Shop Windows to the Universe

The Winter 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist includes a variety of educational resources, ranging from astronomy to glaciers. Check out the other publications and classroom materials in our online store.
Icebergs floating near Cape York, Greenland
Mila Zinkova

Climate Change

Climate change refers to changes in global or regional climate determined over a long term - typically a minimum of 30 years. A short-term weather event such as an intense storm or heat wave are a normal occurances, and are part of how weather can vary normally.  Such events, on their own, are not a sign of climate change.  However, when we look at long-term averages of atmospheric data, over 30 years or more, and see that temperature and precipitation have changed, we see evidence of a changing climate.

Weather can change very quickly, in hours (and sometimes minutes!).  Climate changes over much longer time periods, depending on changes in the factors that determine Earth's climate. Earth's climate changes when there are changes in the energy received at Earth from the Sun and when there are changes in the amount of energy that is held in the Earth system. These can be effected by changing atmospheric composition, the amount of energy reflected back to space from Earth (the Earth's "albedo"), and long term changes in the tilt of the Earth's axis.  Earth's climate history demonstrates multiple intervals when our climate was very different. 

Because average weather conditions help determine the type of plants and animals that live in regions on the planet, changes in climate can have significant effects on life on Earth. In addition to changing atmospheric temperature, changing climate impacts precipitation, winds, the intensity of storms, the persistence of ice, sea level, the temperature of water bodies, the distribution and survival of plant and animal species, and the distribution of disease. These, in turn, can have dramatic impacts on society. 

Today, thousands of climate scientists around the world are studying how the Earth's climate is changing. This large scientific community has been studying Earth's climate for decades, thanks to advances in scientific understanding, computing, and modelling. However, climate science is not new - over one hundred years ago scientists recognized that humans could influence the Earth's climate through the growth of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. 

The large majority of climate scientists agree that Earth's climate is changing, and that the cause of the change is the increasing amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  A wider community of specialists study the potential impact of changing climate on Earth's ecosystems, economy, and society. Climate models are an important tool which can be used to examine future climate scenarios, based on assumed levels of greenhouse gas production driven by our consumption choices.

Last modified August 21, 2013 by Roberta Johnson.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

The Fall 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist, which includes articles on student research into building design for earthquakes and a classroom lab on the composition of the Earth’s ancient atmosphere, is available in our online store.

Windows to the Universe Community



You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Earth's Global Climate

Earth's climate is determined by the amount of energy received from the Sun and the amount of energy held in the Earth system - in short, Earth's radiation budget.  The Sun emits an enormous amount of...more

Regional Climate

The climate at a given location on Earth is the regional climate.  Regional climate depends on the temperature, precipitation, and winds experienced over the long term at that location. These characteristics...more


This picture of the Earth surface was taken from high above the planet in the International Space Station. In this view from above, we can see that there are lots of different things that cover the Earth....more

Kingdom Plantae

Kingdom Plantae contains almost 300,000 different species of plants. It is not the largest kingdom, but it is a very important one! In the process known as "photosynthesis", plants use the energy of the...more

Effects of Climate Change Today

Over 100 years ago, people worldwide began burning more coal and oil for homes, factories, and transportation. Burning these fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere....more

Modeling the Future of Climate Change

To figure out the future of climate change, scientists need tools to measure how Earth responds to change. Some of these tools are global climate models. Using models, scientists can better understand...more

What Is Climate?

The climate where you live is called regional climate. It is the average weather in a place over more than thirty years. To describe the regional climate of a place, people often tell what the temperatures...more

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