Biology » Ecology and the Biosphere » Climate and the Effects of Global Climate Change

Summarizing Climate and the Effects of Global Climate Change

Summary

The Earth has gone through periodic cycles of increases and decreases in temperature. During the past 2000 years, the Medieval Climate Anomaly was a warmer period, while the Little Ice Age was unusually cool. Both of these irregularities can be explained by natural causes of changes in climate, and, although the temperature changes were small, they had significant effects. Natural drivers of climate change include Milankovitch cycles, changes in solar activity, and volcanic eruptions. None of these factors, however, leads to rapid increases in global temperature or sustained increases in carbon dioxide.

The burning of fossil fuels is an important source of greenhouse gases, which plays a major role in the greenhouse effect. Long ago, global warming resulted in the Permian extinction: a large-scale extinction event that is documented in the fossil record. Currently, modern-day climate change is associated with the increased melting of glaciers and polar ice sheets, resulting in a gradual increase in sea level. Plants and animals can also be affected by global climate change when the timing of seasonal events, such as flowering or pollination, is affected by global warming.

Glossary

clathrates

frozen chunks of ice and methane found at the bottom of the ocean

climate

long-term, predictable atmospheric conditions present in a specific area

global climate change

altered global weather patterns, including a worldwide increase in temperature, due largely to rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide

greenhouse effect

warming of Earth due to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere

greenhouse gases

atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide and methane that absorb and emit radiation, thus trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere

haze-effect cooling

effect of the gases and solids from a volcanic eruption on global climate

Milankovitch cycles

cyclic changes in the Earth’s orbit that may affect climate

solar intensity

amount of solar power energy the sun emits in a given amount of time

weather

conditions of the atmosphere during a short period of time

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