The Earth’s climate is changing. Temperatures around the world are rising. Traditional weather patterns are shifting, and the number of extreme weather events — hurricanes and extreme temperatures — are happening more often.
In the early 1960s, scientists recognized an emissions increase in carbon dioxide into the atmosphere has grown beyond their expectations. Later they discovered that methane, nitrous oxide and other gases were also rising. Because these gases trap heat and warm the Earth, as a greenhouse traps heat from the sun, scientists concluded that increasing levels of “greenhouse gases” would increase global warming. As surface and water temperatures rise, human, animal and plant life respond. Scientific studies document these responses. In doing so, science builds a foundation for understanding how our lives are impacted by climate change and what we can do to slow or reverse changes.
The Future of Climate Science
Human activities have altered the chemical composition of the Earth’s atmosphere. As greenhouse gases increase — primarily composed of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — the heat-trapping properties of these gasses indisputably cause the Earth’s climate to respond. However, it remains uncertain just what exactly that response is.
Climate scientists believe factors such as aerosols, changing uses of land and others are playing important roles in climate change, but their influence and exact impact remain highly uncertain.
The United States has created a number of organizations and programs coordinating at a global level extensive research into climate change. These organizations and universities work with private organizations, states and other municipalities to address climate change and global warming.
Satellites and other real-time monitoring tools now help calculate actual surface temperatures across the globe and measure how much they’ve been warming. These calculations are achieved measuring the Sun’s radiation reflected and absorbed by the land and oceans.
With time, scientists from around the world will work together to solve climate change, using new technology and computer modeling to simulate and predict Earth’s ever-changing conditions.
What is Climate?
“What’s the difference between weather and climate?” It’s a commonly asked question, but it’s really just a matter of time. Where weather is defined by atmospheric conditions over a short period of time, climate is defined by atmospheric behavior over relatively long periods of time.
Weather is the change we see outside on a day-to-day basis. Some days are hotter than others. It might rain one wintery day, and then not the next.
When referring to climate, though, we look at the long-term averages of daily weather. If summers feel warmer now than they did 30 years ago, then it’s possible recent climate may have changed.
To complicate things further, researchers believe there are even shorter-term climate variations. So-called climate variability can be represented by periodic or intermittent changes related to El Niño, La Niña, volcanic eruptions or other sudden and punctuated changes.