Climate change and global warming

The global climate has been changing since time began and will continue to change into the future. The Earth's temperature has fluctuated in the last few hundred years. However, since around 1950 there has been a dramatic increase in global temperatures. This increase is known as global warming.

Examining the causes of climate change and the greenhouse effect

Evidence of global warming

Thermometer readings

Ongoing temperature recordings using thermometers have shown a clear warming of the Earth's temperature over the past few decades. By using this data, scientists have found that the Earth’s average surface air temperature has increased by around 1°C since the year 1900. As of 2021, the period between 2010 and 2020 was the warmest 10-year period on record, with 2016 and 2020 being the warmest years since records began. The degree to which the climate warms in the future will depend on natural climate variability and the level of greenhouse gas emissions. If greenhouse gas emissions continue then average global temperatures will rise. However, some regions such as the Arctic will warm faster than others.

Global average temperature has been gradually increasing over the past 150 years, from 13.5°C in the 1860s to 14.4°C in the 1990s.

Glacier retreat

Over the past 50 to 100 years, photographic evidence has shown that the world's glaciers have been melting, which has caused them to retreat. The increase in global temperatures is causing glaciers to disappear and is increasing the melting of sea ice in the Arctic.

A view of Muir glacier, Alaska, in 1941 and 2004:

Muir glacier, Alaska, 1941
Muir glacier, Alaska, 2004

Ice cores

Scientists often use ice cores to detect changes in temperatures. When snow falls it traps air into the ice. When scientists take a sample of ice it reveals the atmospheric gas concentrations at the time the snow fell. This is used to calculate temperature at that time. The ice can reveal the temperature of each year for the past 400,000 years. Scientists that study the ice cores say there is clear evidence that there has been a rapid increase in temperature in the past decades.

Early spring

In recent years there have been signs of a seasonal shift - spring arrives earlier and winters tend to be less severe. These seasonal changes affect the nesting and migration patterns of wildlife.

Rising sea levels

Between 1900 and 2018, average global sea level rose by 0.21 m.