There is overwhelming scientific evidence that the world’s climate is changing and that humans are to blame. This has been the consensus of the scientific community for decades. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (such as methane) are responsible for these changes: these gases trap energy and heat the planet. The basics of this relationship between greenhouse gases and climate have been understood since the late 1800s (thanks Arrhenius!).
Carbon dioxide is released from a variety of sources, but the predominant source is the burning of fossil fuels (such as oil and coal). Deforestation can also play a big role. Carbon dioxide has increased steadily since the Industrial Revolution and readings from Mauna Loa in Hawaii (above) show this steep increase since the late 1950s.
Part of the challenge of understanding climate change is that the effects are not uniform. Although the overall trend is a warmer planet, there is increased variability (bigger swings in temperature and precipitation) and unequal effects across the planet, i.e., the Earth is not warming the same everywhere. However, numerous lines of evidence tell us that the temperature of the planet is changing at a faster rate than ever before. In Japan, people have been recording the date of cherry tree blossoms since the year 800 (below). These data show fluctuations over time, but in most recent decades, rapid changes in blooming culminating with some of the earliest blossom dates recorded in the 1000+ record.
If cherry blossoms aren’t your thing, one needs only look to the lakes: citizens recording the dates of ice-on and ice-off have noted that lakes are freezing later and thawing earlier (below) over the past 100+ years.
Here at the Aquatic Ecology Lab, we’re pretty interested in understanding how climate change affects species, communities, and ecosystems, and how adaptation to a changing climate may occur. Over the next few months, we’ll be discussing some of these topics on our blog, including:
- genetic adaptation
- temperature and precipitation effects on small ponds
- climate change in mountain regions
- changes in hydrological regimes
- ocean conditions
In the meantime, here are some links for more information about climate change and what you can do about it.
New York Times: Short Answers to Hard Questions About Climate Change
American Chemical Society: Climate Science Toolkit
The Macroscope: So What Can I Do?