You might be asking yourself, how do scientists know that the amount of carbon dioxide has increased at a significant rate? The answer lies in polar ice caps, which used to hold trapped Carbon Dioxide and other atmospheric gases from centuries ago. Climate scientists extract a cylinder of ice from the ice caps that stretches many yards, and thus many centuries. In this cylinder lies trapped evidence of CO2 levels throughout the years, which can be measured in ppm, or parts per million. Thanks to these observations, scientists are able to calculate the increase of CO2 emissions over a certain time. For example, modern CO2 levels are pushing 400 ppm whereas levels of under 250 ppm are present around the time of the Industrial Revolution.

Climate Change Discussion Videos

Climate Change Fundamentals by Joshua Harbert

  • An excellent source of basic climate science information. He gives examples and graphs to illustrate what is being studied and he also explains how to study climate change.

Climate Change – The Scientific Debate

  • A discussion of how the climate change crisis called Global Warming has been brought about from human activity.

Climate Realist Debates Bill Nye

Climate 101 with Bill Nye

Sources

NASA

NOAA

Jennifer Strickland

Last Updated: August 09, 2016