Sun, 03 Dec, 2023
Global mean surface temperatures 1856 to 2005
Global warming is an increase in the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere and oceans. The term is also used for the scientific theory of anthropogenic global warming, which attributes much of the recently observed and projected global warming to a human-induced intensification of the greenhouse effect. In this theory, the increased volumes of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released mainly by the burning of fossil fuels, and, to a lesser extent, land clearing and agriculture, are the primary sources of warming. The natural greenhouse effect keeps the Earth 30 ° C warmer than it otherwise would be; adding carbon dioxide to an atmosphere, with no other changes, will make a planet's surface warmer. Current research is attempting to further illuminate and quantify the processes and factors that can affect temperature change, especially positive and negative feedback mechanisms.Temperature change is just one aspect of the broader subject of (human-induced) climate change. The scientific opinion on climate change, as expressed by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and explicitly endorsed by the national science academies of the G8 nations, is that the average global temperature has risen 0.6 ± 0.2 °C since the late 19th century, and that it is likely that "most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities" . A small minority of qualified scientists contest the view that humanity's actions have played a significant role in increasing recent temperatures. Uncertainties do exist regarding how much climate change should be expected in the future, and a hotly contested political and public debate exists over what actions, if any, should be taken in light of global warming.Based on basic science, observational sensitivity studies, and the climate models referenced by the IPCC, temperatures may increase by 1.4 to 5.8 °C between 1990 and 2100 . This is expected to result in other climate changes including rises in sea level and changes in the amount and pattern of precipitation. Such changes may increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as floods, droughts, heat waves, and hurricanes, change agricultural yields, cause glacier retreat, reduced summer streamflows, or contribute to biological extinctions. Although warming is expected to affect the number and magnitude of these events, it is very difficult to connect any particular event to global warming.
Mean temperature anomalies during the period 1995 to 2004 with respect to the average temperatures from 1940 to 1980
Jump to Page Contents
|Pay as you go
No monthly charges. Access for the price of a phone call
Flat rate dialup access from only £4.99 a month Go>
Surf faster from just £13.99 a month Go>
|Save Even More
Combine your phone and internet, and save on your phone calls
|This weeks hot offer
24: Series 5
In association with Amazon.co.uk £26.97
Warming of the Earth
Causes of global warming
Mitigating and adapting to global warming
Overview - Contents
The scientific consensus on global warming is that the Earth is warming, and that humanity's greenhouse gas emissions are making a significant contribution. This consensus is summarized by the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In the Third Assessment Report, the IPCC concluded that "most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities". This position was recently supported by an international group of science academies from the G8 countries and Brazil, People's Republic of China and India .The global temperature on both land and sea has increased by 0.6 ± 0.2 °C over the past century . At the same time, the volume of atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased from around 280 parts per million in 1800 to around 315 in 1958 and 367 in 2000, a 31% increase over 200 years. Other greenhouse gas emissions have also increased. Future carbon dioxide levels are expected to continue rising due to ongoing fossil fuel usage, though the actual trajectory will depend on uncertain economic, sociological, technological, and natural developments. The IPCC Special report on emissions scenarios gives a wide range of future carbon dioxide scenarios , ranging from 540 to 970 parts per million by 2100.
Climate models, driven by estimates of increasing carbon dioxide and to a lesser extent by generally decreasing sulphate aerosols, predict temperatures will increase by between 1.4 and 5.8 °C in the period 1990 to 2100 . Much of this uncertainty results from not knowing future carbon dioxide emissions, but there is also uncertainty about the accuracy of climate models. Climate commitment studies predict that, even if levels of greenhouse gases and solar activity were to remain constant, the global climate is committed to 0.5 °C of warming — some model results are as high as 1.0 °C — over the next one hundred years due to the lag in warming caused by the oceans. Note that although most studies focus on the period up to 2100, warming would be expected to continue past then, since CO2 has a long average atmospheric lifetime.Although the combination of scientific consensus and economic incentives were enough to persuade the governments of more than 150 countries to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, there are issues about just how much greenhouse gas emissions warm the planet. Some politicians, including George W. Bush, who is President of the United States,  and Prime Minister of Australia John Howard  and public intellectuals, such as Bjørn Lomborg  and Ronald Bailey , have argued the cost of mitigating global warming is too large to be justified. However, some segments of the business community have accepted both the reality of global warming and its attribution to anthropogenic causes, as well as the need for actions such as carbon emissions trading and carbon taxes.
'Global warming' is a specific case of the more general term ' climate change' (which can also refer to cooling, such as in Ice ages
). Furthermore, the term is in principle neutral as to the causes, but in common usage, 'global warming' generally implies a human influence. Note, however, that the UNFCCC uses 'climate change' for human caused change and 'climate variability' for non-human caused change . Some organizations use the term 'anthropogenic climate change' for human induced changes.See also: Glossary of climate change
Warming of the Earth - Contents
Relative to 1860-1900 the global temperature on both land and sea has increased by 0.75 °C. Temperatures in the lower troposphere have increased between 0.12 and 0.22 °C per decade since 1979. Over the past one or two thousand years before 1850, world temperature is believed to have been relatively stable, with various fluctuations, which are possibly local, such as the Medieval Warm Period or the Little Ice Age.Based on estimates by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, 2005 was the warmest year since reliable wide-spread instrumental measurements became available in the late 1800s, beating the previous record set in 1998 by a few hundredths of a degree Celsius. Similar estimates prepared by the World Meteorological Organization and the UK's Climatic Research Unit concluded that 2005 was still only the second warmest year behind 1998. Depending on the time frame, different temperature records are available. These are based on different data sets, with different degrees of precision and reliability. An approximately global instrumental temperature record begins in about 1860; contamination from the urban heat island effect is believed to be small. A longer-term perspective is available from various proxy records for recent millennia; see temperature record of the past 1000 years for a discussion of these records and their differences. The attribution of recent climate change is clearest for the most recent period of the last 50 years, for which the most detailed data is available. Satellite temperature measurements of the tropospheric temperature date from 1979.
Two millennia of temperatures according to different reconstructions, each smoothed on a decadal scale. The unsmoothed, annual value for 2004 is also plotted for reference.
Causes of global warming - Contents
during the last 400,000 years and the rapid rise since the Industrial Revolution
; changes in the Earth's orbit around the Sun ( Milankovitch cycles) are believed to be the pacemaker of the 100,000 year. ice age
The climate system varies both through natural, "internal" processes as well as in response to variations in external "forcing" from both human and non-human causes, including solar activity, and volcanic emissions as well as greenhouse gases. Climatologists accept that the earth has warmed recently but the cause or causes of this change is somewhat more controversial, especially outside the scientific community.Atmospheric scientists know that adding carbon dioxide (CO2) or methane (CH4) to an atmosphere, with no other changes, will tend to make a planet's surface warmer. Indeed, greenhouse gases create a natural greenhouse effect without which temperatures on Earth would be an estimated 30 °C lower, and the Earth uninhabitable. It is therefore not correct to say that there is a debate between those who "believe in" and "oppose" the theory that adding carbon dioxide or CH4 to the Earth's atmosphere will result in warmer surface temperatures on Earth, absent indirect mitigating effects. Rather, the debate is about what the net effect of the addition of carbon dioxide and CH4 will be.
Covariation of atmospheric Carbon dioxide
and global temperature during the last 650,000 years
Greenhouse gas emissions
The combustion of fossil fuels, including the coal-burning power plants, automobile exhausts, factory smokestacks, and other waste vents of the human environment contribute about 22 billion tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the earth's atmosphere each year. About half of human emissions have remained in the atmosphere[ citation needed]. Animal agriculture, manure, natural gas, rice paddies, landfills, coal, and other anthropogenic sources contribute about 450 million tons of methane each year according to TAR . The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and CH4 have increased by 31% and 149% respectively above pre-industrial levels since 1750. This is considerably higher than at any time during the last 650,000 years, the period for which reliable data has been extracted from ice cores. From less direct geological evidence it is believed that carbon dioxide values this high were last attained 40 million years ago. About three-quarters of the anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere during the past 20 years is due to fossil fuel burning. The rest is predominantly due to land-use change, especially deforestation .The longest continuous instrumental measurement of carbon dioxide mixing ratios began in 1958 at Mauna Loa. Since then, the annually averaged value has increased monotonically from 315 ppmv (see the Keeling Curve). The concentration reached 376 ppmv in 2003. South Pole records show similar growth . The monthly measurements display small seasonal oscillations.Note that anthropogenic emissions of other pollutants - notably sulphate aerosol - exert a cooling effect; this can account for the plateau/cooling seen in the temperature record in the middle of the 20th century .
Greenhouse gas trends
Solar variation theory
Direct variations in solar output appear too small to have substantially affected the climate; nonetheless some researchers (e.g. ) have proposed that feedbacks from clouds or other processes enhance the effect.In the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR), it was reported that volcanic and solar forcings might account for half of the temperature variations prior to 1950, but that the net effect of such natural forcings was roughly neutral since then . In particular, the change in climate forcing from greenhouse gases since 1750 was estimated to be 8 times larger than the change in forcing due to increasing solar activity over the same period .Since the TAR, various studies (Lean et al., 2002, Wang et al., 2005) have suggested that changes in irradiance since pre-industrial times are less by a factor of 3-4 than in the reconstructions used in the TAR (e.g. Hoyt and Schatten, 1993, Lean, 2000.). Stott et al.  estimated solar forcing to be 16% or 36% of greenhouse warming.
20 years of solar output
Various other hypotheses have been proposed, including but not limited to:
At present, none of these has more than a small number of supporters within the climate science community.
- The warming is within the range of natural variation.
- The warming is a consequence of coming out of a prior cool period — the Little Ice Age.
- The warming trend itself has not been clearly established.
Climate models - Contents
Calculations of global warming through 2100 from a range of climate models under the SRES A2 emissions scenario, one of the IPCC scenarios that assumes no action is taken to reduce emissions.
Scientists have studied this issue with computer models of the climate (see below). These models are accepted by the scientific community as being valid only after it has been shown that they do a good job of simulating known climate variations, such as the difference between summer and winter, the North Atlantic Oscillation, or El Niño. All climate models that pass these tests also predict that the net effect of adding greenhouse gases will be a warmer climate in the future. The amount of predicted warming varies by model, however, which probably reflects the way different models depict clouds differently.As noted above, climate models have been used by the IPCC to anticipate a warming of 1.4 °C to 5.8 °C between 1990 and 2100 . They have also been used to help investigate the causes of recent climate change by comparing the observed changes to those that the models predict from various natural and human derived forcing factors.The most recent climate models can produce a good match to observations of global temperature changes over the last century. These models do not unambiguously attribute the warming that occurred from approximately 1910 to 1945 to either natural variation or human effects; however, they suggest that the warming since 1975 is dominated by man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Adding simulation of the ability of the environment to sink carbon dioxide suggested that rising fossil fuel emissions would decrease absorption from the atmosphere, amplifying climate warming beyond previous predictions, although "Globally, the amplification is small at the end of the 21st century in this model because of its low transient climate response and the near-cancellation between large regional changes in the hydrologic and ecosystem responses" .Another suggested mechanism whereby a warming trend may be amplified involves the thawing of tundra, which can release the potent greenhouse gas, methane, that is trapped in large quantities in permafrost and ice clathrates .Uncertainties in the representation of clouds are a dominant source of uncertainty in existing models, despite clear progress in modeling of clouds . There is also an ongoing discussion as to whether climate models are neglecting important indirect and feedback effects of solar variability. Further, all such models are limited by available computational power, so that they may overlook changes related to small scale processes and weather (e.g. storm systems, hurricanes). However, despite these and other limitations, the IPCC considered climate models "to be suitable tools to provide useful projections of future climates" .In December, 2005 Bellouin et al suggested in Nature that the reflectivity effect of airborne pollutants was about double that previously expected, and that therefore some global warming was being masked. If supported by further studies, this would imply that existing models underpredict future global warming. 
Shows the distribution of warming during the 21st century calculated by the HadCM3 climate model (one of those used by the IPCC) if a business as usual scenario is assumed for economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions. The average warming calculated by this model is 3.0 °C.
Issues - Contents
Relation between global warming and ozone depletion
Although they are often interlinked in the mass media, the connection between global warming and ozone depletion is not strong. There are four areas of linkage:
- Global warming from carbon dioxide radiative forcing is expected (perhaps somewhat surprisingly) to cool the stratosphere. This, in turn, would lead to a relative increase in ozone depletion and the frequency of ozone holes.
- Conversely, ozone depletion represents a radiative forcing of the climate system. There are two opposed effects: reduced ozone allows more solar radiation to penetrate, thus warming the troposphere. But a colder stratosphere emits less long-wave radiation, tending to cool the troposphere. Overall, the cooling dominates: the IPCC concludes that observed stratospheric O3 losses over the past two decades have caused a negative forcing of the surface-troposphere system  of about –0.15 ± 0.10 W m–2 .
- One of the strongest predictions of the global warming theory is that the stratosphere should cool. However, although this is observed, it is difficult to use it for attribution of recent climate change as one of the difficulties to this conclusion include the fact that warming induced by increased solar radiation would not have this upper cooling effect. However, similar cooling is caused by ozone depletion.
- Ozone depleting chemicals are also greenhouse gases, representing 0.34 ± 0.03 W/m2, or about 14% of the total radiative forcing from well-mixed greenhouse gases .
Relation between global warming and global dimming
Some scientists now consider that the effects of the recently recognized phenomenon of global dimming (the reduction in sunlight reaching the surface of the planet, possibly due to aerosols) may have masked some of the effect of global warming. If this is so, the indirect aerosol effect is stronger than previously believed, which would imply that the climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases is also stronger. Concerns about the effect of aerosol on the global climate were first researched as part of concerns over global cooling in the 1970s.
Pre-human global warming
It is thought by some geologists that the Earth experienced global warming in the early Jurassic period, with average temperatures rising by 5 °C. Research by the Open University published in Geology (32: 157–160, 2004 ) indicates that this caused the rate of rock weathering to increase by 400%. Rock weathering locks away carbon in calcite and dolomite, which are minerals with various degrees of carbon oxides. As a result of this, carbon dioxide levels dropped back to normal over roughly the next 150,000 years.Sudden release of methane from its ice complex, clathrate, has been hypothesized as a cause of past global warming. Two events possibly linked in this way are the Permian-Triassic extinction event and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. However, warming at the end of the last ice age is thought not to be due to methane release .The greenhouse effect has also been invoked to explain how the Earth made it out of the Snowball Earth period. During this period all silicate rocks were covered by ice, thereby preventing them from combining with atmospheric carbon dioxide. The atmospheric carbon dioxide level gradually increased until it reached about 350 times current levels. At this point temperatures were raised to an average of 50 °C, hot enough to melt the ice. Increased amounts of rainfall would quickly wash the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Thick layers of abiotic carbonate sediment which can be found on top of the glacial rocks from this period are believed to have been formed by this rapid carbon dioxide removal process.Using paleoclimate data for the last 500 million years (Veizer et al. 2000, Nature 408, pp. 698-701) concluded that long-term temperature variations are only weakly coupled to carbon dioxide variations. Shaviv and Veizer (2003, ) extended this by arguing that the biggest long-term influence on temperature is actually the solar system's motion around the galaxy. Afterwards, they argued that over geologic time a change in carbon dioxide concentrations comparable to doubling preindustrial levels, only results in about 0.75 °C warming rather than the usual 1.5-4.5 °C reported by climate models . In turn Veizer's recent work has been discussed and criticised on RealClimate.org .Leading palaeoclimatologist William Ruddiman has argued (e.g. Scientific American, March 2005) that human influence on the global climate began around 8000 years ago with the development of agriculture. This prevented carbon dioxide (and later methane) levels falling as rapidly as they would have done otherwise. Ruddiman argues that without this effect, the Earth would be entering, or already have entered, a new ice age. However other work in this area ( Nature 2004) argues that the present interglacial is most analogous to the interglacial 400,000 years ago that lasted approximately 28,000 years, in which case there is no need to invoke the spread of agriculture for having delayed the next ice age.
Public controversy - Contents
There is an ongoing dispute about what effect humans have on the global climate and what policies should be followed to mitigate any current detrimental effects, and prevent future detrimental effects. Although not fully settled, the current consensus from the official scientific communities on climate change is that recent warming is largely human-caused. There is near consensus among scientists that global warming is already occuring due to greenhouse gases.
Effects - Contents
The predicted effects of global warming are many and various, both for the environment and for human life. The primary effect of global warming is increasing carbon dioxide and increasing global average surface temperature. From this flow a variety of secondary effects, including sea level rise, impacts on agriculture, reductions in the ozone layer (see above), increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events, and the spread of disease. In some cases, the effects may already be being experienced, although it is impossible to attribute specific natural phenomena to long-term global warming. In particular the relationship between global warming and hurricanes is still being debated  . Three new papers correlating climate change with increased hurricane intensity seem to be making the case that the two phenomena are linked. The extent and likelihood of these consequences is a matter of considerable controversy. A summary of possible effects and our current understanding can be found in the report of the IPCC Working Group II . Global warming is already causing death and disease across the world through flooding, environmental destruction, heatwaves and other extreme weather events, according to a Lancet study (Reuters, February 9, 2006, archived at: www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0209-05.htm).
- Main article: Effects of global warming
Effects on ecosystems
Secondary evidence of global warming — lessened snow cover, rising sea levels, weather changes — provides examples of consequences of global warming that may influence not only human activities but also the ecosystems. Increasing global temperature means that ecosystems may change; some species may be forced out of their habitats (possibly to extinction) because of changing conditions, while others may flourish. Few of the terrestrial ecoregions on Earth could expect to be unaffected.
Impact on Glaciers
Global warming has led to glacier retreat around the world. Oerlemans (2005) showed a net decline in 142 of the 144 mountain glaciers with records from 1900 to 1980. Since 1980 global glacier retreat has increased significantly. Similarly, Dyurgerov and Meier (2005) averaged glacier data across large scale regions (e.g. Europe) and found that every region had a net decline from 1960 to 2002, though a few local regions (e.g. Scandinavia) have shown increases. A number of glaciers have already disappeared  and increasing temperatures are expected to cause continued retreat in the majority of alpine glaciers around the world. Upwards of 90% of glaciers reported to the World Glacier Monitoring Service have retreated since 1995 .
Destabilisation of ocean currents
There is some speculation that global warming could, via a shutdown or slowdown of the thermohaline circulation, trigger localised cooling in the North Atlantic and lead to cooling, or lesser warming, in that region. This would affect in particular areas like Scandinavia and Britain that are warmed by the North Atlantic drift. The chances of this occurring are unclear.
Even a relatively small rise in sea level would make some densely settled coastal plains uninhabitable and create a significant refugee problem. If the sea level were to rise in excess of 4 metres almost every coastal city in the world would be severely affected, with the potential for major impacts on world-wide trade and economy. Presently, the IPCC predicts sea level rise of less than 1 meter through 2100, but they also warn that global warming during that time may lead to irreversible changes in the Earth's glacial system and ultimately melt enough ice to raise sea level many meters over the next millennia. It is estimated that around 200 million people could be affected by sea level rise, especially in Vietnam, Bangladesh, China, India, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Egypt.   
The termini of the glaciers in the Bhutan
- Himalaya. Glacial lakes have been rapidly forming on the surface of the debris-covered glaciers in this region during the last few decades. According to USGS researchers, glaciers in the Himalaya are wasting at alarming and accelerating rates, as indicated by comparisons of satellite and historic data, and as shown by the widespread, rapid growth of lakes on the glacier surfaces. The researchers have found a strong correlation between increasing temperatures and glacier retreat.
Spread of disease
Global warming may extend the range of vectors conveying infectious diseases such as malaria. Bluetongue disease in domesticated ruminants associated with mite bites has recently spread to the north Mediterranean region. Hantavirus infection, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, tularemia and rabies increased in wide areas of Russia during 2004–2005. This was associated with a population explosion of rodents and their predators but may be partially blamed on breakdowns in governmental vaccination and rodent control programs.  Similarly, despite the disappearance of malaria in most temperate regions, the indigenous mosquitoes that transmitted it were never eliminated and remain common in some areas. Thus, although temperature is important in the transmission dynamics of malaria, many other factors are influential .
Financial institutions, including the world's two largest insurance companies, Munich Re and Swiss Re, warned in a 2002 study ( UNEP summary) that "the increasing frequency of severe climatic events, coupled with social trends" could cost almost 150 billion US dollars each year in the next decade. These costs would, through increased costs related to insurance and disaster relief, burden customers, tax payers, and industry alike.According to the Association of British Insurers, limiting carbon emissions could avoid 80% of the projected additional annual cost of tropical cyclones by the 2080s. According to Choi and Fisher (2003) each 1% increase in annual precipitation could enlarge catastrophe loss by as much as 2.8%.The United Nation’s Environmental Program recently announced that severe weather around the world has made 2005 the most costly year on record , although there is no way to prove that [a given hurricane] either was, or was not, affected by global warming . Preliminary estimates presented by the German insurance foundation Munich Re put the economic losses at more than 200 billion U.S. dollars, with insured losses running at more than 70 billion U.S. dollars.
Possible beneficial effects
Global warming may also have positive effects. Plants form the basis of the biosphere. By means of photosynthesis, they use solar energy to convert water, nutrients, and carbon dioxide into usable biomass. Plant growth can be limited by a number of factors, including soil fertility, water, temperature, and carbon dioxide concentration. Lack of carbon dioxide can induce photorespiration, which can destroy existing sugars. Thus, an increase in temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide can stimulate plant growth in places where these are the limiting factors. IPCC models predict that higher carbon dioxide concentrations would only spur growth of flora up to a point however, because in many regions the limiting factors are water or nutrients, not temperature or carbon dioxide. Despite the limiting factor of water, an increase in carbon dioxide concentration has the direct effect of increasing the transpiration efficiency of most plants so that they actually produce more net biomass per unit of water used by the plant.  Satellite data shows that the productivity of the northern hemisphere has indeed increased from 1982 to 1991 . However, more recent studies ,  found that from 1991 to 2002, wide-spread droughts had actually caused a decrease in summer photosynthesis in the mid and high latitudes of the northern hemisphere. Moreover, an increase in the total amount of biomass produced is not necessarily all good, since biodiversity can still decrease even though a smaller number of species are flourishing.Melting Arctic ice may open the Northwest Passage in summer, which would cut 5,000 nautical miles from shipping routes between Europe and Asia. This would be of particular relevance for supertankers which are too big to fit through the Panama Canal and currently have to go around the tip of South America. According to the Canadian Ice Service, the amount of ice in Canada's eastern Arctic Archipelago decreased by 15 percent between 1969 and 2004 .
NOAA projects that by the 2050s, there will only be 54% of the volume of sea ice there was in the 1950s.
Mitigating and adapting to global warming - Contents
"Mitigation of global warming" covers all actions aimed at reducing the extent or likelihood of global warming. The world's primary international agreement on combating climate change is the Kyoto Protocol. Various other strategies include development of new technologies, wind power, nuclear power, renewable energy, biodiesel, electric cars (and hybrids), and fuel cells, Energy conservation, carbon taxes and carbon sequestration schemes.Adaptation strategies accept some warming as a given and focus on preventing or reducing undesirable consequences: for example defending against rising sea levels or ensuring food security.
Change Text Size: