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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.

<a href="/earth/polar/cryosphere_permafrost1.html">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">Arctic</a> and
<a href="/earth/polar/polar_south.html">Antarctic</a>.
It is also common at high altitudes - like mountainous areas wherever the
<a href="/earth/climate/cli_define.html">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">global
warming</a>.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of the    USGS</em></small></p>Although we humans have never experienced fast <a href="/earth/climate/climate.html">global
warming</a>, our
planet has. And our planet keeps records of what happened. The oldest
records that the
<a href="/earth/earth.html">Earth</a> keeps
are in its
<a href="/earth/geology/sed_intro.html">rocks</a>.
In this image, <a href="/headline_universe/olpa/methane_28may08.html">geologists Chris von der Borch and Dave
Mrofka</a> collect
sediment samples in South Australia. These rocks hold clues to help
explain why climate changed abruptly 635 million years ago.<p><small><em>                    Courtesy of Martin Kennedy, UCR</em></small></p><a href="/earth/climate/cli_define.html">Regional climate</a> is
the average weather pattern in a place over more than thirty years,
including the variations in
<a href="/earth/climate/cli_seasons.html">seasons</a>.
The climate of a region depends on many factors including sunlight,
altitude, topography, and proximity to oceans. Since the equatorial regions
receive more sunlight than the poles, climate varies with
<a href="/earth/climate/cli_latitude.html">latitude</a>.
This image shows how sea surface temperatures change at different latitudes.<p><small><em>Image courtesy of NOAA.  Public domain.</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">nitrogen
oxides</a>,
<a href="/earth/Atmosphere/vocs.html">VOCs</a>,
<a href="/physical_science/chemistry/carbon_monoxide.html">carbon monoxide</a>,
<a href="/physical_science/chemistry/carbon_dioxide.html">carbon dioxide</a>,
<a href="/physical_science/chemistry/sulfur_oxides.html">sulfur dioxide</a> and
<a href="/earth/Atmosphere/particulates.html">particulates</a>.
Some of these gases are <a href="/earth/climate/cli_greengas.html">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">greenhouse effect</a>.<p><small><em>Image copyright UCAR</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>A <a href="http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/2/024035/article">study</a> of over 40,000 written entries in Irish Annals and ice core measurements shows a strong correlation between <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/interior/eruptions.html">volcanic eruptions</a> and extreme cold weather in Ireland over a 1200 year period, from 431 to 1649.  During this time up to 48 volcanic eruptions were identified in Greenland ice core records through deposition of volcanic sulfate in annual layers of ice. Find out more about <a href="http://www.windows2universe.org/earth/climate/geosphere_volcanoes_influence_on_climate.html">volcanoes and climate</a>.<p><small><em>Image Courtesy of Marco Fulle</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