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Causes and consequences of climate change

No ‘Plan B’ for climate action as there is no ‘Planet B..

UN, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

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Know Your Earth Quiz: NASA

Class work and Activities: Debate

Exam style 10 marks questions 

  1. 1. ‘The world’s poorer countries are least responsible for climate change and have most to lose because of it’ to what extent do you agree with this statement?
  2. 2. Evaluate the importance of geo-engineering as a possible technological fix for climate change.
  3. 3. ‘Adaptation to changing climate is better than geopolitical mitigation’ critically examine the statement.
  4. 4. ‘Climate change will increase the risks of more extreme weather events’ to what extent do you agree with this statement.
  5. 5. ‘It is best to follow the strategy of business as usual and not to worry too much about climate change as climate change is natural and has always change in the past’ – Evaluate this statement.
  6. 6. Compare and analyze the vulnerability to climate change in two different geographical locations.

Vanishing Ice Caps in Alaska

Disneynature's Penguins Official Trailer

The Arctic Town: Svalbard facing the impacts of the changing climate

Greenland is melting

Coral reefs are vanishing

Warmer Sea: Coral bleaching in Florida

The scale of Arctic Methane Emissions explained

What happens when the permafrost thaws?

Methane bubbles in Arctic: Potential disaster

TerminologyDefinitions ExplanationBackground knowledge
Positive feedback loopAny act to accelerate and amplify any change that have already started to occur, producing knock-on or triggering effects in the natural system. Triggering effect of permafrost melting and release of Methane: Methane is an enormously powerful GHG. Huge volume of methane is stored in the permafrost regions of the Earth including tundra, polar and high mountains. The effect of permafrost melting will magnify the positive feedback loop. Permafrost: Soil and rock including top layer of ice from 1 meter to more than 1.5 km from the ground that remains frozen (below 0 degree Centigrade) for at least 2 consecutive years.
Negative feedback loop Takes place when a system adjust itself in a way that lessen or cancel out the effect of the original change as a result equilibrium or balance could be restored. Hypothesis of the self correction if Arctic ice begins to melt in large volume: Melting of huge ice mass will expose darker ocean. Albedo will decrease. More absorption of sunlight will create warmer ocean and the level of evaporation will increase. More light coloured cloud in the lower atmosphere will reflect back incoming solar radiation and less insolation will be absorbed by the land and ocean surface, lessening the impact of the initial warming.
Homeostasis: Originated from the Greek words for "same" and "steady". It refers to any process that living things use to actively maintain fairly stable conditions necessary for survival. Negative feedback arises out of balances between forces and factors that mutually influence each other. The atmosphere of the earth differs greatly from that of the other known planets. Earth is in homeostasis, maintaining a steady environment that is currently favourable to life on it. Scientist James Lovelock mentioned that Earth is self-regulating and has a strong negative feedback system to cope up with any change and thereby to maintain its steady state.

Complexity of global climatic system and the feedback loops

What is Keeling Curve?

How do warming of the oceans and atmosphere trigger extreme climatic events?  

Economy Vs Environment

Case study of Maldives: A drowning paradise

Sea level rise and submergence of islands

Warming OR dimming?

Global cooling techniques in geo engineering

We are at risk

 REVIEW: Note down 5 most important Environmental issues to your judgement from the list of global environmental issues we need to resolve by 2030 

Your Turn: Design an ‘Infographic’ on the impact and scale of climate change using relevant data and information.

What is global dimming?

The phenomena of global dimming can be defined as the decrease in the amounts of solar radiation reaching the surface of the Earth. In other words, decrease in direct irradiance at the Earth’s surface resulting in a cooling effect over the Earth and it’s atmosphere. Solar irradiance is the power per unit area measured in terms of watt per square metre, W/m2, received from the sun in the form of electromagnetic radiation (EMR).

How does it happen?

This may happen due to the presence of the aerosols, volcanic ashes, and other dust particles and pollutants that absorb solar energy and reflect back sunlight into the space. These particulates also form more reflective ‘brown cloud’that has higher albedo.  Aerosols are mainly the tiny particles or pollutants (particulate pollution) released into the atmosphere as the by products of fossil fuels burning by the industries, power sector and emission from the internal combustion engines. Contrails, which is mainly the vapours emitted from the highflying airplanes also cause heat reflection and related global dimming.

Global warming and global dimming both are detrimental, causing severe and quick climate change

Global warming and global dimming both are happening at the same time all over the world with their varying impacts in different places. Despite the cooling effect induced by global dimming, Earth’s temperature has increased by more than 1 degree C in the past 100 years. In fact, it is believed that global dimming is offsetting or negating the severe impact of global warming. However, it is also destabilizing the Earth’s homeostasis (the auto balancing system) and thereby creating serious hazard to the biotic community and to the natural environment. There is no debate on the fact that the pollutants causing global dimming lead to acid rain, smog and other environmental and health hazards.  Scientists believe that since 1950, the overall insolation reaching the Earth surface has dropped by 9% in Antarctica, 10% in the USA, 16% in parts of Europe and 30% in Russia causing an overall average drop of more than 20% in solar irradiance. Global dimming and global warming both may induce severe and irreversible changes in wind and ocean circulation patterns resulting into drastic climate change in near future.  Severe climate change in a very short span of time imposes high risk to our environment and to our existence. For example, Global dimming may impact the Asian Monsoons, which is responsible for 50% of the global annual rainfall, pushing half of the world’s population to starve. On the other hand, change in the pattern of Gulf Stream due to melting of the polar ice and related changed in thermohaline circulation of the conveyor belt may cause severe winter in the east coast of North America and east coast of europe, making it uninhabitable.

What causes glacial–interglacial cycles?: Evidences of Natural climate change 

Earth’s climate has always changed in the past and it will change in the future. It has a natural cycle. Climate change has always happened since the millions of years even before the existence of the human being. WE are currently living in an interglacial period of the Quaternary ice age, known as Holocene. We are actually in the middle of one of Earth’s FIVE major ice ages (Huronian, billion years ago, Cryogenian- million years ago, Andean-Saharan , Karoo and Quaternary) that started 2.5 million year’s age and is marked by alternative glacial and interglacial periods.  Interglacial period is the warmer period of time between ice ages. Glacial advancement occurs in the ice age. Large, continental ice sheets in the Northern Hemisphere have grown and retreated many times in the past.  The most recent glacial period occurred around 11,500 years ago. Since then, Earth has been in an interglacial period called the Holocene. Glacial periods are colder and generally drier than interglacial periods. No one knows for sure how long the present interglacial period will last. Scientists suggested that the current interglacial might last tens of thousands of years. The people who may have been living in North-central North America, Canada, Russia in 20,000 years ago saw ice and snow the year round as that was the time of the last major ice age. This was the period when most of northwestern Europe was buried beneath hunderds of feet thick sheets of ice. But it was not bitter cold. The average temperature was only 10 to 12 degrees lower than it is today. Snow piled up years after years as there was not enough heat available in the warm months to melt away the ice and snow.

External forcing of climate change

1. Solar output and Sunspot cycle

Refers to the changes in the amount of total solar radiation received at the outer margin of the atmosphere. There have been periodic changes in the levels of solar radiation, ejection of solar material and magnetic activities.

Sun also goes though solar output cycles, the principal one being the 11-years sunspot cycle. The number of sunspots and solar flares keep on changing. Sunspots are temporary phenomena on the photosphere of the Sun, appear visibly as dark spots compared to surrounding regions. They are caused by intense magnetic activity, which inhibits convection and areas of reduced surface temperature that appear as sunspot.Sunspot cycle changes solar irradiance (power per unit area). Solar maximum is related to the appearance of many sunspots while Solar minimum with basically none. UV radiation increases during the solar maximum, which in turn leads to increased generation of the stratospheric ozone that warms up the atmosphere by absorbing both the short and long wave radiation. On the other hand, Solar flare is the sudden brightening observed over the Sun’s surface, caused by the sudden release of a large amount of energy. Recent satellite measurements show an increase of sunspot activity indicating higher solar irradiance (energy per unit area during a given time) means that the Earth is receiving more energy from the Sun at that time.


2.Milankovitch cycle

Milankovitch cycle mathematically theorized that variations in eccentricity, axial tilt, and precession (change in the orientation of rotational axis) of the Earth’s orbit determine climatic patterns on Earth. Earth’s climate in the past has changed several times due to the following factors.

 Orbital shape (eccentricity)

The eccentricity is a measure of the departure from circularity. The shape of the Earth’s orbit varies in time between nearly circular (low eccentricity) and mildly elliptical (high eccentricity)

Precession is a change in the orientation of the rotational axis of a rotating body. The Earth’s axis completes one full cycle of precession approximately in every 26,000 years.

 Axial tilt

The angle between Earth’s rotational axis and to the plane of its orbit, also moves from 22.1 degrees to 24.5 degrees and back again on a 41,000-year cycle. Currently, this angle is 23.44 degrees and is decreasing.

Sunspot Cycle

Milankovitch cycle

How to judge the Carbon intensity of an economy?

It depends on the amount of Co2 emitted per unit of GDP. If a country’s carbon emission rise equally in proportion to the rising GDP, it indicates a carbon intensive economy. If the countries carbon emission rise much slower than the GDP, it indicates that some action is being taken to reduce emissions

Combating Climate Change: Geo-Engineering to combat climate change

Solar Geo-engineering

Geo-Engineering vs climate change

One civil society's effort to combat climate change (case study)

Greenpeace Esperanza

Esperanza, was the largest and swiftest ship in the Greenpeace fleet, conducted operations on whaling, nuclear transport, illegal fishing, illegal logging, scientific research and climate and energy. Until retirement in late 2021-22, the Esperanza launched solar-powered aircraft, helicopters and submarines and carried the light of ‘Hope’ all over the world. Read more from the Greenpeace website

List of Critical Questions: Get Ready For the Exam

1. Define the terms Vulnerability and Resilience. Assess the vulnerability and resilience to climate change refereeing to a case you have studied. (Kiribati) 5
2. Examine the role of carbon offsetting/Carbon trading  as a mitigation strategy. 4 marks
3. What is Global dimming? State One natural and One anthropogenic cause of global dimming. 4 marks
4. Describe two external forcing of climate change that affect the radiational balance. 2+2
5. What is energy budget? 5 marks
6. Examine TWO positive and negative ENVIRONMENTAL and ECONOMIC impacts/effects/consequences of climate change. 2+2
7. Critically analyze two geopolitical attempts to reduce the challenges posed by global climate change.  6 
8. State one civil society (NGO/Non-governmrntal stakeholder such as Greenpeace) actions/strategies to address global climate change. 5  – Watch the video towards the end of this page

Are you interested in Geophysics, Earth-sciences, Environmental management and geo-engineering? Then have a look at the Free online courses, Student Internships, Climatic Research and Job opportunities in this field.

Free online Vacation Courses for the students on Climate change Risk and challenges by the renowned professors of Germany, an initiative by the DKK (Deutsche Klima Konsortium): Understand the climate science in 6 chapters. Earn a valuable certificate in your summer vacation. This 30 -50 hours course is self-paced and will lead you to the vital understanding of the Earth’s climatic system.

Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (MPI-M) is developing next generation climate models and is involved in sophisticated computation research. Click here to explore more.

Click here to know about the Antarctic Research Programms and types of job vacancies in Australian Antarctic division.

Click here to know about the students internship and summer positions at NASA 

Learn how to design intelligent systems. This free online course from Harvard University will enable you to take the first step toward solving important real-world problems and future-proofing your career by introducing the basic of artificial intelligence with python

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