Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of the Earth's near-surface air and the oceans since the mid-twentieth century and its projected continuation. Global surface temperature increased 0.74 ± 0.18 °C (1.33 ± 0.32 °F) during the 100 years ending in 2005. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that anthropogenic (human-sourced) greenhouse gases are responsible for most of the observed temperature increase since the middle of the twentieth century, and natural phenomena such as solar variation and volcanoes probably had a small warming effect from pre-industrial times to 1950 and a small cooling effect from 1950 onward. These basic conclusions have been endorsed by more than 40 scientific societies and academies of science, including all of the national academies of science of the major industrialized countries.
Climate model projections summarized in the latest IPCC report indicate that global surface temperature will probably rise a further 1.1 to 6.4 °C (2.0 to 11.5 °F) during the twenty-first century. The uncertainty in this estimate arises from the use of models with differing climate sensitivity, and the use of differing estimates of future greenhouse gas emissions. Some other uncertainties include how warming and related changes will vary from region to region around the globe. Although most studies focus on the period up to 2100, warming is expected to continue beyond 2100, even if emissions have stopped, because of the large heat capacity of the oceans and the lifespan of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
• Pictured left: 1999-2008 Meantemperatures: This figure shows the difference in instrumentally determined surface temperatures between the period January 1999 through December 2008 and "normal" temperatures at the same locations, defined to be the average over the interval January 1940 to December 1980. The average increase on this graph is 0.48 °C, and the widespread temperature increases are considered to be an aspect of global warming. Source: NASA
A view of Sand Mountain campground from the side of Sand Mountain at Little Sahara Recreation Area in Utah. The Little Sahara sand dunes are remnants of a large river delta formed by the Sevier River from about 12,500 to 20,000 years ago. The river emptied into ancient Lake Bonneville near the present day mouth of Leamington Canyon. After Lake Bonneville receded, winds transported the sand from the river delta to the current location. The dunes are still moving 5 to 9 feet (1.5 to 3 m) per year. The area is home to typical Great Basin desert wildlife including mule deer, pronghorn antelope, snakes, lizards and birds of prey. Great horned owls make their home among juniper trees in the Rockwell Natural Area.
Pictured left: A schematic showing the regions where natural disasters are predicted to occur due to climate change. Source: UNEP/GRID-Arendal
Climate change is a significant and lasting change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over periods ranging from decades to millions of years. It may be a change in average weather conditions or the distribution of events around that average (e.g., more or fewer extreme weather events). Climate change may be limited to a specific region or may occur across the whole Earth.
The term sometimes is used to refer specifically to climate change caused by human activity, as opposed to changes in climate that may have resulted as part of Earth's natural processes. In this latter sense, used especially in the context of environmental policy, the term climate change today is synonymous with anthropogenicglobal warming. Within scientific journals, however, global warming refers to surface temperature increases, while climate change includes global warming and everything else that increasing greenhouse gas amounts will affect.
Climate changes in response to changes in the global energy balance. On the broadest scale, the rate at which energy is received from the sun and the rate at which it is lost to space determine the equilibrium temperature and climate of Earth. This energy is then distributed around the globe by winds, ocean currents, and other mechanisms to affect the climates of different regions.
After graduate school, Hansen continued his work with radiative transfer models, attempting to understand the Venusian atmosphere. Later he applied and refined these models to understand the Earth's atmosphere, in particular, the effects that aerosols and trace gases have on Earth's climate. Hansen's development and use of global climate models has contributed to the further understanding of the Earth's climate.
Hansen has stated that one of his research interests is radiative transfer in planetary atmospheres, especially the interpretation of remote sensing of the Earth's atmosphere and surface from satellites. Because of the ability of satellites to monitor the entire globe, they may be one of the most effective ways to monitor and study global change. His other interests include the development of global circulation models to help understand the observed climate trends, and diagnosing human impacts on climate.
Measuring snowpack in a crevasse on the Easton Glacier, North Cascades, USA. The two-dimensional nature of the annual layers is apparent. Crucial to the survival of a glacier is its mass balance, the difference between accumulation and ablation (melting and sublimation). Climate change may cause variations in both temperature and snowfall, causing changes in mass balance.