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Literature Review on Climate Change





‘The early atmosphere probably contained:

little or no oxygen

a large amount of carbon dioxide

water vapour

small amounts of other gases, such as ammonia and methane’

A volcano releases large volumes of carbon dioxide and water vapour. Since the early atmosphere was produced by volcanic activity, it was likely to have contained a large amount of carbon dioxide and water vapour.’

www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zyd64qt/revision/1

Nitrogen was probably also released by volcanoes which gradually built up in the atmosphere because it is unreactive. A volcano in iceland.









‘What was the atmosphere like 4 billion years ago?

The early atmosphere was mainly carbon dioxide and water vapour. Water vapour condensed to form the oceans. Photosynthesis caused the amount of carbon dioxide to decrease and oxygen to increase. The Earth formed approximately 4.6 billion years ago. Scientists cannot be certain about what gases made up the Earth’s early atmosphere.

The oxygen atoms in Earth’s atmosphere were first formed in an old star, along with all the other elements that make up the Earth. When that star exploded (a supernova) all the elements spread out in space. They formed a hot gas cloud where our solar system is today.’


The Origin of Oxygen in Earth's Atmosphere

By David Biello on August 19, 2009

EXTRACT

‘The breathable air we enjoy today originated from tiny organisms, although the details remain lost in geologic time. So how did Earth end up with an atmosphere made up of roughly 21 percent of the stuff? The answer is tiny organisms known as cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae. These microbes conduct photosynthesis: using sunshine, water and carbon dioxide to produce carbohydrates and, yes, oxygen. In fact, all the plants on Earth incorporate symbiotic cyanobacteria (known as chloroplasts) to do their photosynthesis for them down to this day.

For some untold eons prior to the evolution of these cyanobacteria, during the Archean eon, more primitive microbes lived the real old-fashioned way: anaerobically. These ancient organisms—and their "extremophile" descendants today—thrived in the absence of oxygen, relying on sulfate for their energy needs.

But roughly 2.45 billion years ago, the isotopic ratio of sulfur transformed, indicating that for the first time oxygen was becoming a significant component of Earth's atmosphere, according to a 2000 paper in Science. At roughly the same time (and for eons thereafter), oxidized iron began to appear in ancient soils and bands of iron were deposited on the seafloor, a product of reactions with oxygen in the seawater.

"What it looks like is that oxygen was first produced somewhere around 2.7 billion to 2.8 billon years ago. It took up residence in atmosphere around 2.45 billion years ago," says geochemist Dick Holland, a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. "It looks as if there's a significant time interval between the appearance of oxygen-producing organisms and the actual oxygenation of the atmosphere."


So a date and a culprit can be fixed for what scientists refer to as the Great Oxidation Event, but mysteries remain. What occurred 2.45 billion years ago that enabled cyanobacteria to take over? What were oxygen levels at that time? Why did it take another one billion years—dubbed the "boring billion" by scientists—for oxygen levels to rise high enough to enable the evolution of animals?

Most important, how did the amount of atmospheric oxygen reach its present level? "It's not that easy why it should balance at 21 percent rather than 10 or 40 percent," notes geoscientist James Kasting of Pennsylvania State University. "We don't understand the modern oxygen control system that well."

Climate, volcanism, plate tectonics all played a key role in regulating the oxygen level during various time periods. Yet no one has come up with a rock-solid test to determine the precise oxygen content of the atmosphere at any given time from the geologic record. But one thing is clear—the origins of oxygen in Earth's atmosphere derive from one thing: life.



How carbon dioxide decreased

https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zg4qfcw/revision/3

Formation of sedimentary rocks

Carbon dioxide is a very soluble gas. It dissolves readily in water. As the oceans formed, carbon dioxide dissolved to form soluble carbonate compounds so its amount in the atmosphere decreased. Carbonate compounds were then precipitated as sedimentary rocks, eg limestone.


Uptake by living organisms

Carbon dioxide was also absorbed from the oceans into photosynthetic algae and plants. Many of these organisms, and the simple organisms in the food chains that they supported were turned into fossil fuels, eg crude oil, coal and natural gas, which all contain carbon.

Coal is a fossil fuel which was formed from trees which were in dense forests in low-lying wetland areas. Flooding caused the wood from these forests to be buried in a way that prevented oxidation taking place. Compression and heating over millions of years turned the wood into coal.

Crude oil and natural gas were formed from simple plants and tiny animals which were living in oceans and lakes. These small organisms died and their remains sank to the bottom where they were buried under sediments. The lack of oxygen prevented oxidation from occurring.

Over millions of years, heat and pressure turned the remains of the organisms into crude oil and natural gas. Natural gas contains the smallest molecules and is often found on top of crude oil, trapped under sedimentary rock.’


Global Temperatures

‘Temperatures in the atmosphere decrease with height at an average rate of 6.5 °C/km. Because the troposphere experiences its warmest temperatures closer to Earth's surface, there is great vertical movement of heat and water vapour, causing turbulence.


Human activities (primarily the burning of fossil fuels) have fundamentally increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere, warming the planet. Natural drivers, without human intervention, would push our planet toward a cooling period.


https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/

‘Scientists attribute the global warming trend observed since the mid-20th century to the human expansion of the "greenhouse effect"1 — warming that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space.

Certain gases in the atmosphere block heat from escaping. Long-lived gases that remain semi-permanently in the atmosphere and do not respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature are described as "forcing" climate change. Gases, such as water vapor, which respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature are seen as "feedbacks."

Gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect include:

Water vapor. The most abundant greenhouse gas, but importantly, it acts as a feedback to the climate. Water vapor increases as the Earth's atmosphere warms, but so does the possibility of clouds and precipitation, making these some of the most important feedback mechanisms to the greenhouse effect.

Carbon dioxide (CO2). A minor but very important component of the atmosphere, carbon dioxide is released through natural processes such as respiration and volcano eruptions and through human activities such as deforestation, land use changes, and burning fossil fuels. Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by 48% since the Industrial Revolution began. This is the most important long-lived "forcing" of climate change.

Methane. A hydrocarbon gas produced both through natural sources and human activities, including the decomposition of wastes in landfills, agriculture, and especially rice cultivation, as well as ruminant digestion and manure management associated with domestic livestock. On a molecule-for-molecule basis, methane is a far more active greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but also one which is much less abundant in the atmosphere.




Nitrous oxide. A powerful greenhouse gas produced by soil cultivation practices, especially the use of commercial and organic fertilizers, fossil fuel combustion, nitric acid production, and biomass burning.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Synthetic compounds entirely of industrial origin used in a number of applications, but now largely regulated in production and release to the atmosphere by international agreement for their ability to contribute to destruction of the ozone layer. They are also greenhouse gases.


In Brief:

Not enough greenhouse effect: The planet Mars has a very thin atmosphere, nearly all carbon dioxide. Because of the low atmospheric pressure, and with little to no methane or water vapor to reinforce the weak greenhouse effect, Mars has a largely frozen surface that shows no evidence of life.

Too much greenhouse effect: The atmosphere of Venus, like Mars, is nearly all carbon dioxide. But Venus has about 154,000 times as much carbon dioxide in its atmosphere as Earth (and about 19,000 times as much as Mars does), producing a runaway greenhouse effect and a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead.

Too much greenhouse effect: The atmosphere of Venus, like Mars, is nearly all carbon dioxide. But Venus has about 154,000 times as much carbon dioxide in its atmosphere as Earth (and about 19,000 times as much as Mars does), producing a runaway greenhouse effect and a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead.


On Earth, human activities are changing the natural greenhouse. Over the last century the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). This happens because the coal or oil burning process combines carbon with oxygen in the air to make CO2. To a lesser extent, the clearing of land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities has increased concentrations of greenhouse gases.


The consequences of changing the natural atmosphere (NASA)

‘Human activities (primarily the burning of fossil fuels) have fundamentally increased the concentration of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere, warming the planet. Natural drivers, without human intervention, would push our planet toward a cooling period.

Scientists attribute the global warming trend observed since the mid-20th century to the human expansion of the "greenhouse effect"1 — warming that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space.

Certain gases in the atmosphere block heat from escaping. Long-lived gases that remain semi-permanently in the atmosphere and do not respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature are described as "forcing" climate change. Gases, such as water vapor, which respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature are seen as "feedbacks."

The consequences of changing the natural atmospheric greenhouse are difficult to predict, but some effects seem likely:

On average, Earth will become warmer. Some regions may welcome warmer temperatures, but others may not.

Warmer conditions will probably lead to more evaporation and precipitation overall, but individual regions will vary, some becoming wetter and others dryer.

A stronger greenhouse effect will warm the ocean and partially melt glaciers and ice sheets, increasing sea level. Ocean water also will expand if it warms, contributing further to sea level rise.

Outside of a greenhouse, higher atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels can have both positive and negative effects on crop yields. Some laboratory experiments suggest that elevated CO2 levels can increase plant growth. However, other factors, such as changing temperatures, ozone, and water and nutrient constraints, may more than counteract any potential increase in yield. If optimal temperature ranges for some crops are exceeded, earlier possible gains in yield may be reduced or reversed altogether.

Climate extremes, such as droughts, floods and extreme temperatures, can lead to crop losses and threaten the livelihoods of agricultural producers and the food security of communities worldwide. Depending on the crop and ecosystem, weeds, pests, and fungi can also thrive under warmer temperatures, wetter climates, and increased CO2 levels, and climate change will likely increase weeds and pests.

Finally, although rising CO2 can stimulate plant growth, research has shown that it can also reduce the nutritional value of most food crops by reducing the concentrations of protein and essential minerals in most plant species. Climate change can cause new patterns of pests and diseases to emerge, affecting plants, animals and humans, and posing new risks for food security, food safety and human health.’


The Role of Human Activity

In its Fifth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of 1,300 independent scientific experts from countries all over the world under the auspices of the United Nations, concluded there's a more than 95 percent probability that human activities over the past 50 years have warmed our planet.

The industrial activities that our modern civilization depends upon have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million to about 417 parts per million in the last 151 years. The panel also concluded there's a better than 95 percent probability that human-produced greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have caused much of the observed increase in Earth's temperatures over the past 50-plus years.

The panel's full Summary for Policymakers report is online at https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/ipcc_wg3_ar5_summary-for-policymakers.pdf.



Solar Irradiance

temperature vs solar activity updated July 2020

The above graph compares global surface temperature changes (red line) and the Sun's energy that Earth receives (yellow line) in watts (units of energy) per square meter since 1880. The lighter/thinner lines show the yearly levels while the heavier/thicker lines show the 11-year average trends. Eleven-year averages are used to reduce the year-to-year natural noise in the data, making the underlying trends more obvious.

The amount of solar energy that Earth receives has followed the Sun’s natural 11-year cycle of small ups and downs with no net increase since the 1950s. Over the same period, global temperature has risen markedly. It is therefore extremely unlikely that the Sun has caused the observed global temperature warming trend over the past half-century. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It's reasonable to assume that changes in the Sun's energy output would cause the climate to change, since the Sun is the fundamental source of energy that drives our climate system.

Indeed, studies show that solar variability has played a role in past climate changes. For example, a decrease in solar activity coupled with an increase in volcanic activity is thought to have helped trigger the Little Ice Age between approximately 1650 and 1850, when Greenland cooled from 1410 to the 1720s and glaciers advanced in the Alps.

But several lines of evidence show that current global warming cannot be explained by changes in energy from the Sun:

Since 1750, the average amount of energy coming from the Sun either remained constant or increased slightly.

If the warming were caused by a more active Sun, then scientists would expect to see warmer temperatures in all layers of the atmosphere. Instead, they have observed a cooling in the upper atmosphere, and a warming at the surface and in the lower parts of the atmosphere. That's because greenhouse gases are trapping heat in the lower atmosphere.

Climate models that include solar irradiance changes can’t reproduce the observed temperature trend over the past century or more without including a rise in greenhouse gases.

References

IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, 2014

United States Global Change Research Program, "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States," Cambridge University Press, 2009

Naomi Oreskes, "The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change," Science 3 December 2004: Vol. 306 no. 5702 p. 1686 DOI: 10.1126/science.1103618

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: "Climate Impacts on Agriculture and Food Supply"

Mike Lockwood, “Solar Change and Climate: an update in the light of the current exceptional solar minimum,” Proceedings of the Royal Society A, 2 December 2009, doi 10.1098/rspa.2009.0519;

Judith Lean, “Cycles and trends in solar irradiance and climate,” Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, vol. 1, January/February 2010, 111-122.


We Live in a Greenhouse

Life on Earth depends on energy coming from the Sun. About half the light reaching Earth's atmosphere passes through the air and clouds to the surface, where it is absorbed and then radiated upward in the form of infrared heat. About 90 percent of this heat is then absorbed by the greenhouse gases and radiated back toward the surface.


Is the Sun to Blame?

Sun Credit: SOHO - EIT Consortium, ESA, NASA

How do we know that changes in the Sun aren’t to blame for current global warming trends?

Since 1978, a series of satellite instruments have measured the energy output of the Sun directly. The satellite data show a very slight drop in solar irradiance (which is a measure of the amount of energy the Sun gives off) over this time period. So the Sun doesn't appear to be responsible for the warming trend observed over the past several decades.

Longer-term estimates of solar irradiance have been made using sunspot records and other so-called “proxy indicators,” such as the amount of carbon in tree rings. The most recent analyses of these proxies indicate that solar irradiance changes cannot plausibly account for more than 10 percent of the 20th century’s warming.2

This website is produced by the Earth Science Communications Team at

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory | California Institute of Technology

Site Editor: Holly Shaftel

Managing Editor: Susan Callery

Senior Producer: Randal Jackson

Senior Science Editor: Daniel Bailey

Science Editor: Susan Callery

Site last updated: November 5, 2021

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Too much greenhouse effect: The atmosphere of Venus, like Mars, is nearly all carbon dioxide. But Venus has about 154,000 times as much carbon dioxide in its atmosphere as Earth (and about 19,000 times as much as Mars does), producing a runaway greenhouse effect and a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead.



Not enough greenhouse effect: The planet Mars has a very thin atmosphere, nearly all carbon dioxide. Because of the low atmospheric pressure, and with little to no methane or water vapor to reinforce the weak greenhouse effect, Mars has a largely frozen surface that shows no evidence of life.

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