Climate Science Overview

An overview of 20 different climate science topics are covered in a manner accessible to a general audience. Extensive references are also provided that point the reader to more primary literature and government reports. These materials were adapted from the book Cool Cuisine: Taking the Bite out of Global Warming by Laura Stec and Eugene Cordero.

  • Weather and Climate

    An important distinction between the terms “weather” and “climate” is often misunderstood. Take a walk and notice the temperature, humidity, and wind direction. You are observing the weather. Weather happens at a specific location and time, and it changes from hour to hour and from day to day. Climate, however, is the accumulation of weather…

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  • Global Warming vs. Climate Change

    Climate change refers to the variations in the Earth’s climate (e.g., temperature or rainfall) over time due to natural or human-related factors. Historically, the Earth’s climate has warmed and cooled many times in response to natural changes such as volcanic eruptions or changes in the intensity of the sun. “Global warming,” however, generally refers to…

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  • Twentieth Century Warming

    Daily observations of temperature have been gathered from meteorological stations round the globe for many decades. Figure 1 shows global temperatures from 1850 to the present. The most obvious feature is the gradual warming of the planet, although you can also notice decades when the global temperature remained constant or even cooled. These variations reflect…

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  • Greenhouse Effect

    To understand the science of global warming, we can start by looking at a greenhouse. Essentially a small house made of glass, a greenhouse allows the sun’s energy to pass through easily while inhibiting the heat from leaving. The Earth’s atmosphere works in a similar way. A majority of the sun’s radiation passes through the…

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  • Carbon Cycle

    Carbon exists in all living things and has been called the building block of life. Carbon also exists in nonliving things, such as carbon dioxide (an invisible gas) and rocks such as limestone. Our understanding of how carbon moves between the atmosphere, ocean, and land is central to quantifying how increases in greenhouse gases and…

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  • Carbon Dioxide

    An interesting illustration of human impact on the Earth’s atmosphere comes from Hawaii . Since 1958, daily measurements of carbon dioxide have been taken from the Hawaiian mountain of Mauna Loa , at 13,680 feet (4,170 m) above sea level. In Figure 1, the solid black line is the five-year average measurement mean; the red…

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  • Past Climate Change

    The Earth’s climate over the last 4 billion years has changed many times. The swings between warmer and cooler climates are well documented from records such as ice cores or the thickness of tree rings, and indicate that periods of warm and cold climates can last for hundreds or thousands of years.1 These records also indicate…

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  • Climate Models

    Probably the most important tools in use today for understanding climate change and predicting the future are global-climate models. These highly sophisticated models are mathematical descriptions of the atmosphere and ocean. Similar to weather-forecast models that predict the weather within the next few days, global-climate models can develop projections for how the climate will change…

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  • Future Climate

    What will the climate be like in twenty, fifty, or one hundred years? It turns out there is no definite answer to this question, in large part because the decisions we make today, such as a continued reliance upon fossil fuels, will impact the climate of tomorrow. What we can say, using climate models, is…

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  • A Warmer World

    As the Earth warms, we can expect to see a variety of changes. Direct changes that have been documented during the twentieth century include higher maximum and minimum temperatures; changes in the amount, location, and intensity of precipitation; and a steady increase in sea level. Other manifestations of a warmer world include increases in the…

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