The Earth’s Climate, Capstone Project Example
Words: 2127Capstone Project
The Earth’s climate has changed many times during the planets history, ranging from the ice age to long periods of warmth, with our scientific understanding changing over time. Historically, the earth’s natural factors such as volcanic eruptions, changes in the orbit, and the released energy from the Sun have affected the climate. Beginning late in the 18th century and the Industrial Revolution, man and industry production have very likely influenced the Earth’s climate and affected the composition of the atmosphere.
What is Global Warming?
Global warming occurs when the earth heats up. Specifically the temperature rises and trapped heat and light from the sun in the earth’s atmosphere increase the temperature. This happens when greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, nitrous oxide, and methane are released. This hurts many people, animals, and plants. Many cannot take the change, so they die. For approximately 200 years the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, and deforestation have caused the concentrations of heat-trapping “greenhouse gasses” to increase enormously in our atmosphere. There gases keep heat from escaping to space, somewhat like the glass panels of a greenhouse.
Green house gases are necessary to all life. These gases keep the planet’s surface warm; more than it otherwise would be. The Earth’s temperature is climbing above previous historical levels as the concentrations of these gases continue to increase in the atmosphere. According to NOAA and NASA data in the last 100 years the Earth’s average surface temperature has an increased by about 1.2 to 1.4 F (EPA, 2009). Since 1998, the record has been set for the eight warmest years in which 2005 was the warmest year in history. Man and the increase in technology and production, along with various other activities is likely the cause. Many scientists have begun to observe the severe changes of the climate that include shrinking of the polar ice caps, a drastic increase in the sea level, and even the trees have been blooming much earlier as the key growing seasons have grown much longer over time. Ice on rivers and lakes freezing later and breaking up earlier, with thawing of permafrost are also indicative of these changes. In recent decades climate sciences have characterized the increased rate of research in the field as evidenced by the notable evolution of scientific methodology and tools; models and observations supporting and enabling research (Le Treut, Somerville, Cubasch & Ding, 2007). During the last four decades, the rate at which scientists have added to the body of knowledge of the atmosphere and ocean processes has accelerated dramatically.
Human Effect on Greenhouse Gases
Research data has demonstrated profound status in climate change. Scientific evidence of the effect of human activities on the chemical composition of the global atmosphere has been documented. A true measure of the global carbon cycle and an effectively continuous record of the burning of fossil fuel can be demonstrated by Keeling’s measurements of Mauna Loa in Hawaii (Wallis and Beale, 1669).
Example 1: Electrical pollution causes global warming. Electricity causes pollution in many ways; with some worse than others. Fossil fuels are made of dead plants and animals are are burned to create electricity; such as oil and petroleum. Many pollutants are released into the air as fossil fuels are destroyed. Petroleum, used in transportation frequently, is also an example.. The electricity used in these activities creates greenhouse gases resulting in pollution. With the invention of the thermometer in the early 1600s, efforts to quantify and record weather were initiated. The first meteorological network originated in the year 1653 in northern Italy and reports of temperature observations were published in the earliest scientific journals (Wallis and Beale, 1669). Almost all inhabited areas of the world by the 19th century were studying systematic observations of the weather. Scientists began to understand the importance of documenting temperature trends to help determine causes. In fact, since 1980 records have shown that the average global surface temperature has been steadily increasing over time by 0.9F. The records have shown a significant temperature increase in 1945 that had steadily declined until the year 1975 at which time the temperature levels have continued to rise to present day. The observations indicate a widespread melting of snow and ice with a rise of global average sea level.
Example 2: Sea levels are rising worldwide and along much of the U.S. coast. Tide
gauge measurements and satellite altimetry suggest that sea levels have risen throughout the world approximately 2.8 to 8.8 inches during the last century (Le Treut et. al, 2007). A significant amount of sea level increase may be due to warming of the atmosphere. Weather balloons (radiosondes) document these observations and record the measurements along with satellites from the surface to five to eight miles into the atmosphere. During this ongoing study, the measurements found from the weather balloons indicated an increase of temperature by 0.22F per decade between the years 1956-2008 (Le Treut et. al, 2007).
Example 3: In addition to changes in the atmosphere’s composition, changes in surface composition can also have important effects on climate. These changes can greatly impact the amount of solar radiation that is reflected and absorbed by the earth and can cause serious changes in climate. These climate changes directly affect the amount of carbon dioxide that can be absorbed or released by the land surface. Due to the change in solar radiation, deforestation, reforestation, desertification, and urbanization are often common factors that contribute to changes in climate.
Recent Scientific Developments
Due to the many recent advancements and findings through scientific discovery, there is no longer any discrepancy in the rate of average global temperatures having shown an increase on the surface as compared to even higher increases in the atmosphere. Prior to these advancements, this discrepancy was used to challenge the validity of climate models that were used to detect potential causes of observed climate change. Inappropriate or incorrect findings were being published and this caused many errors in scientific evidence. For instance, errors identified in satellite data and other temperature observations have since been corrected to produce correct and accurate data. These advancements have not only increased the confidence in the data, but they have also increased the ability for scientists to understand and predict climate change and determine the root of the cause for these changes. Recent models and theory are now able to predict that there is a much greater increase in atmospheric temperatures than at the surface.
Christopher Columbus Discovers
Christopher Columbus was a navigator, colonizer, and explorer whose voyages across the Atlantic Ocean led to general European awareness of the American continents in the Western Hemisphere. His historical findings changed our scientific understanding of the natural world. We acknowledge the spherical Earth, the use of the trade winds, and new plant and animal life he introduced to the “New World.” During his lifetime, Columbus led a total of four expeditions to the New World discovering many of the Caribbean islands, the Gulf of Mexico, and the South and Central America main lands. On October 12, 1492, after a thirty-three-day voyage from the Canary Islands, Columbus landed in San Salvador in the eastern Bahamas. He thought San Salvador was an outer island of Japan. His knowledge of geography was based on Marco Polo’s account of his years in China during the thirteenth century and a global map by Martin Behaim. This global map called a Nuremberg map-maker, showed only the ocean between the west coast of Europe and the east coast of Asia (Tirado, 2000). Columbus estimated that a westward route from Iberia to the Indies would be shorter than the overland trade route through Arabia. The lack of geographic knowledge during the time forced Columbus to take an inefficient route that severely underestimated the circumference of the Earth. Columbus’s initial 1492 voyage was during a critical time of growing national imperialism and economic competition between developing nation states; seeking wealth from the establishment of trade routes and colonies (Tirado, 2000).
Columbus’s first voyage marked the beginning of more than three centuries of Spanish conquest, exploration, and administration of a vast American empire. The voyages to the New World had important consequences for both Europe and America. They created Europe’s largest and longest-surviving trading bloc and yielded great wealth for Spain. Columbus had difficulty obtaining support for his voyage because most Europeans still believed that the Earth was flat. However, Columbus utilized navigation tools that relied primarily on the stars and curvature of the Earth to direct the voyage. These four main voyages showed a change in navigation techniques that directly contradicted the common belief that the earth was flat. Furthermore, the trade winds were also a key importance to Columbus’ plans. A brisk wind from the east, commonly called an “easterly”, sailed Santa Maria, La Nina, and La Pinta. To avoid sailing eastward against these prevailing winds, called “beating”, Columbus returned home by following the prevailing winds northeastward traveling up the North Atlantic. Through the use of these winds, Columbus proved to be correct in determining how to use the North Atlantic’s circular wind pattern that rotated clockwise to get home.
Impact on Europe and America
Friendly, naked natives met Columbus and his crew upon landing. They were Taine Indians, who spoke a variant of the Arawak language. Believing he had landed in the East Indies, Columbus and his crew incorrectly called the native people “Indians.” The natives’ generosity amazed Columbus; they freely gave them all the corn and yams they desired. Columbus initiated widespread contact between Europeans and indigenous Americans. European expansion also had major consequences for ecosystems. Numerous species of fruits, vegetables, and animals were introduced to Europe from America and this was in similar fashion reciprocated. European diseases also devastated America’s natives. The encounter between the European and American settlers produced remarkable ecological transformations shaping the world to the current time (Craig et. al, 2002). Native American diets consisted largely of maize, beans, peppers, yams, and potatoes. The American continents included vast grassland that lacked grazing animals to transform those plants into animal protein. It was apparent that these native peoples had not experienced any major epidemics.
Disease, Animals and Agriculture
By Columbus’ second voyage this picture began to change in remarkable ways. Columbus brought a number of animals and plants to the islands of the Caribbean that were previously unknown to the New World. However, his sailors were carrying diseases. This played a major role in defeating the indigenous Americans. Wherever Europeans went in the first two centuries after the encounter, extremely large numbers of Native Americans died from diseases they had never before encountered. Smallpox, the most deadly, destroyed millions of people. Also syphilis became a rampant venereal disease. In fact, syphilis remained a serious health problem throughout the world until penicillin was finally discovered in the 1940s.
The introduction of European livestock revolutionized American agriculture. The most important new animals were pigs, cattle, horses, goats, and sheep. Pigs, cattle and sheep produced enormous quantities of hides and wool. From the sixteenth century through the present the abundance of these animals meant the Americas world support a diet more plentiful in animal protein than anywhere else in the world. Europeans also brought their own plants to the New World. These plants included peaches, oranges, grapes, melons, bananas, rice, onions, radishes, and various green vegetables. Over time Americas used European wheat not only to feed themselves but also to export large amounts of grain throughout the world. The only American animal that came to be raised in Europe were turkeys. The Americas were the source of plants that eventually changed the European diet: maize, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, beans, manioc, peanuts, squash, pumpkins, pineapples, cocoa and tomatoes. Maize and potatoes had the greatest impact on European farming, transforming the European diet. There is reason to believe the cultivation of the potato was a major cause of the population increase in the eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe. Although most people believe Christopher Columbus discovered America, he was preceded by the “Indians” that had been native to the land for centuries. Columbus is regarded more accurately as the person who brought the Americas into the forefront of the Western attention.
Craig M. A., Graham A. W., Kagan, D., Ozment, S., Turner, M. F., (2002) The Heritage of World Civilizations. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
EPA, (2009) Climate Change. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved November 4, 2009 from http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/basicinfo.html
Le Treut, H., R. Somerville, U. Cubasch, Y. Ding, C. Mauritzen, A. Mokssit, T. Peterson and M. Prather, 2007: Historical Overview of Climate Change. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
Tirado, T.C. (2000). Christopher Columbus. Encarta encyclopedia. Retrieved (2010, March 27) from http://www.millersville.edu/~columbus/columbus.html
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