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Introduction

The Planet Is Heating Upand Fast Glaciers are melting, sea levels are rising, cloud forests are drying, and wildlife is scrambling to keep pace. Its becoming clear that humans have caused most of the past centurys warming by releasing heat-trapping gases as we power our modern lives. Called greenhouse gases, their levels are higher now than in the last 650,000 years. We call the result global warming, but it is causing a set of changes to the Earths climate, or long-term weather patterns, that varies from place to place. As the Earth spins each day, the new heat swirls with it, picking up moisture over the oceans, rising here, settling there. Its changing the rhythms of climate that all living things have come to rely upon. What will we do to slow this warming? How will we cope with the changes weve already set into motion? While we struggle to figure it all out, the face of the Earth as we know itcoasts, forests, farms and snow-capped mountainshangs in the balance.

Greenhouse effect
The greenhouse effect is the warming that happens when certain gases in Earths atmosphere trap heat. These gases let in light but keep heat from escaping, like the glass walls of a greenhouse. First, sunlight shines onto the Earths surface, where it is absorbed and then radiates back into the atmosphere as heat. In the atmosphere, greenhouse gases trap some of this heat, and the rest escapes into space. The more greenhouse gases are in the atmosphere, the more heat gets trapped. Scientists have known about the greenhouse effect since 1824, when Joseph Fourier calculated that the Earth would be much colder if it had no atmosphere. This greenhouse effect is what keeps the Earths climate livable. Without it, the Earths surface would be an average of about 60 degrees Fahrenheit cooler. In 1895, the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius discovered that humans could enhance the greenhouse effect by making carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. He kicked off 100 years of climate research that has given us a sophisticated understanding of global warming. Levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) have gone up and down over the Earths history, but they have been fairly constant for the past few thousand years. Global average temperatures have stayed fairly constant over that time as well, until recently. Through the burning of fossil fuels and other GHG emissions, humans are enhancing the greenhouse effect and warming Earth. Scientists often use the term climate change instead of global warming. This is because as the Earths average temperature climbs, winds and ocean currents move heat around the globe in ways that can cool some areas, warm others, and change the amount of rain and snow falling. As a result, the climate changes differently in different areas.

Arent temperature changes natural?


The average global temperature and concentrations of carbon dioxide (one of the major greenhouse gases) have fluctuated on a cycle of hundreds of thousands of years as the Earths position relative to the sun has varied. As a result, ice ages have come and gone. However, for thousands of years now, emissions of GHGs to the atmosphere have been balanced out by GHGs that are naturally absorbed. As a result, GHG concentrations and temperature have been fairly stable. This stability has allowed human civilization to develop within a consistent climate. Occasionally, other factors briefly influence global temperatures. Volcanic eruptions, for example, emit particles that temporarily cool the Earths surface. But these have no lasting

effect beyond a few years. Other cycles, such as El Nio, also work on fairly short and predictable cycles. Now, humans have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by more than a third since the industrial revolution. Changes this large have historically taken thousands of years, but are now happening over the course of decades.

Why is this a concern?


The rapid rise in greenhouse gases is a problem because it is changing the climate faster than some living things may be able to adapt. Also, a new and more unpredictable climate poses unique challenges to all life. Historically, Earths climate has regularly shifted back and forth between temperatures like those we see today and temperatures cold enough that large sheets of ice covered much of North America and Europe. The difference between average global temperatures today and during those ice ages is only about 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit), and these swings happen slowly, over hundreds of thousands of years. Now, with concentrations of greenhouse gases rising, Earths remaining ice sheets (such as Greenland and Antarctica) are starting to melt too. The extra water could potentially raise sea levels significantly. As the mercury rises, the climate can change in unexpected ways. In addition to sea levels rising, weather can become more extreme. This means more intense major storms, more rain followed by longer and drier droughts (a challenge for growing crops), changes in the ranges in which plants and animals can live, and loss of water supplies that have historically come from glaciers. Scientists are already seeing some of these changes occurring more quickly than they had expected. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, eleven of the twelve hottest years since thermometer readings became available occurred between 1995 and 2006.

Scientists have spent decades figuring out what is causing global warming. Theyve looked at the natural cycles and events that are known to influence climate. But the amount and pattern of warming thats been measured cant be explained by these factors alone. The only way to explain the pattern is to include the effect of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted by humans. To bring all this information together, the United Nations formed a group of scientists called the International Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. The IPCC meets every few years to review the latest scientific findings and write a report summarizing all that is known about global warming. Each report represents a consensus, or agreement, among hundreds of leading scientists. One of the first things scientists learned is that there are several greenhouse gases responsible for warming, and humans emit them in a variety of ways. Most come from the combustion of fossil fuels in cars, factories and electricity production. The gas responsible for the most warming is carbon dioxide, also called CO2. Other contributors include methane released from landfills and agriculture (especially from the digestive systems of grazing animals), nitrous oxide from fertilizers, gases used for refrigeration and industrial processes, and the loss of forests that would otherwise store CO2. Different greenhouse gases have very different heat-trapping abilities. Some of them can even trap more heat than CO2. A molecule of methane produces more than 20 times the warming of a molecule of CO2. Nitrous oxide is 300 times more powerful than CO2. Other gases, such as chlorofluorocarbons (which have been banned in much of the world because they also degrade the ozone layer), have heat-trapping potential thousands of times greater than CO2. But because their concentrations are much lower than CO2, none of these gases adds as much warmth to the atmosphere as CO2 does. In order to understand the effects of all the gases together, scientists tend to talk about all greenhouse gases in terms of the equivalent amount of CO2. Since 1990, yearly emissions have gone up by about 6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent worldwide, more than a 20% increase.

What are the Greenhouse Gases? The most significant greenhouse gas is actually water vapor, not something produced directly by
humankind in significant amounts. However, even slight increases in atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) can cause a substantial increase in temperature. Why is this? There are two reasons: First, although the concentrations of these gases are not nearly as large as that of oxygen and nitrogen (the main constituents of the atmosphere), neither oxygen or nitrogen are greenhouse gases. This is because neither has more than two atoms per molecule (i.e. their molecular forms are O2 and N2, respectively), and so they lack the internal vibrational modes that molecules with more than two atoms have. Both water and CO2, for example, have these "internal vibrational modes", and these vibrational modes can absorb and reradiate infrared radiation, which causes the greenhouse effect.

Secondly, CO2 tends to remain in the atmosphere for a very long time (time scales in the hundreds of years). Water vapor, on the other hand, can easily condense or evaporate, depending on local conditions. Water vapor levels therefore tend to adjust quickly to the prevailing conditions, such that the energy flows from the Sun and re-radiation from the Earth achieve a balance. CO2 tends to remain fairly constant and therefore behave as a controlling factor, rather than a reacting factor. More CO2 means that the balance occurs at higher temperatures and water vapor levels.

How much have we increased the Atmosphere's CO2 Concentration?


Human beings have increased the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere by about thirty percent, which is an extremely significant increase, even on inter-glacial timescales. It is believed that human beings are responsible for this because the increase is almost perfectly correlated with increases in fossil fuel combustion, and also due other evidence, such as changes in the ratios of different carbon isotopes in atmospheric CO2 that are consistent with "anthropogenic" (human caused) emissions. The simple fact is, that under "business as usual" conditions, we'll soon reach carbon dioxide concentrations that haven't been seen on Earth in the last 50 million years. Combustion of Fossil Fuels, for electricity generation, transportation, and heating, and also the manufacture of cement, all result in the total worldwide emission of about 22 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year. About a third of this comes from electricity generation, and another third from transportation, and a third from all other sources. This enormous input of CO2 is causing the atmospheric levels of CO2 to rise dramatically. The following graph shows the CO2 levels over the past 160 thousand years (the upper curve, with units indicated on the right hand side of the graph). The current level, and projected increase over the next hundred years if we do not curb emissions, are also shown (the part of the curve which goes way up high, to the right of the current level, is the projected CO2 rise). The projected increase in CO2 is very startling and disturbing. Changes in the Earth's average surface temperature are also shown (the lower curve, with units on the left).

Is the Temperature Really Changing?


Yes! As everyone has heard from the media, recent years have consistently been the warmest in hundreds and possibly thousands of years. But that might be a temporary fluctuation, right? To see that it probably isn't, the next graph shows the average temperature in the Northern Hemisphere as determined from many sources, carefully combined, such as tree rings, corals, human records, etc.

These graphs show a very discernable warming trend, starting in about 1900. It might seem a bit surprising that warming started as early as 1900. How is this possible? The reason is that the increase in carbon dioxide actually began in 1800, following the deforestation of much of Northeastern American and other forested parts of the world. The sharp upswing in emissions during the industrial revolution further added to this, leading to a significantly increased carbon dioxide level even by 1900. Thus, we see that Global Warming is not something far off in the future - in fact it predates almost every living human being today.

How is Todays Warming Different from the Past? Earth has experienced climate change in the past without help from humanity. We know about past climates because of evidence left in tree rings, layers of ice in glaciers, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks. For example, bubbles of air in glacial ice trap tiny samples of Earths atmosphere, giving scientists a history of greenhouse gases that stretches back more than 800,000 years. The chemical make-up of the ice provides clues to the average global temperature.

Using this ancient evidence, scientists have built a record of Earths past climates, or paleoclimates. The paleoclimate record combined with global models shows past ice ages as well as periods even warmer than today. But the paleoclimate record also reveals that the current climatic warming is occurring much more rapidly than past warming events. As the Earth moved out of ice ages over the past million years, the global temperature rose a total of 4 to 7 degrees Celsius over about 5,000 years. In the past century alone, the temperature has climbed 0.7 degrees Celsius, roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-agerecovery warming.

Is Current Warming Natural? In Earths history before the Industrial Revolution, Earths climate changed due to natural causes not related to human activity. Most often, global climate has changed because of variations in sunlight. Tiny wobbles in Earths orbit altered when and where sunlight falls on Earths surface. Variations in the Sun itself have alternately increased and decreased the amount of solar energy reaching Earth. Volcanic eruptions have generated particles that reflect sunlight, brightening the planet and cooling the climate. Volcanic activity has also, in the deep past, increased greenhouse gases over millions of years, contributing to episodes of global warming. A biographical sketch of Milutin Milankovitch describes how changes in Earths orbit affects its climate. These natural causes are still in play today, but their influence is too small or they occur too slowly to explain the rapid warming seen in recent decades. We know this because scientists closely monitor the natural and human activities that influence climate with a fleet of satellites and surface instruments.

On the ground, many agencies and nations support networks of weather and climate-monitoring stations that maintain temperature, rainfall, and snow depth records, and buoys that measure surface water and deep ocean temperatures. Taken together, these measurements provide an ever-improving record of both natural events and human activity for the past 150 years. Scientists integrate these measurements into climate models to recreate temperatures recorded over the past 150 years. Climate model simulations that consider only natural solar variability and volcanic aerosols since 1750omitting observed increases in greenhouse gasesare able to fit the observations of global temperatures only up until about 1950. After that point, the decadal trend in global surface warming cannot be explained without including the contribution of the greenhouse gases added by humans. Though people have had the largest impact on our climate since 1950, natural changes to Earths climate have also occurred in recent times. For example, two major volcanic eruptions, El Chichon in 1982 and Pinatubo in 1991, pumped sulfur dioxide gas high into the atmosphere. The gas was converted into tiny particles that lingered for more than a year, reflecting sunlight and shading Earths surface. Temperatures across the globe dipped for two to three years.

Although Earths temperature fluctuates naturally, human influence on climate has eclipsed the magnitude of natural temperature changes over the past 120 years. Natural influences on temperatureEl Nio, solar variability, and volcanic aerosolshave varied approximately plus and minus 0.2 C (0.4 F), (averaging to about zero), while human influences have contributed roughly 0.8 C (1 F) of warming since 1889. (Graphs adapted from Lean et al., 2008.) Although volcanoes are active around the world, and continue to emit carbon dioxide as they did in the past, the amount of carbon dioxide they release is extremely small compared to human emissions. On average, volcanoes emit between 130 and 230 million tonnes of carbon dioxide

per year. By burning fossil fuels, people release in excess of 100 times more, about 26 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere every year (as of 2005). As a result, human activity overshadows any contribution volcanoes may have made to recent global warming. Changes in the brightness of the Sun can influence the climate from decade to decade, but an increase in solar output falls short as an explanation for recent warming. NASA satellites have been measuring the Suns output since 1978. The total energy the Sun radiates varies over an 11year cycle. During solar maxima, solar energy is approximately 0.1 percent higher on average than it is during solar minima. Each cycle exhibits subtle differences in intensity and duration. As of early 2010, the solar brightness since 2005 has been slightly lower, not higher, than it was during the previous 11-year minimum in solar activity, which occurred in the late 1990s. This implies that the Suns impact between 2005 and 2010 might have been to slightly decrease the warming that greenhouse emissions alone would have caused.

Satellite measurements of daily (light line) and monthly average (dark line) total solar irradiance since 1979 have not detected a clear long-term trend. (NASA graph by Robert Simmon, based on data from the ACRIM Science Team.) Scientists theorize that there may be a multi-decadal trend in solar output, though if one exists, it has not been observed as yet. Even if the Sun were getting brighter, however, the pattern of warming observed on Earth since 1950 does not match the type of warming the Sun alone would cause. When the Suns energy is at its peak (solar maxima), temperatures in both the lower atmosphere (troposphere) and the upper atmosphere (stratosphere) become warmer. Instead, observations show the pattern expected from greenhouse gas effects: Earths surface and troposphere have warmed, but the stratosphere has cooled.

Satellite measurements show warming in the troposphere (lower atmosphere, green line) but cooling in the stratosphere (upper atmosphere, red line). This vertical pattern is consistent with global warming due to increasing greenhouse gases, but inconsistent with warming from natural causes. (Graph by Robert Simmon, based on data from Remote Sensing Systems, sponsored by the NOAA Climate and Global Change Program.) The stratosphere gets warmer during solar maxima because the ozone layer absorbs ultraviolet light; more ultraviolet light during solar maxima means warmer temperatures. Ozone depletion explains the biggest part of the cooling of the stratosphere over recent decades, but it cant account for all of it. Increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the troposphere and stratosphere together contribute to cooling in the stratosphere.

How Much More Will Earth Warm? To further explore the causes and effects of global warming and to predict future warming, scientists build climate modelscomputer simulations of the climate system. Climate models are designed to simulate the responses and interactions of the oceans and atmosphere, and to account for changes to the land surface, both natural and human-induced. They comply with fundamental laws of physicsconservation of energy, mass, and momentumand account for dozens of factors that influence Earths climate. Though the models are complicated, rigorous tests with real-world data hone them into powerful tools that allow scientists to explore our understanding of climate in ways not otherwise possible. By experimenting with the modelsremoving greenhouse gases emitted by the burning of fossil fuels or changing the intensity of the Sun to see how each influences the climatescientists use the models to better understand Earths current climate and to predict future climate. The models predict that as the world consumes ever more fossil fuel, greenhouse gas concentrations will continue to rise, and Earths average surface temperature will rise with them. Based on a range of plausible emission scenarios, average surface temperatures could rise between 2C and 6C by the end of the 21st century.

Model simulations by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimate that Earth will warm between two and six degrees Celsius over the next century, depending on how fast carbon dioxide emissions grow. Scenarios that assume that people will burn more and more fossil fuel provide the estimates in the top end of the temperature range, while scenarios that assume that greenhouse gas emissions will grow slowly give lower temperature predictions. The orange line provides an estimate of global temperatures if greenhouse gases stayed at year 2000 levels. (2007 IPCC WG1 AR-4.)

Climate Feedbacks Greenhouse gases are only part of the story when it comes to global warming. Changes to one part of the climate system can cause additional changes to the way the planet absorbs or reflects energy. These secondary changes are called climate feedbacks, and they could more than double the amount of warming caused by carbon dioxide alone. The primary feedbacks are due to snow and ice, water vapor, clouds, and the carbon cycle. Snow and ice Perhaps the most well known feedback comes from melting snow and ice in the Northern Hemisphere. Warming temperatures are already melting a growing percentage of Arctic sea ice, exposing dark ocean water during the perpetual sunlight of summer. Snow cover on land is also dwindling in many areas. In the absence of snow and ice, these areas go from having bright, sunlight-reflecting surfaces that cool the planet to having dark, sunlight-absorbing surfaces that bring more energy into the Earth system and cause more warming.

Water Vapor
The largest feedback is water vapor. Water vapor is a strong greenhouse gas. In fact, because of its abundance in the atmosphere, water vapor causes about two-thirds of greenhouse warming, a key factor in keeping temperatures in the habitable range on Earth. But as temperatures warm, more water vapor evaporates from the surface into the atmosphere, where it can cause temperatures to climb further. The question that scientists ask is, how much water vapor will be in the atmosphere in a warming world? The atmosphere currently has an average equilibrium or balance between water vapor concentration and temperature. As temperatures warm, the atmosphere becomes capable of containing more water vapor, and so water vapor concentrations go up to regain equilibrium. Will that trend hold as temperatures continue to warm? The amount of water vapor that enters the atmosphere ultimately determines how much additional warming will occur due to the water vapor feedback. The atmosphere responds quickly to the water vapor feedback. So far, most of the atmosphere has maintained a near constant balance between temperature and water vapor concentration as temperatures have gone up in recent decades. If this trend continues, and many models say that it will, water vapor has the capacity to double the warming caused by carbon dioxide alone.

Clouds
Closely related to the water vapor feedback is the cloud feedback. Clouds cause cooling by reflecting solar energy, but they also cause warming by absorbing infrared energy (like greenhouse gases) from the surface when they are over areas that are warmer than they are. In

our current climate, clouds have a cooling effect overall, but that could change in a warmer environment.

If clouds become brighter, or the geographical extent of bright clouds expands, they will tend to cool Earths surface. Clouds can become brighter if more moisture converges in a particular region or if more fine particles (aerosols) enter the air. If fewer bright clouds form, it will contribute to warming from the cloud feedback. Clouds, like greenhouse gases, also absorb and re-emit infrared energy. Low, warm clouds emit more energy than high, cold clouds. However, in many parts of the world, energy emitted by low clouds can be absorbed by the abundant water vapor above them. Further, low clouds often have nearly the same temperatures as the Earths surface, and so emit similar amounts of infrared energy. In a world without low clouds, the amount of emitted infrared energy escaping to space would not be too different from a world with low clouds.

Clouds emit thermal infrared (heat) radiation in proportion to their temperature, which is related to altitude. This image shows the Western Hemisphere in the thermal infrared. Warm ocean and land surface areas are white and light gray; cool, low-level clouds are medium gray; and cold, high-altitude clouds are dark gray and black. (NASA image courtesy GOES Project Science.) High cold clouds, however, form in a part of the atmosphere where energy-absorbing water vapor is scarce. These clouds trap (absorb) energy coming from the lower atmosphere, and emit little energy to space because of their frigid temperatures. In a world with high clouds, a significant amount of energy that would otherwise escape to space is captured in the atmosphere. As a result, global temperatures are higher than in a world without high clouds. If warmer temperatures result in a greater amount of high clouds, then less infrared energy will be emitted to space. In other words, more high clouds would enhance the greenhouse effect, reducing the Earths capability to cool and causing temperatures to warm. Scientists arent entirely sure where and to what degree clouds will end up amplifying or moderating warming, but most climate models predict a slight overall positive feedback or amplification of warming due to a reduction in low cloud cover. A recent observational study found that fewer low, dense clouds formed over a region in the Pacific Ocean when temperatures warmed, suggesting a positive cloud feedback in this region as the models predicted. Such direct observational evidence is limited, however, and clouds remain the biggest source of uncertainty-apart from human choices to control greenhouse gasesin predicting how much the climate will change.

The Carbon Cycle


Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations and warming temperatures are causing changes in the Earths natural carbon cycle that also can feedback on atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. For now, primarily ocean water, and to some extent ecosystems on land, are taking up about half of our fossil fuel and biomass burning emissions. This behavior slows global warming by decreasing the rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide increase, but that trend may not continue. Warmer ocean waters will hold less dissolved carbon, leaving more in the atmosphere.

On land, changes in the carbon cycle are more complicated. Under a warmer climate, soils, especially thawing Arctic tundra, could release trapped carbon dioxide or methane to the atmosphere. Increased fire frequency and insect infestations also release more carbon as trees burn or die and decay. On the other hand, extra carbon dioxide can stimulate plant growth in some ecosystems, allowing these plants to take additional carbon out of the atmosphere. However, this effect may be reduced when plant growth is limited by water, nitrogen, and temperature. This effect may also diminish as carbon dioxide increases to levels that become saturating for photosynthesis. Because of these complications, it is not clear how much additional carbon dioxide plants can take out of the atmosphere and how long they could continue to do so.

The impact of climate change on the land carbon cycle is extremely complex, but on balance, land carbon sinks will become less efficient as plants reach saturation, where they can no longer take up additional carbon dioxide, and other limitations on growth occur, and as land starts to add more carbon to the atmosphere from warming soil, fires, and insect infestations. This will result in a faster increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide and more rapid global warming. In some climate models, carbon cycle feedbacks from both land and ocean add more than a degree Celsius to global temperatures by 2100.

Emission Scenarios
Scientists predict the range of likely temperature increase by running many possible future scenarios through climate models. Although some of the uncertainty in climate forecasts comes from imperfect knowledge of climate feedbacks, the most significant source of uncertainty in these predictions is that scientists dont know what choices people will make to control greenhouse gas emissions. The higher estimates are made on the assumption that the entire world will continue using more and more fossil fuel per capita, a scenario scientists call business-as-usual. More modest estimates come from scenarios in which environmentally friendly technologies such as fuel cells, solar panels, and wind energy replace much of todays fossil fuel combustion. It takes decades to centuries for Earth to fully react to increases in greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide, among other greenhouse gases, will remain in the atmosphere long after emissions are reduced, contributing to continuing warming. In addition, as Earth has warmed, much of the excess energy has gone into heating the upper layers of the ocean. Like a hot water bottle on a cold night, the heated ocean will continue warming the lower atmosphere well after greenhouse gases have stopped increasing. These considerations mean that people wont immediately see the impact of reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Even if greenhouse gas concentrations stabilized today, the planet would continue to warm by about 0.6C over the next century because of greenhouses gases already in the atmosphere.

How Will Global Warming Change Earth?


The impact of increased surface temperatures is significant in itself. But global warming will have additional, far-reaching effects on the planet. Warming modifies rainfall patterns, amplifies coastal erosion, lengthens the growing season in some regions, melts ice caps and glaciers, and alters the ranges of some infectious diseases. Some of these changes are already occurring.

Changing Weather
For most places, global warming will result in more frequent hot days and fewer cool days, with the greatest warming occurring over land. Longer, more intense heat waves will become more common. Storms, floods, and droughts will generally be more severe as precipitation patterns change. Hurricanes may increase in intensity due to warmer ocean surface temperatures.

It is impossible to pin any single unusual weather event on global warming, but emerging evidence suggests that global warming is already influencing the weather. Heat waves, droughts, and intense rain events have increased in frequency during the last 50 years, and human-induced global warming more likely than not contributed to the trend.

Rising Sea Levels


The weather isnt the only thing global warming will impact: rising sea levels will erode coasts and cause more frequent coastal flooding. Some island nations will disappear. The problem is serious because up to 10 percent of the worlds population lives in vulnerable areas less than 10 meters (about 30 feet) above sea level. Between 1870 and 2000, the sea level increased by 1.7 millimeters per year on average, for a total sea level rise of 221 millimeters (0.7 feet or 8.7 inches). And the rate of sea level rise is accelerating. Since 1993, NASA satellites have shown that sea levels are rising more quickly, about 3 millimeters per year, for a total sea level rise of 48 millimeters (0.16 feet or 1.89 inches) between 1993 and 2009.

Sea levels crept up about 20 centimeters (7.9 inches) during the twentieth century. Sea levels are predicted to go up between 18 and 59 cm (7.1 and 23 inches) over the next century, though the increase could be greater if ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica melt more quickly than predicted. Higher sea levels will erode coastlines and cause more frequent flooding. (Graph 2007 Robert Rohde.) The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that sea levels will rise between 0.18 and 0.59 meters (0.59 to 1.9 feet) by 2099 as warming sea water expands, and mountain and polar glaciers melt. These sea level change predictions may be underestimates, however, because they do not account for any increases in the rate at which the worlds major ice sheets are melting. As temperatures rise, ice will melt more quickly. Satellite measurements reveal that the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets are shedding about 125 billion tons of ice per yearenough to raise sea levels by 0.35 millimeters (0.01 inches) per year. If the melting accelerates, the increase in sea level could be significantly higher.

Impacting Ecosystems
More importantly, perhaps, global warming is already putting pressure on ecosystems, the plants and animals that co-exist in a particular climate zone, both on land and in the ocean. Warmer temperatures have already shifted the growing season in many parts of the globe. The growing season in parts of the Northern Hemisphere became two weeks longer in the second half of the 20th century. Spring is coming earlier in both hemispheres. This change in the growing season affects the broader ecosystem. Migrating animals have to start seeking food sources earlier. The shift in seasons may already be causing the lifecycles of pollinators, like bees, to be out of synch with flowering plants and trees. This mismatch can limit the ability of both pollinators and plants to survive and reproduce, which would reduce food availability throughout the food chain. See Buzzing About Climate Change to read more about how the lifecycle of bees is synched with flowering plants. Warmer temperatures also extend the growing season. This means that plants need more water to keep growing throughout the season or they will dry out, increasing the risk of failed crops and

wildfires. Once the growing season ends, shorter, milder winters fail to kill dormant insects, increasing the risk of large, damaging infestations in subsequent seasons. In some ecosystems, maximum daily temperatures might climb beyond the tolerance of indigenous plant or animal. To survive the extreme temperatures, both marine and land-based plants and animals have started to migrate towards the poles. Those species, and in some cases, entire ecosystems, that cannot quickly migrate or adapt, face extinction. The IPCC estimates that 20-30 percent of plant and animal species will be at risk of extinction if temperatures climb more than 1.5 to 2.5C.

Impacting People
The changes to weather and ecosystems will also affect people more directly. Hardest hit will be those living in low-lying coastal areas, and residents of poorer countries who do not have the resources to adapt to changes in temperature extremes and water resources. As tropical temperature zones expand, the reach of some infectious diseases, such as malaria, will change. More intense rains and hurricanes and rising sea levels will lead to more severe flooding and potential loss of property and life. Hotter summers and more frequent fires will lead to more cases of heat stroke and deaths, and to higher levels of near-surface ozone and smoke, which would cause more code red air quality days. Intense droughts can lead to an increase in malnutrition. On a longer time scale, fresh water will become scarcer, especially during the summer, as mountain glaciers disappear, particularly in Asia and parts of North America. On the flip side, there could be winners in a few places. For example, as long as the rise in global average temperature stays below 3 degrees Celsius, some models predict that global food production could increase because of the longer growing season at mid- to high-latitudes, provided adequate water resources are available. The same small change in temperature, however, would reduce food production at lower latitudes, where many countries already face food shortages. On balance, most research suggests that the negative impacts of a changing climate far outweigh the positive impacts. Current civilizationagriculture and population distributionhas developed based on the current climate. The more the climate changes, and the more rapidly it changes, the greater the cost of adaptation. Ultimately, global warming will impact life on Earth in many ways, but the extent of the change is largely up to us. Scientists have shown that human emissions of greenhouse gases are pushing global temperatures up, and many aspects of climate are responding to the warming in the way that scientists predicted they would. This offers hope. Since people are causing global warming, people can mitigate global warming, if they act in time. Greenhouse gases are long-lived, so the planet will continue to warm and changes will continue to happen far into the future, but the degree to which global warming changes life on Earth depends on our decisions now.

Expected EffectsNatural systems


Global warming has been detected in a number of systems. Some of these changes, e.g., based on the instrumental temperature record, have been described in the section on temperature changes. Rising sea levels and observed decreases in snow and ice extent are consistent with warming. Most of the increase in global average temperature since the mid-20th century is, with high probability, attributable to human-induced changes in greenhouse gas concentrations. Even with policies to reduce emissions, global emissions are still expected to continue to grow over time. In the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, across a range of future emission scenarios, model-based estimates of sea level rise for the end of the 21st century (the year 20902099, relative to 1980 1999) range from 0.18 to 0.59 m. These estimates, however, were not given a likelihood due to a lack of scientific understanding, nor was an upper bound given for sea level rise. On the timescale of centuries to millennia, the melting of ice sheets could result in even higher sea level rise. Partial deglaciation of the Greenland ice sheet, and possibly the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, could contribute 46 metres (13 to 20 ft) or more to sea level rise. Changes in regional climate are expected to include greater warming over land, with most warming at high northern latitudes, and least warming over the Southern Ocean and parts of the North Atlantic Ocean.Snow cover area and sea ice extent are expected to decrease, with the Arctic expected to be largely ice-free in September by 2037. The frequency of hot extremes, heat waves, and heavy precipitation will very likely increase.

Ecological systems
In terrestrial ecosystems, the earlier timing of spring events, and poleward and upward shifts in plant and animal ranges, have been linked with high confidence to recent warming. Future climate change is expected to particularly affect certain ecosystems, including tundra, mangroves, and coral reefs. It is expected that most ecosystems will be affected by higher atmospheric CO2 levels, combined with higher global temperatures.Overall, it is expected that climate change will result in the extinction of many species and reduced diversity of ecosystems.

Social systems
Vulnerability of human societies to climate change mainly lies in the effects of extreme-weather events rather than gradual climate change.Impacts of climate change so far include adverse effects on small islands,[119] adverse effects on indigenous populations in high-latitude areas,[120] and small but discernable effects on human health.[121] Over the 21st century, climate change is likely to adversely affect hundreds of millions of people through increased coastal flooding, reductions in water supplies, increased malnutrition and increased health impacts.[122]

Future warming of around 3 C (by 2100, relative to 19902000) could result in increased crop yields in mid- and high-latitude areas, but in low-latitude areas, yields could decline, increasing the risk of malnutrition.[119] A similar regional pattern of net benefits and costs could occur for economic (market-sector) effects.[121] Warming above 3 C could result in crop yields falling in temperate regions, leading to a reduction in global food production.[123] Most economic studies suggest losses of world gross domestic product (GDP) for this magnitude of warming.[124][125]

Responses to global warming

Mitigation
Main article: Climate change mitigation See also: Fee and dividend

Reducing the amount of future climate change is called mitigation of climate change. The IPCC defines mitigation as activities that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, or enhance the capacity of carbon sinks to absorb GHGs from the atmosphere.[126] Many countries, both developing and developed, are aiming to use cleaner, less polluting, technologies.[59]:192 Use of these technologies aids mitigation and could result in substantial reductions in CO2 emissions. Policies include targets for emissions reductions, increased use of renewable energy, and increased energy efficiency. Studies indicate substantial potential for future reductions in emissions.[127] In order to limit warming to within the lower range described in the IPCC's "Summary Report for Policymakers"[128] it will be necessary to adopt policies that will limit greenhouse gas emissions to one of several significantly different scenarios described in the full report.[129] This will become more and more difficult with each year of increasing volumes of emissions and even more drastic measures will be required in later years to stabilize a desired atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases. Energy-related carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2010 were the highest in history, breaking the prior record set in 2008.[130] Since even in the most optimistic scenario, fossil fuels are going to be used for years to come, mitigation may also involve carbon capture and storage, a process that traps CO2 produced by factories and gas or coal power stations and then stores it, usually underground.[131]

Adaptation
Main article: Adaptation to global warming

Other policy responses include adaptation to climate change. Adaptation to climate change may be planned, either in reaction to or anticipation of climate change, or spontaneous, i.e., without government intervention.[132] The ability to adapt is closely linked to social and economic development.[127] Even societies with high capacities to adapt are still vulnerable to climate change. Planned adaptation is already occurring on a limited basis. The barriers, limits, and costs of future adaptation are not fully understood.

Geoengineering
A body of the scientific literature has developed which considers alternative geoengineering techniques for climate change mitigation.[133] In the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report (published in 2007) Working Group III (WG3) assessed some "apparently promising" geoengineering techniques, including ocean fertilization, capturing and sequestering CO2, and techniques for reducing the amount of sunlight absorbed by the Earth's atmospheric system.[133] The IPCC's overall conclusion was that geoengineering options remained "largely speculative and unproven, (...) with the risk of unknown side-effects."[134] In the IPCC's[134] judgement, reliable cost estimates for geoengineering options had not yet been published. As most geoengineering techniques would affect the entire globe, deployment would likely require global public acceptance and an adequate global legal and regulatory framework, as well as significant further scientific research