Climate Change and Global Warming Part 2

About the scientific phenonenon global warming and global climate change, a look at the science and history behind it.

Can Man Change the Climate?

Scientists do know that weather changes seem to have global significance. Winds in one region, for example, are accompanied by opposite winds in another. If the north winds are abnormally cold and persistent in one part of the world, then south winds are abnormally warm and persistent in another part of the world. This interdependence and unity of the atmosphere means that it may not be possible to change the climate in one part of the world without producing a series of changes in other parts of the world. Tinkering with the climate--before a more complete understanding is achieved--might well lead to catastrophe.

Before leaving the subject of changing climate, we should point out that atmospheric pollution can have an important effect on the world's climate. Perhaps the most important pollutant from this point of view is the gas carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels. Since 1890 the amount of carbon dioxide in the air has increased about 10%. During that period of time the average worldwide temperatures increased almost 1deg F. Although this may not seem like much when you are talking about a bowl of soup or tub of water, it represents an enormous amount of energy in the atmosphere. Calculations indicate that about half of that 1deg F. temperature rise might be due to carbon dioxide. During the next few hundred years, the temperature increase could be as high as 2.5deg F.

Carbon dioxide causes atmospheric heating because it can discriminate between the heat energy coming from sun to earth, and the heat energy leaving the earth. The essential point to remember is that heat rays coming from the sun are of short wavelength, while those leaving the earth are much longer. The sun's rays pass through the carbon dioxide gas with little absorption. But when the longer, infrared rays from the earth try to escape through the atmosphere, some of them are absorbed. They warm the air instead of passing through to outer space.

Of course, no one knows for sure whether the atmosphere's temperature will increase because of the increased carbon dioxide, or if it does, what effect it will have on climate. We do know, however, that the effect of increased carbon dioxide in the air needs further study.

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