September 11, 2009

Climate Change

Climate change is any long-term change in the statistics of weather over periods of time that range from decades to millions of years. It can express itself as a change in the mean weather conditions, the probability of extreme conditions, or in any other part of the statistical distribution of weather. Climate change may occur in a specific region, or across the whole Earth.
In recent usage, especially in the context of environmental policy, climate change usually refers to changes in modern climate (see global warming). For information on temperature measurements over various periods, and the data sources available, see temperature record. For attribution of climate change over the past century, see attribution of recent climate change.

Factors that can shape climate are often called climate forcings. These include such processes as variations in solar radiation, deviations in the Earth's orbit, and changes in greenhouse gas concentrations. There are a variety of climate change feedbacks that can either amplify or diminish the initial forcing. Some parts of the climate system, such as the oceans and ice caps, respond slowly in reaction to climate forcing because of their large mass. Therefore, the climate system can take centuries or longer to fully respond to new external forcings.

Plate tectonics
Over the course of millions of years, the motion of tectonic plates reconfigures global land and ocean areas and generates topography. This can affect both global and local patterns of climate and atmosphere-ocean circulation.
The position of the continents determines the geometry of the oceans and therefore influences patterns of ocean circulation. Because the circulation of the ocean and the atmosphere are fundamentally linked, the locations of the continents are important in controlling the transfer of heat and moisture across the globe, and therefore, in determining global climate. A recent example of tectonic control on ocean circulation is the formation of the Isthmus of Panama about 5 million years ago, which shut off direct mixing between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This strengthened the Gulf Stream and eventually led to Northern Hemisphere ice cover.[1][2] Earlier, during the Carboniferous period, plate tectonics may have triggered the large-scale storage of carbon and increased glaciation. Geologic evidence points to a "megamonsoonal" circulation pattern during the time of the supercontinent Pangaea, and climate modeling suggests that the existence of the supercontinent was conductive to the establishment of monsoons.
More locally, topography can influence climate. The existence of mountains (as a product of plate tectonics through mountain-building) can cause orographic precipitation. Humidity generally decreases and diurnal temperature swings generally increase with increasing elevation. Mean temperature and the length of the growing season also decrease with increasing elevation. This, along with orographic precipitation, is important for the existence of low-latitude alpine glaciers and the varied flora and fauna along at different elevations in montane ecosystems.
The size of continents is also important. Because of the stabilizing effect of the oceans on temperature, yearly temperature variations are generally lower in coastal areas than they are inland. A larger supercontinent will therefore have more area in which climate is strongly seasonal than will several smaller continents and/or island arcs.

Volcanism is the process of conveying material from the crust and mantle of the Earth to its surface. Volcanic eruptions, geysers, and hot springs, are examples of volcanic processes which release gases and/or particulates into the atmosphere.
Eruptions large enough to affect climate occur on average several times per century, and cause cooling for a period of a few years. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, the second largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century (after the 1912 eruption of Novarupta) affected the climate substantially. Global temperatures decreased by about 0.5 °C (0.9 °F). Much larger eruptions, known as large igneous provinces, occur only a few times every hundred million years, but can reshape climate for millions of years and cause mass extinctions. Initially, it was thought that the dust ejected into the atmosphere from large volcanic eruptions was responsible for longer-term cooling by partially blocking the transmission of solar radiation to the Earth's surface. However, measurements indicate that most of the dust hurled into the atmosphere may return to the Earth's surface within as little as six months, given the right conditions.
Volcanoes are also part of the extended carbon cycle. Over very long (geological) time periods, they release carbon dioxide from the Earth's crust and mantle, counteracting the uptake by sedimentary rocks and other geological carbon dioxide sinks. According to the US Geological Survey, however, estimates are that human activities generate more than 130 times the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by volcanoes.

Variations in CO2, temperature and dust from the Vostok ice core over the last 450,000 years
Glaciers are among the most sensitive indicators of climate change, advancing when climate cools (for example, during the period known as the Little Ice Age) and retreating when climate warms. Glaciers grow and shrink, both contributing to natural variability and amplifying externally forced changes. A world glacier inventory has been compiled since the 1970s. Initially based mainly on aerial photographs and maps, this compilation has resulted in a detailed inventory of more than 100,000 glaciers covering a total area of approximately 240,000 km2 and, in preliminary estimates, for the recording of the remaining ice cover estimated to be around 445,000 km2. The World Glacier Monitoring Service collects data annually on glacier retreat and glacier mass balance From this data, glaciers worldwide have been found to be shrinking significantly, with strong glacier retreats in the 1940s, stable or growing conditions during the 1920s and 1970s, and again retreating from the mid 1980s to present. Mass balance data indicate 17 consecutive years of negative glacier mass balance.
The most significant climate processes since the middle to late Pliocene (approximately 3 million years ago) are the glacial and interglacial cycles. The present interglacial period (the Holocene) has lasted about 11,700 years. Shaped by orbital variations, responses such as the rise and fall of continental ice sheets and significant sea-level changes helped create the climate. Other changes, including Heinrich events, Dansgaard–Oeschger events and the Younger Dryas, however, illustrate how glacial variations may also influence climate without the forcing effect of orbital changes.
Glaciers leave behind moraines that contain a wealth of material - including organic matter that may be accurately dated - recording the periods in which a glacier advanced and retreated. Similarly, by tephrochronological techniques, the lack of glacier cover can be identified by the presence of soil or volcanic tephra horizons whose date of deposit may also be precisely ascertained.

A change in the type, distribution and coverage of vegetation may occur given a change in the climate; this much is obvious. In any given scenario, a mild change in climate may result in increased precipitation and warmth, resulting in improved plant growth and the subsequent sequestration of airborne CO2. Larger, faster or more radical changes, however, may well[weasel words] result in vegetation stress, rapid plant loss and desertification in certain circumstances.

Ice cores
Analysis of ice in a core drilled from a ice sheet such as the Antarctic ice sheet, can be used to show a link between temperature and global sea level variations. The air trapped in bubbles in the ice can also reveal the CO2 variations of the atmosphere from the distant past, well before modern environmental influences. The study of these ice cores has been a significant indicator of the changes in CO2 over many millennia, and continue to provide valuable information about the differences between ancient and modern atmospheric conditions.

Dendochronology is the analysis of tree ring growth patterns to determine the age of a tree. From a climate change viewpoint, however, Dendochronology can also indicate the climatic conditions for a given number of years. Wide and thick rings indicate a fertile, well-watered growing period, whilst thin, narrow rings indicate a time of lower rainfall and less-than-ideal growing conditions.

Pollen analysis
Palynology is the study of contemporary and fossil palynomorphs, including pollen. Palynology is used to infer the geographical distribution of plant species, which vary under different climate conditions. Different groups of plants have pollen with distinctive shapes and surface textures, and since the outer surface of pollen is composed of a very resilient material, they resist decay. Changes in the type of pollen found in different sedimentation levels in lakes, bogs or river deltas indicate changes in plant communities; which are dependent on climate conditions

Remains of beetles are common in freshwater and land sediments. Different species of beetles tend to be found under different climatic conditions. Given the extensive lineage of beetles whose genetic makeup has not altered significantly over the millennia, knowledge of the present climatic range of the different species, and the age of the sediments in which remains are found, past climatic conditions may be inferred.

Sea level change
Global sea level change for much of the last century has generally been estimated using tide gauge measurements collated over long periods of time to give a long-term average. More recently, altimeter measurements — in combination with accurately determined satellite orbits — have provided an improved measurement of global sea level change.


Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment. Please, share this article in your social networks.