- Slides: 14
Climate change and Paleoclimates
Climate change • Climate change can be discussed in short, medium and long timescales. • Short-term (recent) climate change is on a timescale of decades, an example would be global warming. • The medium-term (historical) timescale covers changes over the last few thousand years. • Long-term climate change has occurred on geological timescales, over hundreds of thousands to millions of years.
Geological timescales Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration measured from the Vostok ice core, East Antarctica
Geological timescales • Ice cores, pollen analysis and past sea-level changes all indicate that climate has changed in the past. • Ice ages and interglacial's (warmer periods) seem to occur on a cycle of about 100, 000 years. • The last ice age (the Devensian) ended approximately 10, 000 years ago and the current interglacial period (the Holocene) began.
Paleoclimatology � Our climates have changed many times in the past. The study of the climate history on Earth is called paleoclimatology. � Scientists and researchers use what is called a climate proxy to help them understand the past without actually being there. Climate proxies are preserved items from the past such as ice cores, tree rings, corals, and sediment from lakes and oceans.
Historical climate change • Written records, pictures, tree rings and the extent of glaciers suggest climate has changed on historical timescales. • During the Little Ice Age (1400– 1850) the climate was around 1 C colder than it was in the twentieth century. • During the Medieval Warm Period (800– 1400) the climate was around 1 C warmer than in the twentieth century.
Recent climate change Global temperatures, 1850– 2008
Recent climate change • Global temperatures fluctuated considerably • • between 1860 and 1970 (see graph on previous slide). Since the late 1970 s there has been a marked warming of around 0. 5 C. This corresponds to the ‘era of global warming’. Accurate instrumental measurements of air and ocean temperatures as well as ice cover testify to this record of global warming. Increasingly ecosystems are changing in response to rising temperatures.
Possible causes of climate change Ice ages in geological time Milankovitch cycles — changes in the (glacial/interglacial cycles) amount and distribution of solar energy received at the Earth’s surface caused by (1, 000 s– 10, 000 s years) natural variations in its orbit around the sun and the tilt of the Earth’s axis. Historical changes Changes in solar output and volcanic activity. (Little Ice Age/Medieval Warm Period) The output of the sun naturally varies as sunspots grow and shrink, thereby changing the amount of solar energy received by the Earth. Volcanic dust, ash and sulphur dioxide have a short-term cooling effect. (several hundreds of years) Recent Changes Human causes, greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane) trap outgoing
The greenhouse effect • The greenhouse effect is the natural process whereby gases in the atmosphere, principally carbon dioxide, trap some outgoing solar radiation. • This process warms the planet.
The enhanced greenhouse effect • Gases released by burning fossil fuels have enhanced the greenhouse effect and made it more powerful. • This has a net warming effect. • The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen steadily since accurate recording began in the 1950 s. Carbon dioxide concentrations, Hawaii, 1959– 2005
Anthropogenic greenhouse gas sources • Transport, industry, electricity and heat account for over 50% of all greenhouse gas emissions. • Carbon dioxide is the most important greenhouse gas by volume. • Methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas per molecule. Global greenhouse gas emissions by economic sector, 2000
Anthropogenic greenhouse gas sources • The average carbon footprint in the developed world is five to ten times greater than in the developing world. • This confirms that global warming is a problem created largely by the developed world. Greenhouse gas emissions person (tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, 2005) North America 24. 1 Europe 10. 5 Asia 3. 4 Sub-Saharan Africa 2. 3 South America 5. 3 Oceania 19. 1
Unprecedented global warming? Concern about global warming centres on key data, which are increasingly taken to be ‘fact’ by the majority of scientists: • Average global temperatures have risen by 0. 8 C since • • 1880. The decades from 1980– 2000 were the hottest for at least 400 years. Measured warming in the Arctic is twice that for the rest of the world. Arctic sea ice in 2007 was at its lowest recorded extent. Carbon dioxide levels, at 380 ppm in 2007, are over 100 ppm higher than pre-industrial ‘natural’ levels.