Earth's Warming Climate: Are We Responsible?

Engage

Do you understand the differences between weather and climate? View the Climate Change video from PBS LearningMedia™ and test your understanding by answering the discussion questions associated with the resource.

Next, examine the evidence for global climate change in the Climate Time Machine interactive. These visualizations track changes in global conditions. Observe the changes carefully to understand the degree of change that occurs over time.

Now, read more background information on the evidence for contemporary climate change from NASA’s Key Indicators website. Carefully analyze the graphs that illustrate key changes in the vital signs of our planet.

What new insights about the differences between weather and climate do you have now after exploring the resources?

How has the data supporting evidence of climate change changed over time?

Fact!

Our interest in atmospheric carbon dioxide goes back to the late 1800’s when Svante Arrhenius first described the greenhouse effect and the role of atmospheric carbon dioxide in this phenomenon. We now know that carbon dioxide, along with other important greenhouse gases (water vapor, methane, ozone), play an important role in dampening and amplifying atmospheric temperatures.

In any given year, tens of billions of tons of carbon move between the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere in what is known as the Carbon Cycle. Human activities add about 5.5 billion tons per year of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. On a global scale the carbon cycle involves complex interactions involving carbon locked up in sedimentary rock deposits (such as limestone and chalk) and fossil fuels. The carbon in rocks and fossil fuels enters the carbon cycle primarily through human activities—the burning of fossil fuels and the manufacture of such products like cement which involves the heating of limestone rock, releasing significant quantities of CO2.

Learn about the properties of atmospheric CO2 and how carbon moves throughout the Earth system in the carbon cycle. Watch the Global Warming: Carbon Dioxide and the Greenhouse Effect video from PBS LearningMedia and then review the Carbon Cycle Diagram. You may wish to take notes after reading the background essays and discussion questions for these resources.

Currently we are extracting and burning stored forms of carbon, such as fossil fuels, and pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at rates that appear to exceed the rate at which natural processes remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Based on your understanding of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, what do you think this would do to the climate at the Earth’s surface?

Anthropogenic, or human-caused, climate change impacts life in every way. Read the “Climate-Sensitive Diseases” section on the Health Web page from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to learn about some of the health effects of climate change, including the rise in infectious diseases.

Vast arrays of physical and biological systems across the Earth are being affected by warming temperatures caused by human activity. What are the ecosystem impacts of global climate change? Read the “Warming Climate is Changing Life on Global Scale” NASA science brief, which is based on a study that is the first to link observed global changes in diverse systems to human-caused, or anthropogenic, climate change. Pay close attention to the key ecosystem impacts in North America. Which ones might affect the area in which you live?

How can you help your students understand the impact of anthropogenic climate change on their lives?

Global Climate Change Modules

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