Climate Change and Global Warming

Climate is the average weather of an area. It is the general weather conditions, seasonal variations and extremes of weather in region. Such conditions which average over a long period at least 30 years is called climate. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1990 and 1992 published best available evidence about past climate change, the green house effect and recent changes in global temperature. It is observed that earth’s temperature has changed considerably during the geological times. It has experienced several glacial and interglacial periods.  

However, during the past10000 years of the current interglacial period, the mean average temperature has fluctuated by 0.51˚ c over 100 to 200 year period. We have relatively stable climate for thousands of years due to which we have practiced agriculture and increased population.  

Even small changes in climatic conditions may disturb agriculture that would lead to migration of animals including humans.  

Anthropogenic activities are upsetting the delicate balance that has been established between various components of the environment.  

Green house gases are increasing in atmosphere resulting in increase in the average global temperature.  

This may upset the hydrological cycle; result in floods and droughts in different regions of the world, cause sea level rise, changes in agricultural productivity, famines and death of humans as well as livestock.


Global Warming 


Before the Industrial Revolution, human activities released very few gases into the atmosphere and all climate changes happened naturally. After the Industrial Revolution, through fossil fuel combustion, changing agricultural practices and deforestation, the natural composition of gases in the atmosphere is getting affected and climate and environment began to alter significantly.  

Over the last 100 years, it was found out that the earth is getting warmer and warmer, unlike previous 8000 years when temperatures have been relatively constant. The present temperature is 0.3 - 0.6 °C warmer than it was 100 years ago.  

The greenhouse effect is a naturally occurring process that aids in heating the Earth's surface and atmosphere. It results from the fact that certain atmospheric gases, such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane, are able to change the energy balance of the planet by absorbing long wave radiation emitted from the Earth's surface. Without the greenhouse effect life on this planet would probably not exist as the average temperature of the Earth would be a chilly -18° Celsius, rather than the present 15° Celsius.  

Some greenhouse gases occur naturally in the atmosphere, while others result from human activities. Naturally occurring greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone (refer Figure 9.4). Certain human activities, however, add to the levels of most of these naturally occurring gases.  

Carbon dioxide is released to the atmosphere when solid waste, fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal), and wood and wood products are burned.  

Methane is emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas, and oil. Methane emissions also result from the decomposition of organic wastes in municipal solid waste landfills, and the raising of livestock. Nitrous oxide is emitted during agricultural and industrial activities, as well as during combustion of solid waste and fossil fuels.  

Very powerful greenhouse gases that are not naturally occurring include hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs), per fluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), which are generated in a variety of industrial processes.  

Often, estimates of greenhouse gas emissions are presented in units of millions of metric tons of carbon equivalents (MMTCE), which weights each gas by its Global Warming Potential or GWP value. 

As energy from the Sun passes through the atmosphere a number of things take place. A portion of the energy (26% globally) is reflected or scattered back to space by clouds and other atmospheric particles. About 19% of the energy available is absorbed by clouds, gases (like ozone), and particles in the atmosphere. Of the remaining 55% of the solar energy passing through the Earth's atmosphere, 4% is reflected from the surface back to space. On average, about 51% of the Sun's radiation reaches the surface. This energy is then used in a number of processes, including the heating of the ground surface; the melting of ice and snow and the evaporation of water; and plant photosynthesis.  

Climate Change and Global Warming
Climate Change and Global Warming

The heating of the ground by sunlight causes the Earth's surface to become a radiator of energy in the long wave band (sometimes called infrared radiation). This emission of energy is generally directed to space . However, only a small portion of this energy actually makes it back to space. The majority of the outgoing infrared radiation is absorbed by the greenhouse gases. 

Absorption of long wave radiation by the atmosphere causes additional heat energy to be added to the Earth's atmospheric system. The now warmer atmospheric greenhouse gas molecules begin radiating long wave energy in all directions. Over 90% of this emission of long wave energy is directed back to the Earth's surface where it once again is absorbed by the surface. The heating of the ground by the long wave radiation causes the ground surface to once again radiate, repeating the cycle described above, again and again, until no more long wave is available for absorption. 

A number of gases are involved in the human caused enhancement of the greenhouse effect .These gases include: carbon dioxide (CO2); methane (CH4); nitrous oxide (N2O); chlorofluorocarbons (CFxClx); and tropospheric ozone (O3). Of these gases, the single most important gas is carbon dioxide which accounts for about 55% of the change in the intensity of the Earth's greenhouse effect. The contributions of the other gases are 25% for chlorofluorocarbons, 15% for methane, and 5% for nitrous oxide. Ozone's contribution to the enhancement of green house effect is still yet to be quantified.Average concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide in the year 2005 were about 380 parts per million .Prior to 1700, levels of carbon dioxide were about 280 parts per million. This increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is primarily due to the activities of humans. Beginning in 1700, societal changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution increased the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. The major sources of this gas include fossil fuel combustion for industry, transportation, space heating, electricity generation and cooking; and vegetation changes in natural prairie, woodland, and forested ecosystems. Emissions from fossil fuel combustion account for about 65% of the extra carbon dioxide now found in our atmosphere. The remaining 35% is derived from deforestation and the conversion of prairie, woodland, and forested ecosystems primarily into agricultural systems.  

Natural ecosystems can hold 20 to 100 times more carbon dioxide per unit area than agricultural systems. Artificially created chlorofluorocarbons are the strongest greenhouse gas per molecule. However, low concentrations in the atmosphere reduce their overall importance in the enhancement of the greenhouse effect.  

Current measurements in the atmosphere indicate that the concentration of these chemicals may soon begin declining because of reduced emissions. Reports of the development of ozone holes over the North and South Poles and a general decline in global stratospheric ozone levels over the last two decades has caused many nations to cut back on their production and use of these chemicals.  

Since 1750, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have increased by more than 150%. The primary sources for the additional methane added to the atmosphere (in order of importance) are rice cultivation, domestic grazing animals, termites, landfills, coal mining, and oil and gas extraction. Anaerobic conditions associated with rice paddy flooding results in the formation of methane gas. However, an accurate estimate of how much methane is being produced from rice paddies has been difficult to obtain. More than 60% of all rice paddies are found in India and China where scientific data concerning emission rates are unavailable. Nevertheless, scientists believe that the contribution of rice paddies is large because this form of crop production has more than doubled since 1950. Grazing animals release methane to the environment as a result of herbaceous digestion. Some researchers believe the addition of methane from this source has more than quadrupled over the last century. Termites also release methane through similar processes. Land-use change in the tropics, due to deforestation, ranching, and farming, may be causing termite numbers to expand. If this assumption is correct, the contribution from these insects may be important. Methane is also released from landfills, coal mines, and gas and oil drilling. Landfills produce methane as organic wastes decompose over time. Coal, oil, and natural gas deposits release methane to the atmosphere when these deposits are excavated or drilled.  

The average concentration of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere is now increasing at a rate of 0.2 to 0.3% per year. Sources for this increase include land-use conversion; fossil fuel combustion; biomass burning; and soil fertilization. Most of the nitrous oxide added to the atmosphere each year comes from deforestation and the conversion of forest, savanna and grassland ecosystems into agricultural fields and rangeland. Both of these processes reduce the amount of nitrogen stored in living vegetation and soil through the decomposition of organic matter. Nitrous oxide is also released into the atmosphere when fossil fuels and biomass are burned. However, the combined contribution of these sources to the increase of this gas in the atmosphere is thought to be minor. The use of nitrate and ammonium fertilizers to enhance plant growth is another source of nitrous oxide. Accurate measurements of how much nitrous oxide is being released from fertilization have been difficult to obtain. Estimates suggest that the contribution from this source may represent from 50% to 0.2% of nitrous oxide added to the atmosphere annually.  

Ozone's role in the enhancement of the greenhouse effect has been difficult to determine scientifically. Accurate measurements of past long-term (more than 25 years in the past) levels of this gas in the atmosphere are currently unavailable. Concentrations of ozone gas are found in two different regions of the Earth's atmosphere. The majority of the ozone (about 97%) found in the atmosphere is localized in the stratosphere at an altitude of 15 to 55 kilometers above the Earth's surface. In recent years, the concentration of the stratospheric ozone has been decreasing because of the buildup of chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere. Since the late 1970s, scientists have discovered that total column ozone amounts over Antarctica in the springtime have decreased by as much as 70%. Satellite measurements have indicated that the zone from 65° North to 65° South latitude has had a 3% decrease in stratospheric ozone since 1978. Ozone is also highly concentrated at the Earth's surface. Most of this ozone is created as an artificial by product of photochemical smog. 

Global Warming (Climate Change) Implications  

Rise in global temperature  

Observations show that global temperatures have risen by about 0.6 °C over the 20th century. There is strong evidence now that most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is caused by human activities. Climate models predict that the global temperature will rise by about 6 °C by the year 2100. 

Rise in sea level  

In general, the faster the climate change, the greater will be the risk of damage. The mean sea level is expected to rise 9 - 88 cm by the year 2100, causing flooding of low lying areas and other damages.  

Food shortages and hunger  

Water resources will be affected as precipitation and evaporation patterns change around the world. This will affect agricultural output. Food security is likely to be threatened and some regions are likely to experience food shortages and hunger.  

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