Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, humans have been rapidly changing the balance of gases in the atmosphere. Burning fossil fuels like coal and oil releases water vapor, carbon dioxide CO2 , methane CH4 , ozone and nitrous oxide N2O — the primary greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide is the most common greenhouse gas. Between about , years ago and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, its presence in the atmosphere amounted to about parts per million ppm. Today, it's about ppm. This number means there are molecules of carbon dioxide in the air per every million air molecules.
Levels of CO2 haven't been that high since the Pliocene epoch, which occurred between 3 million and 5 million years ago, according to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. According to the EPA's report, U. Other processes — such as non-energy use of fuels, iron and steel production, cement production and waste incineration — boost the total annual CO2 release in the U. Deforestation is also a large contributor to excessive CO2 in the atmosphere.
When trees are killed, they release the carbon they have stored during photosynthesis. Methane is the second most common greenhouse gas, but it is much more efficient at trapping heat. In , the gas accounted for about 9 percent of all U. The EPA reports that methane has 20 times more impact than carbon dioxide on climate change over a year period.
Titles For Essays About Global Warming
Methane can come from many natural sources, but humans cause a large portion of methane emissions through mining, the use of natural gas, the mass raising of livestock and the use of landfills, according to the Inventory of U. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks report from to In fact, according to the EPA, humans are responsible for more than 60 percent of methane emissions.
There are some hopeful trends in greenhouse gas emissions. Though U. Much of the reason for this recent decline is the replacement of coal with natural gas, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. The U. Fuel-efficient vehicles and energy-efficiency standards for buildings have also improved emissions, according to the EPA. Global warming doesn't just mean warming — which is why "climate change" has become the trendier term among researchers and policy makers.
While the globe is becoming hotter on average, this temperature increase can have paradoxical effects, such as more serious snowstorms.
There are several big ways climate change can and will affect the globe: By melting ice, by drying out already-arid areas, by causing weather extremes and by disrupting the delicate balance of the oceans. Perhaps the most visible effect of climate change so far is the melting of glaciers and sea ice. The ice sheets have been retreating since the end of the last Ice Age about 11, years ago, but the last century's warming has hastened their demise. A study found that there is a 99 percent chance that global warming has caused the recent retreat of glaciers; in fact, the research showed, these rivers of ice retreated 10 to 15 times the distance they would have if the climate had stayed stable.
Glacier National Park in Montana had glaciers in the late s. Today it has The loss of glaciers can cause the loss of human life when icy dams holding back glacier lakes destabilize and burst , or when avalanches caused by unstable ice bury villages. At the North Pole, warming is proceeding twice as quickly as it is at middle latitudes, and the sea ice is showing the strain.
Fall and winter ice in the Arctic hit record lows in both and , meaning the ice expanse did not cover as much of the open sea as previously observed. According to NASA, the 13 smallest maximum winter extents of sea ice in the Arctic have all happened in the last 13 years. The ice also forms later in the season and melts more readily in spring. Some scientists think the Arctic Ocean will see ice-free summers within 20 or 30 years. In the Antarctic, the picture has been a little less clear. The Western Antarctic Peninsula is warming faster than anywhere else besides some parts of the Arctic, according to the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition.
The peninsula is where the Larsen C ice shelf just rifted in July , spawning an iceberg the size of Delaware. The sea ice off Antarctica is very variable, though, and some areas have actually hit record highs in recent years — though those record highs could bear the fingerprints of climate change , as they might result from land-based ice moving out to sea as the glaciers melt, or in warming-related changes to wind.
In , though, this pattern of record-high ice abruptly reversed, with a record low. On March 3, , Antarctic sea ice was measured at an extent of 71, square miles , square kilometers less than the previous low from Global warming will change things between the poles, too. Many already-dry areas are expected to become even drier as the world warms.
The Southwest and Central Plains of the United States, for example, are expected to experience decades-long "megadroughts" harsher than anything else in human memory. The study predicted an 85 percent chance of droughts lasting at least 35 years in the region by The main driver, the researchers found, is the increasing evaporation of water from hotter and hotter soil.
Much of the precipitation that does fall in these arid regions will be lost. Meanwhile, research finds that many areas will likely see less rainfall as the climate warms. Subtropical regions, including the Mediterranean, the Amazon, Central America and Indonesia will likely be hardest hit, that study found, while South Africa, Mexico, western Australia and California will also dry out.
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