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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Climate Change Science – Global warming – an overview:


Climate Change Science – Global warming – an overview:

A. Climate change is a global issue that affects us all. Changes in climate patterns mean that extreme weather events such as heat waves, floods, storms, droughts and bushfires will become more frequent, more widespread or more intense. Climate change science is providing a better understanding of the causes, nature, timing and consequences of climate change. Climate change science is a very complex subject. Various investigations, studies, reports suggest that world is warming up, but how this will affect us in the future is difficult to qualify. Climate change is the result of changes in our weather patterns because of an increase in the Earth's average temperature. The weather elements at a given location vary from time to time throughout the year, but generally are expected to remain within set limits over a long time period. This is known as our climate. This natural variation in temperature ensures we have cold and warm years. This is actually a natural and essential feature of our atmosphere without which our planet would be uninhabitable.

B. If go back to history of climate change and find people behind postulating the probable cause of it; we may more or less say that in the 1930s people started realizing that the United States and North Atlantic region had warmed significantly during the previous half-century. Scientists supposed this was just a phase of some mild natural cycle, with unknown causes. Only one lone voice, the amateur G.S. Callendar, insisted that greenhouse warming was on the way. In the 1950s, Callendar's claims provoked a few scientists to look into the question with improved techniques and calculations. The new studies showed that, contrary to earlier crude estimates, carbon dioxide could indeed build up in the atmosphere and should bring warming. Painstaking measurements drove home the point in 1961 by showing that the level of the gas was, in fact, rising, year by year. In the early 1970s, the rise of environmentalism raised public doubts about the benefits of human activity for the planet. Curiosity about climate turned into anxious concern. Alongside the greenhouse effect, some scientists pointed out that human activity was putting dust and smog particles into the atmosphere, where they could block sunlight and cool the world. Most scientists agreed on was that they scarcely understood the climate system, and much more research was needed. Research activity did accelerate, including huge data-gathering schemes that mobilized international fleets of oceanographic ships and orbiting satellites. People have come to know that, this is caused by increases in greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere. By 2000, scientists knew the most important things about how the climate could change during the present century.

C. Therefore, when we talk about global warming, as described above, we generally talk about the 'greenhouse effect'. This process works by the principle that certain atmospheric gases (called greenhouse gases) allow short wave radiation from the sun to pass through them unabsorbed, while at the same time absorbing some of the long wave radiation reflected back to space. The net result; more heat is received from the sun than is lost back to space, keeping the earth's surface warmer than it would otherwise be. Man, in the process of industrialization and development, is adding to and changing the levels of the gases responsible for the greenhouse effect and is therefore enhancing this warming.

D. The effect of global warming is that, global ice sheets have decreased, so has global snow cover. There have been warmer periods in the history – some millions of years ago. However, the present rise is the most rapid rise in temperature since the end of the last ice age. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the gas most significantly responsible for greenhouse effect. Plant respiration and decomposition of organic material release more than 10 times the CO2 than released by human activities, but these releases have generally been in balance during the centuries. Since the industrial revolution amounts have increased by 30%. Other greenhouse gases include Methane, Nitrous oxide, CFC's (manmade) and Ozone. The major problem is that these gases can remain in the atmosphere for decades. The combustion of fossil fuel (oil, natural gas and coal) by heavy industry and other human activities, such as transport and deforestation, are the primary reasons for increased emissions of these harmful gases. Aerosol, from human made sulfur emission, also increases in the atmosphere along with CO2. The small particles of aerosol have a property to reflect back some of the sunlight and hence act to slow down the cooling. However where carbon dioxide can remain in the atmosphere for 100 years, sulfate aerosols only last a few days and can be easily removed by rain (acid rain). Therefore they only temporarily mask the full effect of CO2.

E. In order to try and predict possible consequences of this warming for the future, researchers use climate modeling to simulate the climate and oceans over many decades. Climate models also predict changes in rainfall and rise in sea level. Sea level rises will be due to thermal expansion of the ocean along with the melting glaciers and mountain snow and ice. The recent estimate of sea level rise is by more than 50cm by 2100, but this will vary considerably with location.

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