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Climate Literacy Essential Principle 1 - Windows to the Universe

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Our Glaciers: Then and Now activity kit helps you see the changes taking place in glaciers around the world. See all our activity kits and classroom activities.
The greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon whereby heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, primarily water vapor, keep the Earth’s surface warm. Human activities, primarily burning fossil fuels and changing land cover patterns, are increasing the concentrations of some of these gases, amplifying the natural greenhouse effect.
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Source: Modified from the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences’ “Global Warming: Facts & Our Future” 2004

Climate Literacy - Essential Principle 1

The Sun is the primary source of energy for Earth's climate system.

Fundamental Concept 1a.
Sunlight reaching the Earth can heat the land, ocean, and atmosphere. Some of that sunlight is reflected back to space by the surface, clouds, or ice. Much of the sunlight that reaches Earth is absorbed and warms the planet.

Fundamental Concept 1b.
When Earth emits the same amount of energy as it absorbs, its energy budget is in balance, and its average temperature remains stable.

Fundamental Concept 1c.
The tilt of Earth’s axis relative to its orbit around the Sun results in predictable changes in the duration of daylight and the amount of sunlight received at any latitude throughout a year. These changes cause the annual cycle of seasons and associated temperature changes.

Fundamental Concept 1d.
Gradual changes in Earth’s rotation and orbit around the Sun change the intensity of sunlight received in our planet’s polar and equatorial regions. For at least the last 1 million years, these changes occurred in 100,000-year cycles that produced ice ages and the shorter warm periods between them.

Fundamental Concept 1e.
A significant increase or decrease in the Sun’s energy output would cause Earth to warm or cool. Satellite measurements taken over the past 30 years show that the Sun’s energy output has changed only slightly and in both directions. These changes in the Sun’s energy are thought to be too small to be the cause of the recent warming observed on Earth.

Last modified July 29, 2009 by Becca Hatheway.

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The Winter 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist, focuses on Earth System science, including articles on student inquiry, differentiated instruction, geomorphic concepts, the rock cycle, and much more!

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