Thesis: Global Warming Evidence for Global Climate Change

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Global Warming

Evidence for Global Climate Change

In our lifetime, we have experienced a period of relative stability in the earth's climate. At least it is stable when compared to the past. The earth's climate has been in a constant state of flux long before the dawn of life. The earth has experienced periods of relative warm and periods where great ice sheets covered the earth. Recently, there have been signs appearing that indicate that once again that Earth is in the beginning of a period of change. The arguments surrounding these changes are numerous and cover a wide range of topics. The following research will outline the key issues regarding climate change and the possible solutions to it.

Natural Sources of Climate Change

Climate changes happened long before man entered into the scene, and certainly before the industrial era with it greenhouse gas emissions. Past climate changes have been due to changes in the Earth's orbit that affect the amount of sunlight on the surface (EPA, Past Climate Change). Changes in the sun's intensity have also been a source of climate change (EPA, Past Climate Change). Volcanic eruptions have also been responsible for changes in the past, largely due to aerosol emissions, and carbon dioxide emissions (EPA, Past Climate Change).

Changes in the heating of the Earth's surface can change concentrations of greenhouse gases (EPA, Past Climate Change). When global temperatures warm, CO2 is released from the oceans, which increases greenhouse gas concentrations. This enhances the greenhouse affect. When temperatures become cooler, CO2 enters the oceans and the temperatures become cooler. CO2 levels tend to track the glacial cycles (EPA, Past Climate Change).

In the past 1,000 years, humans have witness periods of natural climate change. Between 900 and 1300 AD, a period of unseasonable warmth occurred in Europe, Greenland, and Asia (EPA, Past Climate Change). From 1500 to 1850 was known as the "Little Ice Age" with temperatures as much as 2° colder in some regions (EPA, Past Climate Change). During this time, an ice sheet never formed, but this period was still marked by cooler than normal temperatures.

The Politics of Climate Changes

In the past 100 years, the earth has been going through another period of rising temperatures (EPA, Past Climate Change). Some claim that this period of rising average global temperatures is only part of the Earth's natural cycle. Some deny that it is even happening at all. However, it might be noted that those that deny the existence of global climate change are also funded by big business (Begley).

The issue of global climate change has resulted in the formation of two combatant political sides. On one side are those who wish to deny that climate change is occurring or that we are the cause. The other side promotes the idea that something must be done now in order to save ourselves from the ultimate destruction. Both sides of the political divide on the issue come armed with an arsenal of scientific studies to back up their claims. One is intent on minimizing the affects found by the other side. Both sides have plenty of supporters and big money to rally support for their position.

This political debate is not unlike other political debates over hot topics. Congress remains torn between opposing bills regarding the issue. Doubt and controversy among scientists as to the severity and cause of the problem create divides on the political scene as well. It is difficult to support actions to control greenhouse gases when big business is in the business of minimizing the impacts of them. This is one political debate that cannot wait to be resolved in the future. The answers must be found and must be found quickly if humanity is to have any hopes of finding a resolution before it is too late for all everyone.

The Big Question

The topic of global climate change first surfaced officially in 1988, backed by scientific data from top scientists (Begley). Soon, the response from big business was to attempt to deny and discredit the arguments given (Begley). Since that time, both sides have ramped up their arguments. The real question is whether climate change is real and whether human activity is to blame. Despite claims that the scientific evidence is flawed and that global warming is not as bad as claims suggest, evidence still exists that supports the progression of global warming.

CO2 emissions are the key culprit in global warming. New findings indicate that excessive CO2 in the atmosphere is overwhelming the Earth's natural mechanisms to absorb and process this gas. Opponents of global warming point to all of the natural processes on Earth that produce CO2, claiming that human activities have little impact on CO2 levels in the atmosphere. However, a recent study by the National Academy of Sciences found that in the year 1960, 1,000 kilograms (one metric ton) of CO2 emissions were pumped into the atmosphere, of which 400 kilograms remained in the atmosphere (Canadell, Le Quere, and Raupach et al., p. 18869).

Many things have changed since the beginning of the industrial era. For one, the number of factories and the size of facilities have increased, thus resulting in astronomically higher levels of emissions. In addition to increased sources, CO2 has greater heat trapping capacity than it did in the past. The same metric ton of CO2 released into the atmosphere results in 450 kilograms remaining in the atmosphere, as compared to 400 kilograms remaining in the atmosphere 26 years earlier (Canadell, Le Quere, and Raupach et al., p. 18869). The CO2 that we emit today does not have the same affect as that released in the earlier part of the decade. These trapped gases help to absorb more of the sun's rays, heating the atmosphere and the subsequent structures below.

This heat, which is trapped in the atmosphere has some dramatic affects on other systems of the planet. For instance, recent observations confirm that the sea level is rising. The reasons for this rise are two fold. Melting mountain glaciers and melting ice sheets on land are dumping tremendous amounts of additional water into the ocean. The second factor is that as the oceans warm, the water within them is expanding due to thermal expansion. The rising ocean levels were first observed in the early 1960s and projections were made, based on those observations. However, recent observations suggest that the sea level rise is approaching the upper levels of earlier projections (Rahmstorf, Cazenave, and Church, p. 709).

Another harbinger of things to come is a rise in mean annual surface temperatures from 0.3-0.6 degrees Celsuis over the past 150 years (NOAA, Global Warming). One of the key questions in this data is whether extremes in certain regions of the world are responsible for these changes due to their affect on statistical averages. However, NOAA found that rather than increasing in variability, global temperatures were becoming more consistent. This lends support to the existence of a true warming trend, rather than a statistical anomaly or a natural trend (NOAA, Global Warming).

These items are well-documented facts in the scientific community. Yet, the average person does not feel affected by them in their daily lives. The changes are happening so gradually that many doubt that they even exist. It is difficult for the average person to recognize these small changes, or to dismiss them as natural occurrences. However, sufficient evidence exists to suggest that these problems are very real and that they will continue to grow worse, if we do not take actions to reduce the levels of greenhouse gases begin emitted into the atmosphere.

More Noticeable Signs

Some of these signs are subtle and would not be noticed by the average person. However, some of the signs of global warming are more obvious to the casual observer. However, many of these affects are limited in their range, therefore, only a small number of people may be aware of them. However, this does not necessarily mean that it is a local phenomenon, particularly when one considers the increasing numbers of these events around the world.

One of the most obvious changes due to climate change is the bleaching of coral reefs. Corals are one of the most abundant and productive ecosystems in the world. They provide critical resources to fisheries, shoreline protection, tourism and medicine. However, they are also highly sensitive to slight changes in the climate. When sea surface temperatures rise, it can cause coral reefs to lose their symbiotic algae. These algae are important for the nutrition of the reef. When they are lost, the coral reefs starve to death, causing them to turn white and to take on a bleached appearance (U.S. Department of State).

Only three days of elevated temperature can cause a bleaching event. The damage can be irreversible. Until 1997-1998 mass bleaching events were rare and usually linked to seasonal warming trends, such as El Nino. However, in 1997-1998, nearly 60 countries reported mass bleaching events with a… [END OF PREVIEW]

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