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Six charts that provide the science everyone needs about climate change
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Six charts that provide the science everyone needs about climate change


With the United Nations’ climate conference in Scotland turning a spotlight on climate change policies and the impact of global warming, it’s useful to understand what the science shows.

I’m an atmospheric scientistFor most of my career, I have been involved in global climate science and assessment. Here are six things that you should know in charts.

What’s driving climate change

The primary focus of the negotiations is on carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is released when fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – are burned, as well as by forest fires, land use changes and natural sources.

The Industrial Revolution of late 1800s saw a dramatic increase in the use of fossil fuels. It powered homes and industries, and opened up the world to travel. Scientists were also born in that century. identified carbon dioxide’s potentialTo increase global temperaturesThis was at the time considered a potential benefit to the planet. Systematic measurements began in the mid-1900s. They have shown a steady rise in carbon dioxide. the majority of it directly traceableto the combustion fossil fuels.

Carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a long time once it has been released. Some carbon dioxide is absorbed into the ocean by plants. roughly half of all carbon dioxide emitted by human activities today stays in the atmosphere — and it likely will remain there for hundreds of yearsThe climate worldwide can be influenced by

During the first year of the pandemic in 2020Carbon dioxide emissions from fuels dropped by approximately 6% when there were fewer people driving and some industries temporarily stopped. But it wasn’t. didn’t stop the rise in the concentration of carbon dioxideBecause the human activities have released far more than what nature could absorb.

It would be a great thing if civilization stopped emitting carbon dioxide today. still take many hundreds of years for the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to fall enough naturally to bring the planet’s carbon cycle back into balance because of carbon dioxide’s long life in the atmosphere.

How greenhouse gases can alter the climate

Multiple lines of evidence show that climate change has been driven by an increase in greenhouse gases over the past century. Take, for example:

Carbon dioxide levels were high in past times, but evidence suggests that temperatures have also been high.
Based on Salawitch et al., 2017, updated with data to the end of 2020? CC BY
  • Long-term records ice cores? tree ringsAnd coralsIt has been shown that high levels of carbon dioxide can lead to high temperatures.

  • Evidence can also be found on the planets nearby. Venus’ atmosphere is thick with carbon dioxide, and it is the hottest planetMercury is the closest to the sun in our solar system.

Every continent is experiencing an increase in temperatures

Records from all continents and over the oceans clearly show rising temperatures.

The temperatures aren’t rising at the same rate everywhere, however. There are many factors that affect local temperatures. These include land use, which influences how much solar energy is absorbed and reflected, and local heating sources like urban heat islandsPollution and,

The Arctic, for instance, is warming at a rate of about three times faster than the global average in part because as the planet warms, snow and ice melt makes the surface more likely to absorb, rather than reflect, the sun’s radiation. As a consequence, sea ice and snow cover recede even faster.

What climate change is doing for the planet

Earth’s climate system is interconnected and complex, and even small temperature changes can have large impacts – for instance, with snow cover and sea levels.

Already, there are changes. Studies show that rising temperatures have been shown to be a problem. already affectingPrecipitation and glaciers, weather patterns. Many studies have shown that the. increases in frequencyFor example, the severity and duration heat waves. affect ecosystems, human livesCommerce, agriculture, and other activities.

The historical records of ocean level have shown a steady increase over the past 150 year as glacier ice melts, rising temperatures expand ocean waters, with some deviations due to sinking and rising land.

Extreme events can be caused by many factors, but some of these are exacerbated due to climate change. Heat waves can be worsened by rising ocean levels.

Climate scientists work hard to predict future changes due to increased carbon dioxide and other expected changes such as an increase in the world’s population. It’s clear that temperatures will increase and precipitation will change. Many factors interact to determine the exact extent of these changes.

Here are some reasons to be hopeful

Scientists are improving our understanding of climate and the complex earth system. They are identifying the most vulnerable areas, and guiding efforts towards reducing climate change. The development of alternative energy sources and renewable energy, as well as methods to capture carbon from the air or in industries, is paving the way for a more prepared society.

People are learning more about how to reduce their impact and the need for a coordinated global effort to make a difference. Electric vehicles, as well as solar and wind power, are growingThese are rates that were previously unimaginable. More people are showing a willingness to help others. willingness to adopt new strategiesTo make energy more efficient, choose renewable energy and consume more sustainably.

Scientists are increasingly recognizing that the shift away from fossil fuels is a good thing. additional benefitsIncludes improved air qualityfor ecosystems and human health.

[Understand new developments in science, health and technology, each week. Subscribe to The Conversation’s science newsletter.]

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