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Global warming

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Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of the Earth's near-surface air and the oceans since the mid-twentieth century and its projected continuation. Global surface temperature increased 0.74 ± 0.18 °C (1.33 ± 0.32 °F) during the 100 years ending in 2005. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that human-sourced greenhouse gases are responsible for most of the observed temperature increase since the middle of the twentieth century, and natural phenomena such as solar variation and volcanoes probably had a small warming effect from pre-industrial times to 1950 and a small cooling effect from 1950 onward. These basic conclusions have been endorsed by more than 40 scientific societies and academies of science, including all of the national academies of science of the major industrialized countries.

Climate model projections summarized in the latest IPCC report indicate that global surface temperature will probably rise a further 1.1 to 6.4 °C (2.0 to 11.5 °F) during the twenty-first century. The uncertainty in this estimate arises from the use of models with differing climate sensitivity, and the use of differing estimates of future greenhouse gas emissions. Some other uncertainties include how warming and related changes will vary from region to region around the globe. Although most studies focus on the period up to 2100, warming is expected to continue beyond 2100, even if emissions have stopped, because of the large heat capacity of the oceans and the lifespan of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Pictured left: 1999-2008 Mean temperatures: This figure shows the difference in instrumentally determined surface temperatures between the period January 1999 through December 2008 and "normal" temperatures at the same locations, defined to be the average over the interval January 1940 to December 1980. The average increase on this graph is 0.48 °C, and the widespread temperature increases are considered to be an aspect of global warming. Source: NASA

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NASA-28yrs-Arctic-Warming.jpg
Credit: NASA

the Arctic temperature trend between August 1981 and July 2009. Due to global warming, which is exacerbated at the Arctic, there's a significant warming over this 28 year period.

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Kyoto Protocol participation map 2010.png
Pictured left: 2010 Kyoto Protocol participation map (open image for color-coding key)

The Kyoto Protocol is a protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC), aimed at fighting global warming. The UNFCCC is an international environmental treaty with the goal of achieving the "stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system." The Protocol was initially adopted on 11 December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, and entered into force on 16 February 2005. As of September 2011, 191 states have signed and ratified the protocol. The only remaining signatory not to have ratified the protocol is the United States. Other states yet to ratify Kyoto include Afghanistan, Andorra and South Sudan, after Somalia ratified the protocol on 26 July 2010.

Under the Protocol, 37 countries ("Annex I countries") commit themselves to a reduction of four greenhouse gases (GHG) (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulphur hexafluoride) and two groups of gases (hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons) produced by them, and all member countries give general commitments. Annex I countries agreed to reduce their collective greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% from the 1990 level. Emission limits do not include emissions by international aviation and shipping, but are in addition to the industrial gases, chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which are dealt with under the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

The Protocol allows for several "flexible mechanisms", such as emissions trading, the clean development mechanism (CDM) and joint implementation to allow Annex I countries to meet their GHG emission limitations by purchasing GHG emission reductions credits from elsewhere, through financial exchanges, projects that reduce emissions in non-Annex I countries, from other Annex I countries, or from annex I countries with excess allowances. Each Annex I country is required to submit an annual report of inventories of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions from sources and removals from sinks under UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. These countries nominate a person (called a "designated national authority") to create and manage its greenhouse gas inventory.


Selected biography

James E Hansen.jpg
James E. Hansen (born March 29, 1941) heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City, a part of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He has held this position since 1981. He is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University.

After graduate school, Hansen continued his work with radiative transfer models, attempting to understand the Venusian atmosphere. Later he applied and refined these models to understand the Earth's atmosphere, in particular, the effects that aerosols and trace gases have on Earth's climate. Hansen's development and use of global climate models has contributed to the further understanding of the Earth's climate.

Hansen has stated that one of his research interests is radiative transfer in planetary atmospheres, especially the interpretation of remote sensing of the Earth's atmosphere and surface from satellites. Because of the ability of satellites to monitor the entire globe, they may be one of the most effective ways to monitor and study global change. His other interests include the development of global circulation models to help understand the observed climate trends, and diagnosing human impacts on climate.

Hansen is best known for his research in the field of climatology, his testimony on climate change to congressional committees in 1988 that helped raise broad awareness of global warming, and his advocacy of action to avoid dangerous climate change. In recent years, Hansen has become an activist for action to mitigate the effects of climate change, which on a few occasions has led to his arrest. In 2009 his first book, Storms of My Grandchildren, was published.


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Larsen B collapse.jpg
Credit: NASA

The collapse of Larsen B Ice Shelf, showing the diminishing extent of the shelf from 1998 to 2002

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CasquetePolarSur.jpg
...that Mars' south polar ice cap may be melting due to global warming?

(Pictured left: Photo of Mars' south polar ice taken by Mars Global Surveyor.)

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