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Learn about planets outside our solar system through Exoplanets and Alien Solar Systems by Tahir Yaqoob, Ph.D., a book in our online store book collection.

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>Roaming across Arctic <a
  href="/earth/polar/sea_ice.html&dev=1">sea ice</a>, <a
  href="/earth/polar/polar_bears_jan07.html&dev=1">polar
  bears</a> peer through cracks in the ice to look for ringed seals, their
  favorite food, in the water below. Almost all of a polar bear's food comes
  from the sea. The <a
  href="/earth/polar/sea_ice.html&dev=1">floating sea
  ice</a> is a perfect vantage point for the bears as they hunt for food.
  Unfortunately, the amount of sea ice floating in the <a
  href="/earth/polar/polar_north.html&dev=1">Arctic
  region</a> is shrinking each year, and getting farther apart.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of Ansgar Walk.  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.</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>Many forms of air pollution are human-made. Industrial plants, power plants
and vehicles with internal combustion engines produce <a href="/earth/climate/nitrogen_airpollution.html&dev=1">nitrogen
oxides</a>,
<a href="/earth/Atmosphere/vocs.html&dev=1">VOCs</a>,
<a href="/physical_science/chemistry/carbon_monoxide.html&dev=1">carbon monoxide</a>,
<a href="/physical_science/chemistry/carbon_dioxide.html&dev=1">carbon dioxide</a>,
<a href="/physical_science/chemistry/sulfur_oxides.html&dev=1">sulfur dioxide</a> and
<a href="/earth/Atmosphere/particulates.html&dev=1">particulates</a>.
Some of these gases are <a href="/earth/climate/cli_greengas.html&dev=1">greenhouse
gases</a>,
meaning that they retain heat in the Earth's atmosphere, due to the Earth's
<a href="/earth/climate/earth_greenhouse.html&dev=1">greenhouse effect</a>.<p><small><em>Image copyright UCAR</em></small></p>On November 7, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda in the Philippines) made landfall, with imated wind speeds of ~315 km/hr - the strongest <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/hurricane/intensity.html&dev=1">tropical cyclone</a> to make landfall in recorded history.  As Haiyan moved across the Philippines before reaching Vietnam and China, its <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/wind.html&dev=1">winds</a> and <a href="/earth/Atmosphere/hurricane/surge.html&dev=1">storm surge</a> left devastation in its wake, leading to massive loss of life, destruction of homes, and hundreds of thousands of displaced inhabitants. <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/09/world/iyw-how-to-help-typhoon-haiyan/index.html">How to Help</a><p><small><em>Image courtesy of COMS-1, SSEC, University of Wisconsin-Madison</em></small></p><b><i>Looking for online resources about climate and climate change for your classroom?</i></b> Windows to the Universe is a free interlinked learning ecosystem to a wealth of resources on our site and elsewhere that support you on these topics, including <a href="/teacher_resources/climate_change_course.html&dev=1">course readings</a>,  <a href="/php/teacher_resources/activity.php#6">classroom activities and presentations</a>, and online interactives.  Our <a href="/teacher_resources/climate.html&dev=1">Climate Change Education Resources page</a> provides links to content you can use right away in the classroom!<p><small><em>   Ute Kaden/PolarTREC</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