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Climate and Global Change

Warm near the equator and cold at the poles, our planet is able to support a variety of living things because of its diverse regional climates. The average of all these regions makes up Earth's global climate. Climate has cooled and warmed throughout Earth history for various reasons. Rapid warming like we see today is unusual in the history of our planet. The scientific consensus is that climate is warming as a result of the addition of heat-trapping greenhouse gases which are increasing dramatically in the atmosphere as a result of human activities.

Earth's global average surface <a
  href="/earth/climate/ipcc_feb2007.html&dev=1">warming</a> relative to the
  1980-1999 average over the past 100 years is shown in the black line.
  Predictions of the amount of warming in the future are shown by the red,
  green, and purple lines. These predictions, developed with <a
  href="/earth/climate/cli_models.html&dev=1">computer models</a>, make different
  assumptions about how many <a
  href="/earth/climate/cli_greengas.html&dev=1">greenhouse gases</a> we release into the
  atmosphere in the future.<p><small><em> A Windows to the Universe image based on a graph from the IPCC 4th Assessment Report</em></small></p><a href="/earth/polar/cryosphere_permafrost1.html&dev=1">Permafrost</a> is
ground that is below the freezing point of water (0°C or 32°F) for two
or more years. Permafrost is found at high latitudes like the
<a href="/earth/polar/polar_north.html&dev=1">Arctic</a> and
<a href="/earth/polar/polar_south.html&dev=1">Antarctic</a>.
It is also common at high altitudes - like mountainous areas wherever the
<a href="/earth/climate/cli_define.html&dev=1">climate</a> is
cold. 
Permafrost has been thawing relatively quickly in recent years. Scientists
have found that the rate of permafrost thaw has increased because of <a href="/earth/climate/cli_effects.html&dev=1">global
warming</a>.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of the    USGS</em></small></p>Coral animals build reefs in warm, tropical seawater. However, <a href="/earth/changing_planet/ocean_temperatures_intro.html&dev=1">seawater can be too warm</a> for their liking.  If waters get too warm, coral animals lose the algae that live within their little bodies, a process called coral bleaching. Without the algae, corals have less nutrition. Unless cooler temperatures return, allowing algae to
 return, the coral dies.<p><small><em>Credit: UNC</em></small></p>Greenland’s <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/polar/cryosphere_glacier1.html">ice sheet</a> saw a record <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/headline_universe/olpa/greenland_10dec07.html">melt</a> in July 2012.  Scientists studying this event have found that this melting event was triggered by an influx of unusually warm air and amplified by the presence of a blanket of thin low-level <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/Atmosphere/cloud.html">clouds</a> which pushed temperatures up above freezing.  For more information see the <a href="http://www.news.wisc.edu/21638">press release</a> from the University of Wisconsin Madison.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Madison</em></small></p><b><i>Looking for online resources to use in support of climate change education?</i></b>  Our <a href="/teacher_resources/climate.html&dev=1">Climate Change Educator Resources page</a> provides links to online content, classroom activities, interactives, and videos as well as resources provided by other leading organizations and agencies on this topic.  Our <a href="/teacher_resources/climate_change_course.html&dev=1">Climate Change Course Content page</a> provides links to online content for a range of climate change associated topics.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of   Mila Zinkova, Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike license</em></small></p>As temperatures rise and soil moisture decreases, plants are stressed, which can lead to <a href="/earth/climate/crops_withering.html&dev=1">crop withering</a>. <a href="/teacher_resources/online_courses/health/events_health.html&dev=1">Droughts</a> accompanied by increased temperatures can lead to famine, social and political disruptions. Scientists are  helping with early identification of drought that might trigger food shortages. Watch the NBC Learn video - <a href="/earth/changing_planet/withering_crops_intro.html&dev=1">Changing Planet: Withering Crops</a> to find out more.<p><small><em>Image taken by Tomas Castelazo, Creative Commons <a href=&quot;http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en&quot;>Attribution 3.0 Unported</a> license.</em></small></p>

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA