The Wrong Name: Global Warming

Albedo
Albedo | Source

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America looked at the publication and citation data of climate researchers who were most actively publishing in the field. They found that 97-98% of these climate researchers support the tenet of anthropogenic climate change. 1 With most topics there are usually people found on opposite sides of an issue and climate change is no stranger to debate. Even though a majority of climate scientists agree that man has impacted the climate one must first understand how the weather works before taking a definitive stand.

Many people think the Earth is heated directly by the sun but it's a little more complicated than that. Clouds, water, ice, trees, and asphalt all have different reflective properties. When you're standing in a field of snow on a sunny day you're most likely digging for sunglasses if you don't already have them on. If you happen to be in the the woods or in the desert the longing for sunglasses isn't as great. There is a term called albedo which assigns a number to the reflective properties of things found on earth. Objects with a high degree of reflectivity (ice, snow, and water) are assigned higher numbers. Dark objects such as rocks and asphalt are given lower numbers because they absorb most of the incoming short wave radiation from the sun. Direct sunlight that is absorbed by darker objects, short wave radiation, is converted to long wave radiation and emitted into the atmosphere as heat. To put it simply would you rather walk barefoot across the grass or the asphalt during the summer?

Have you ever noticed that mornings are warmer when the night sky was full of clouds? Atmospheric gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), water vapor (H2O), methane (CH4), and Nitrous Oxides (NOx) form the protective blanket that keeps our planet warm. Without these gasses the heat reflected from the ground would return to space leaving our planet extremely cold. Yes, we need greenhouse gases, but too many of them prevent radiant heat from escaping our planet.

How Many Greenhouse Gas Emissions did the U.S. Release in 2010?

U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions in 2010
U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions in 2010 | Source
Click to Enlarge the Keeling Curve
Click to Enlarge the Keeling Curve | Source

Focusing on Carbon Dioxide:

The Keeling curve on the right shows the measured levels of CO2 at Mauna Loa. Looking at the blue box in the top corner may not seem like a big deal. However, when it is added to historical data of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere you will see it is actually a vertical line. Those who oppose global warming typically argue that the Earth has always had warming and cooling trends. That is correct, but if you look at the graph of past temperatures you will see the planet would warm and then immediately begin to cool. Looking at the most recent data our current temperature spike is a vertical line; it isn't falling like it has in the past.

When it comes to understanding the weather most people know that warm air rises and cool air sinks. The Earth's rotation causes low pressure systems to spin clockwise and high pressure systems to spin counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere. In the southern hemisphere they spin in the opposite direction. This phenomenon is called the Coriolis effect. Whenever air rises or sinks wind is created by the adjacent system moving in to fill the void. The figure below shows the alternating high and low pressure belts that surround the earth. Sub-polar lows are found near the north and south pole, moving towards the equator there are subtropical highs, and the low pressure band at the equator is called the inter-tropical convergence zone. As the seasons change due to an increase or decrease in solar radiation these pressure bands shift. The inter-tropical convergence zone moves toward whichever pole is experiencing summer.

High and Low Pressure Belts
High and Low Pressure Belts | Source

What will happen when the shifts are no longer predictable constants? As glaciers and polar ice caps begin to melt the amount of incoming solar radiation reflected will decrease. When forests are replaced with asphalt and concrete the albedo will drop and the area will radiate more heat. The monsoon and drought seasons in Africa and India are the result of these shifting pressure bands.

World Hunger
World Hunger | Source
US Precipitation Averages - Spring 2011
US Precipitation Averages - Spring 2011 | Source

Our current agricultural system was developed over the past 11,000 years, however that climate is changing. A study conducted by University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Wyoming predicts that many current climate zones will disappear by 2100.2 Food inflation is expected to average 9% through 2012.3 Looking at the graph on the right the number of undernourished people worldwide was beginning to decline, however it is beginning to rise again due to droughts and floods in agricultural areas.

With so much evidence that the planet is warmer and the impact it is having on our ecosystem, why is global warming a debated issue? The Earth is 75% water. What happens when water, a greenhouse gas, is heated? It evaporates. Some scientists still argue global warming is not an issue because an increase in global evaporation will produce more cloud cover. Clouds reflect incoming solar radiation and therefore should reduce the amount of heat generated by the Earth's surface. On the flip side, clouds insulate the heat radiated and prevent it from returning to space. The weatherman's best guess rarely extends beyond 10 days and no one is absolutely certain what the future climate on Earth will be. However, there is quite a bit of data out there showing the planet is warmer and it's not cooling off. So far global warming, which should be called, global climate change, has produced unusual weather patterns. In 2011 thousands of acres of farm land in Missouri were flooded by record rainfall and melting snow. The mid-western US was devastated by a string of catastrophic tornadoes, and Texas experienced a severe drought which later prompted wildfires.

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Comments 19 comments

Shae Bruce 5 years ago

I remember you talking about this in class and I've brought it up in several discussions before because it makes sense. It's so interesting to think about. Very insightful, thanks for sharing!


rajan jolly profile image

rajan jolly 5 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

Very interesting read. global warming or better still global climate change is a fact. Increase in catastrophies the world is experiencing these days is a testimony to this change.

Nice,timely hub.


Jennifer Essary profile image

Jennifer Essary 5 years ago from Idaho Author

Thank you Shae. I'm happy to hear you are talking about it with friends.


Jennifer Essary profile image

Jennifer Essary 5 years ago from Idaho Author

Rajan, there are catastrophes all over the world. I'm happy to know more people are starting to understand how they affect the planet. Thank you for your comment.


alissaroberts profile image

alissaroberts 5 years ago from Normandy, TN

Nicely organized and very informative hub! Al Gore taught one semester at Middle Tennessee State University where I attended. I tried like crazy to get into his class but of course it was full by the time I registered. People who got in said his class was awesome and eye opening. Voted up and sharing :)


Jennifer Essary profile image

Jennifer Essary 5 years ago from Idaho Author

Thank you Alissa : ) I would have loved to have been in Al Gore's class as well. People that make fun of him and "An Inconvenient Truth" are funny to me. In the documentary there are several before and after photographs of glaciers that are now melted. Mother Nature doesn't lie. P.S. I'm originally from Ohio....I love Tennessee : )


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

Hi, this was very well detailed and certainly opened my eyes, funnily enough the one thing that convinced me was the other night when someone said that carbon monoxide was definitely thicker in the athmosphere now, that and now reading this tells me that we must stop cutting down trees, and other major things too, thanks nell


Jennifer Essary profile image

Jennifer Essary 5 years ago from Idaho Author

I'm happy you enjoyed my hub Nell. Yes, people need to realize that technology can't reverse the damage we've done. So often we hear the phrase "Save the Earth", but the Earth will be here, we may not.


Tracey 5 years ago

Lots of useful information. Thought-provoking and explained in a practical way.


nicomp profile image

nicomp 5 years ago from Ohio, USA

That Keeling curve 'article' published by the NY Times is a prime example of the old saying "Figures lie and liars Figure."

The line is vertical near the end of the second graph because the Keeling curve only extends over 50 years while the entire "Past Levels of Carbon Dioxide" graph extends over 400,000 years. There's also a near-vertical spike between 150K and 100K years, by the way.

It's also interesting that Keeling measured CO2 differently than they did 400K years ago and in a different location. That's not brought out in the graph.


Jennifer Essary profile image

Jennifer Essary 5 years ago from Idaho Author

nicomp, thank you for sharing you thoughts and time. No one is 100% sure what will happen, but it is something to keep an eye on. When the damage is done and it is too late, the Earth will remain, people won't.


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 4 years ago from Baltimore, MD

I have been saying this for years! The term "global warming" simply confuses people. I hate it during the winter when people say, "Oh, it's so cold. So much for global warming." Since I am fairly melodramatic, I wanted to change the name to "global climate devastation" and I thought it would really get some attention. Your idea is probably better though. :-)


nicomp profile image

nicomp 4 years ago from Ohio, USA

"I wanted to change the name to "global climate devastation" and I thought it would really get some attention. "

How about "Worldwide really really bad weather" or "Whole Earth Extreme Cloudiness mixed with days when you will get a bad sunburn by walking outside to get the mail?"


Jennifer Essary profile image

Jennifer Essary 4 years ago from Idaho Author

Jeannieinabottle, Thank you for sharing this with HH : ) I'm all for reading your Hub on Global Climate Devastation. Back in college I wrote a poem on the irony of the slogan "Save the Earth". Save the Earth, what do you mean? It will be here long after human beings. Technology isn't always going to be able to bail us out of the dumb things we do.

nicomp you crack me up : )


nicomp profile image

nicomp 4 years ago from Ohio, USA

How about "Longer growing season" or "Don't need a coat anymore?"


Mikeg422 profile image

Mikeg422 4 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

Jennifer I'm am one of those silly people who does not believe in athropologenic global warming (or climate change) whatever you want to call it. While I appreciate what you have learned, and how well you explain yourself. You must admit that the data is incomplete and inconclusive at best. Where in any of the IPCC data reports does it ever indicate what periods are in solar minimum, or maximum. Scientists worldwide have yet to decifer what effects on our climate and weather the magnetosphere may have, not to mention there is not even a hint of the effect of solar wind in the studies. These are all variables that directly impact the chemistry, and attitude of our planet, but are all curiously missing from any data ever printed on the subject.

I will tell you as I have many others before, it is simply irresponsible for yourself, the IPCC, or anyone else to print data about AGW as conclusive until all of the variables can be calculated accounted for and justified in the research. Science is not democracy, it is based on proof. I may be the minority, but dissent is what makes the science match reality.


Robert Kernodle profile image

Robert Kernodle 2 years ago

Interesting how the article appears so methodical at its beginning, and then it seems to lapse into the sweeping,unsupported conclusion: "So far global warming, which should be called, global climate change, has produced unusual weather patterns. In 2011 thousands of acres of farm land in Missouri were flooded by record rainfall and melting snow. The mid-western US was devastated by a string of catastrophic tornadoes, and Texas experienced a severe drought which later prompted wildfires."

... as if a string of local catastrophes automatically consigns to them the implied fact of human causation.



Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 19 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Great hub Jennifer about global warning. It was very interesting and informative to read about. Voted up!

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