There is no doubt the earth has and will continue to experience Climate Change. However, the topic of our earth’s climate is a major concern worldwide. Many people confuse climate change with global warming. Climate change is the change in global weather patterns, whereas, global warming is an increase in the world’s temperatures.
But is our planet really warming, is it really a man-made problem? Yes, Earth is already showing many signs of worldwide climate change. But what’s causing it, and how might it change the planet? Today scientific opinion on global warming has changed. Most scientists theorize we may be hitting a mini ice age.
Causes of Climate Change
The causes of climate changes are varied; first, the cyclical variations of the orbital processes control the solar radiation reaching the surface of the earth causing varying climatic conditions. Eccentricity or shifts in earth’s orbital shape from an ellipse to a circle and finally to an ellipse, within a time span of a hundred thousand years signify that solar variation is directly dependent on eccentricity (Pidwirny Pr.5).
The equinox precession as the earth rotates around the sun results to solstices and equinoxes, which alters earth’s proximity to the sun. Tilting of the earth causes climatic variations in that when it is least, it causes reduced variation in climate linking winters &summers in regions of elevated latitude.
Tilt leads to a wide spread glacial formation on Polar Regions (Pipkin et al 324). “These orbital processes, which function in cycles of 100,000 (eccentricity), 41,000 (tilt), and 19,000 to 23,000 (precession) years, are thought to be the most significant drivers of ice ages according to the theory of Mulitin Milankovitch, a Serbian mathematician (1879-1958)” (NASA pr. 3 & 4).
Second, the alterations of solar intensity, which hits the surface of the earth, may cause a climatic change. This is because strong solar intensity may warm the earth surface while weak solar intensity may have a cooling effect on the planet. The NASA research asserts that declined solar intensity noted since the 1400 up to and including 1700s is attributed to the occurrence of the Little Ice Age, which is responsible for the cooling effect in some parts of the world such as Europe and North America (EPA pr.4).
Third, volcanic activities can modify the climate since there is emission of carbon dioxide and a significant amount of aerosols (Pidwirny pr. 12). Aerosols are responsible for causing a blocking effect on the rays of the sun to cause a cooling effect. They however, have no permanent changes since they are cleared from the atmosphere after a short while.
For instance, a volcanic eruption that was experienced in Tambora, Indonesia in the year eighteen fifteen caused a decline in global temperatures by up to five degrees Celsius, a phenomenon attributed to the lack of summer in New England in the year eighteen sixteen (EPA Pr. 4). Additionally, carbon dioxide, which is a green house gas is emitted and causes global warming.
Geologic evidence indicates that the amount of carbon dioxide have risen and has resulted to higher temperatures that are experienced today (Pidwirny pr. 9). Volcanic activities give out a high quantity of carbon dioxide, elevating its content in the atmosphere. This process however, cannot surpass the human factors which have continuously caused more and more buildup of atmospheric CO2 through combusting the fossil fuels, deforestation, industrialization among others (Hardy 13).
Impact to the Planet
The rising or lowering of earths’ temperature is implicated to the variations in the concentration green house gases. When global temperatures are high, there is production of carbon dioxide from the ocean, which may accelerate the temperatures through amplifying the green house effect (Hardy 11).
On the other hand, lower temperatures causes absorption of carbon dioxide in the ocean, which may further enhance the cooling effect. The previous six hundred and fifty thousand years have been characterized by carbon dioxide being applied to trace the glacial cycles. In times of warm interglacial epoch, the levels of carbon dioxide are on the rise while in times of cool glacial epoch, the levels of carbon dioxide are usually minimal (EPA Pr. 5).
Besides, the warming or cooling effect experienced on the planet may modify the ocean currents. This is so because ocean currents are crucial in heat distribution on the planet and if they modify, they may cause amplified effects on the climate of a particular part of the earth (EPA pr. 5).
Additionally, there will be decline in biodiversity since the marine and terrestrial life will be subject to varying conditions. If they are unable to adapt, there will be extinction of species such as the coral reefs (Letcher 254). Moreover, climatic changes may cause emergence of new diseases and extreme weather conditions that may cause droughts, flash floods, hurricanes, natural catastrophes, and expansion of deserts.
Could we be hitting a Mini Ice Age?
The rates that climatic changes have previously occurred on the planet have proven to be gradual and stable at one time and rapid at another. Interglacial climate, which is currently occurring, is stable as compared to that of the cold glacial climates. This is illustrated when present i.e.
Holocene and preceding i.e. Eemian interglacial periods are stable as compared to the current glacial period referred to as Glacial Maximum, which is marked by extensive, great and sudden climatic changes (EPA pr. 6). Rapid climatic changes go along with transitions, which link glacial and interglacial eras as indicated by the Northern hemisphere i.e. Greenland having warm rates of fourteen to twenty eight degrees Fahrenheit over a number of decades throughout and following the current ice age.
In the previous two thousand years, there has been a stable climate in the planet where scientist notes that there have been three departures from this stability. First, the Medieval Climate Anomaly or Medieval Warm Period occurred amid 900 & 1300 AD where Greenland, Asia as well as Europe were relatively warm while some regions experienced uncertain warm conditions such as American West, which had extremely dry conditions.
Second, the Little Ice Age, which was not a factual ice age because there was no development of significant ice sheets, occurred amid 1500 to 1850 and had average temperatures of two degrees Fahrenheit colder and varied as compared to the current ones. Third, the Industrial Era has occurred in the last century corresponding with high greenhouse gas emissions as a result of human activities (EPA pr. 7).
The Medieval Climate Anomaly as well as the Little Ice Age comprised the higher and lower limits of natural changeability in climate and resulted from volcanic activity and solar variability. Consequently, there has been a new mini ice age experienced since the last century, which is beyond the warm limit of the medieval Climate Anomaly (EPA pr. 8 & 10).
The winter that has afflicted the Northern Hemisphere could be indicative of planetary trends headed for cold climatic conditions that may persist for a while as ascertained by several scientists. They come to that conclusion through evaluation of natural cycles regarding water temperature in the Atlantic as well as the Pacific Oceans.
As stated by the U.S National Snow and Ice Data Centre based on Colorado, there has been rise in sea ice during the Arctic summer by twenty six percent from the year two thousand and seven. These scientific predictions disregards the climate computer models that ascertain that global warming in the planet are due to human activities and that warming will proceed as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rise (Owen pr. 1).
Global warming has instead aided in moving warm tropical water to North Atlantic where scientists predicts that “ much of Europe and the United Stated transformed into frozen wastelands within days” (Owen pr. 3).
This threat however will be manifest in Northwest Europe, which will have dire effects on aquatic life. National Oceanography Centre has noted that the movement of warm ocean currents in the direction of Northwest Europe has reduced by thirty percent dating back to the nineteen fifties. National geographic oceanographer, Harry Bryden asserts that;
There appears to be a 50 percent reduction in the amount of cold, deep water flowing from the North Atlantic to the tropics… the researchers found a 50 percent increase in currents circulating within subtropical seas without reaching higher latitudes. More warm waters, that is, are staying put in the tropics. The study supports computer model predictions suggesting that global warming will switch off the North Atlantic current in the next 50 to 100 years (Owen pr. 4& 5)
Throughout history, the planet has been experiencing glacial periods as indicated by the fact that ice has continued to retreat to the Polar Regions as opposed to the initial ice ages where ice occupied a substantial part of the planet.
Rapid climatic changes have existed in prehistoric periods while human civilization came about at the time of relatively stable climatic conditions. The planet could be hitting a catastrophic phenomenon i.e. a mini ice age, which could not be reversed. In this case the winters would become long and colder and there would be cooler summers, which might persist for several decades
Hardy, John. Climate change: Causes, Effects, and Solutions. Chichester, England: John Wiley and Sons. 2003. Print.
Letcher, Trevor. Climate Change: Observed Impacts on Planet Earth. Oxford: Elsevier. 2009. Print.
Owen, James. “Mini Ice Age” May Be Coming Soon, Sea Study Warns” National Geographic News. Nov. 2005. 31 Mar. 2011. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/11/1130_051130_ice_age.html
Pidwirny, Michael. “Causes of Climate Change”. Fundamentals of Physical Geography. Apr. 2010. 28 Mar. 2011.
Pipkin, Bernard., Trent, D., and Bierman, Paul. Geology and the Environment. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning. 2007. Print.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). “Paleoclimatology: Explaining the Evidence.” Earth Observatory. Mar. 2011. 28 Mar. 2011.
U. S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Past Climate Change”. Climate Change Science. Aug. 2010. 28 Mar. 2011.