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Transcript
CORNELL UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF AGRICULTURE AND LIFE SCIENCES
CLIMATE CHANGE FACTS
CORNELL COOPERATIVE EXTENSION
THE EARTH’S CHANGING CLIMATE
Have you noticed that trees are budding earlier in the
spring, that summer heat waves are more common than
they used to be, or that when it rains, it pours? What you
are witnessing is part of a global change in the Earth’s
climate. Scientists once thought climate change would
take many generations to be felt, but instead we are already
experiencing its dramatic effects.
Historically, the Earth’s climate has fluctuated, but natural
factors alone cannot explain today’s rapid pace of change.
There is overwhelming evidence that an increase in gases
like carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is causing
this transformation.
THE GREENHOUSE EFFECT
For decades scientists have known that without the so-called “greenhouse gases” the atmosphere of our planet would be
a cold -4°F, rather than the average temperature of about 60°F that supports the abundant and diverse life with which we
are familiar. Important greenhouse gases (GHGs) include carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, and nitrous oxides. The
sun’s energy passes through these gases, like light passing through a window, but then they trap the heat that develops at
the Earth’s surface like a blanket laid end-to-end across the planet.
RISING GREENHOUSE GASES AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Since the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has risen by almost 40 percent.
This is attributed primarily to the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil,
gasoline). Methane and nitrous oxides are also increasing rapidly,
due in part to the expansion of agriculture and use of nitrogen
fertilizers. These are present in only trace amounts, but are more
potent greenhouse gases than CO2.
The increases in these three greenhouse gases coincide with a
worldwide increase in temperature. Since the 1800s, the Earth has
warmed by more than 1.5°F. In New York, the average summer
temperature is already 2°F warmer than in 1970, and winter
temperature is 4°F warmer. The Earth is now warmer than it has
been during the past several thousand years, and the climate
models project a continuation of this trend. The water cycle is also
being affected, with fewer snow cover days and heavier rainfall
events in New York.
This figure shows atmospheric concentrations of important
long-lived greenhouse gases over the last 2,000 years.
– IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (2007).
CLIMATE CHANGE FACTS • THE EARTH’S CHANGING CLIMATE • September 2011 • Climate Change PWT • PAGE 1
CORNELL UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OF AGRICULTURE AND LIFE SCIENCES
A WORLD OF CLIMATE OBSERVATIONS
We know the climate is changing because we
have a wealth of data from a worldwide network
of weather stations, many of them with records
going back more than 100 years. Weather
balloons and satellites measure the temperature
of the upper atmosphere. Paleoclimate data
from ice cores and tree rings can be used to
infer temperature and precipitation patterns over
thousands of years. These data help us to better
understand current changes in climate and place
it into historical perspective. Sophisticated Global
Climate Models (GCMs) replicate these past and
current climate conditions and are able to make
accurate predictions about the changes in climate
we will see in the future.
Weather stations around the world have been collecting weather data for more
than 100 years. These long-term weather records tell us our climate is changing.
US Climate Reference Network stations like this one near Cornell University
(Ithaca, NY) provide high quality temperature and rainfall observations.
BUT THIS YEAR WAS NOT AS WARM AS LAST YEAR
In the midst of the overall warming trend we are
experiencing, individual years may be colder or
warmer than other years due to diverse factors
that affect weather, like jet stream patterns,
volcanic eruptions, or natural conditions such
as El Niño. Climate change refers to shifts that
occur over long periods–decades or longer–while
weather refers to the day-to-day and year-to-year
variability that is familiar to us all. Just because
one winter season is particularly cold does not
mean that New York’s climate is not changing,
the long-term climate data show that it is.
According to the NOAA National Climatic Data Center, 2010 was tied for the hottest
year on record. Red colors indicate areas that were warmer than the historical average; blue colors indicate areas cooler than the historical average (2011).
CLIMATE CHANGE RESEARCH, TEACHING AND EXTENSION OUTREACH AT CORNELL
Cornell University is one of the nation’s leading
institutions contributing to climate change
research in many fields, such as atmospheric
science and climate modeling, climate impacts
on agriculture, horticulture and natural resources,
and the economic, policy and societal implications
of climate change. Cornell University faculty, staff
and Cooperative Extension educators are working
together through the Cornell Climate Change
Program Work Team to develop materials such as
this fact sheet. For more specific information on
climate change impacts in New York, go to www.
climatechange.cornell.edu.
Cornell University researchers and Cornell Cooperative Extension educators are
working together to educate New Yorkers about energy and climate change issues.
Prepared by: Art DeGaetano, Allison Chatrchyan, David Wolfe, Jeff Beem-Miller, Lauren Chambliss, and Holly Menninger. Designed by DragonFishStudio.com
CONTACT: Dr. Art DeGaetano, Dept. of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
[email protected], www.climatechange.cornell.edu
CLIMATE CHANGE FACTS • THE EARTH’S CHANGING CLIMATE • September 2011 • Climate Change PWT • PAGE 2
Cornell University provides equal program and employment opportunities