The earth’s temperature is influenced both by internal conditions like volcanic activity and changes in the concentration of greenhouse gases and external factors like perturbations of the earth’s orbit and solar spots. Scientists have argued in favor of the idea that a wide range of factors have led to changes in climatic patterns in the past, leading to periods of extremely cold temperatures like the ice age as well as extremely warm temperatures like the Mesozoic era. With evidence that global temperatures in the last 1000 years have varied wide, scientists have questioned the commonly held notion that global warming is the result of ongoing human activity. The role of this inquiry is to examine different conditions that influence temperatures on the stratosphere.
A variety of equipments are used to measure the temperature of the earth’s surface. Surface-based thermometers are the most commonly used equipments for measuring the temperature of the earth’s surface. Surface-based thermometers have been in use since the 19th Century. Radiosondes have also been in use since the 1950s and satellites have been used to determine microwave emissions since 1979 (Neil 847). Surface-based thermometers are preferred because they measure near-surface temperatures, unlike radiosondes and satellites which determine the average temperature of a deep layer of the atmosphere.
Sea surface temperatures, on the other hand, are commonly determined using radiometers. Sea surface temperature is gauged by measuring energy produced as the result of movement of molecules at the top layer of the sea. Radiometers gauge temperature by recording data from between 1 and 10 µm below the surface of the ocean. By observing sea surface temperature image sequences, it is possible to track oceanic currents. This makes it possible to determine the severity of climatic conditions during the warm El-Nino years and the cool La Nina years.
To measure air temperature, scientists commonly rely upon air temperature measurements recorded by surface-based thermometers. Satellite-derived measurements are often considered unreliable because of the complexity of the data they collect. Satellites record both infrared and microwave data and it is not always possible to determine the accuracy of the data recorded. Satellite data may also be inconsistent due to cloud cover and may provide inaccurately mapped data owing to the night/day temperature cycle.
The geologic time scale dates back 4.6 billion years. Unlike current data, which is recorded using instruments that record live data, geologic evidence of climate change is determined by analyzing ocean sediment records (for the very long timeframe) and by analyzing evidence from tree rings, sediments, corals, glaciers, ice cores, cave deposits, and recorded information by early humans (for the medium timeframe). Based on the evidence available from the wide ranging sources, it is clear to scientists that climate change has been a common phenomenon on the earth’s surface through the different periods in history. It is argued that temperatures have remained relatively unchanged during the Helocene period, which began about 12,000 years ago. The evolution of species through the Helocene period owes to the relatively moderate temperatures that have been sustained on the earth’s surface during this period. Proponents of this argument suggest that the ongoing change of climate is the result of natural processes, rather than human activity.
Relying on scientific evidence, it is true that different eras in history were characterized by different climatic conditions. During the Mesozoic era, for example, the earth had no ice cover, which made it possible for dinosaurs to thrive in regions like Siberia and Alaska. According to Crane et al., Mid-Cretaceous climate was up to 6ºC warmer at the equator and up to 60ºC warmer at the poles. This starkly contrasts the ice age period, when large continental ice sheets covered the northern hemisphere almost entirely. Zachos et al. (689) argue that the trends of warming and cooling of the earth’s surface have been driven by tectonic processes, period cycles driven by orbital processes, and unprecedented variations and extreme climate transients. Orbital processes are believed to play an important role in causing glacial/interglacial variations. Scientists collect data on temperature changes through the cycles by analyzing ice cores. These ice cores inform scientists about the composition of the atmosphere during different periods in history, by providing information on the content of carbon dioxide, dust, and Antarctic temperatures. This method is used to collect information dating back 400,000 years.
An analysis of global temperatures over the last 1000 years provides further evidence to disqualify the idea that human activity is exclusively responsible for the global warming that is ongoing. There is evidence to suggest that temperatures were relatively warm around 1000 A.D. and that there was a ‘little ice age’ period which lasted roughly between 1500 and 1800 A.D. The current rise in global temperatures is characteristic of a warm period that follows the little ice age. According to Michael Mann, it is possible that the ongoing warming of global temperatures just happens to coincide with a period in which human activity is leading to a high rate of emission of greenhouse gases. Relying on this assertion, there is no true evidence that carbon dioxide, which is indeed an important component for photosynthesis to occur, is responsible for global warming.
The temperatures of the earth’s surface are influenced by both internal and external factors. Internal factors include the processes that occur from within the globe and may include changes in cloud cover, atmospheric particles and plant cover, a change in the concentration of greenhouse gases, occurrence of volcanic activity, and depletion of the ozone layer. Changes in cloud cover may reduce the fraction of the solar radiation that is reflected, thus causing temperatures to warm. An increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases may affect the temperature of the earth’s surface by creating the greenhouse effect, which leads to the retention of heat on the surface of the earth. A high concentration of greenhouse gases on the stratosphere may also affect global temperatures by changing the long wave radiation from the earth back to space (Harries et al. 355). Depletion of the ozone layer, on the other hand, allows for the penetration of ultraviolet rays into the stratosphere, thus considerably affecting life processes on the earth’s surface. Finally, volcanic activity leads to the release of volcanic gases such as sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. When released in large quantities, these gases may obstruct the stratosphere from sunlight, leading to a drastic decline in the earth’s temperature.
Other than the internally-induced conditions, the temperature of the earth could also be affected by external factors. These may include sunspots, solar winds, and changes in the earth’s orbit. Sunspots, which are storms on the sun’s surface, are characterized by severe magnetic activity, causing hot gassy ejections from the sun. Although the distance of the earth from the sun is quite considerable, so that the impact of the sunspots on the weather is relatively tame, sunspots are still believed to have a warming effect on the earth’s temperature. Solar winds, on the other hand, comprise of charged particles released from the sun. Solar winds mostly affect the earth’s surface by affecting the planet’s magnetic field. While scientists continue to study the impact of solar winds on climate, it is believed that they affect the weather by accelerating the magnitude of tsunamis. Changes in the earth’s orbit, on the other hand, influence the positioning of the earth in relation to the sun. When the earth orbits too close to the sun, weather patterns are automatically warmer. The reverse happens when the earth orbits away from the sun.
Scientists use different mechanisms to determine varying weather patterns in the past. Using evidence obtained from such sources as tree rings, corals, glaciers, ice cores, cave deposits, among others, scientists have discovered that, not only has atmospheric composition varied in the past, global temperatures have differed in different time periods. These changes are even more evident when analyzing different eras in history, with some being characterized by extreme cold conditions and others being characterized by extremely warm conditions. With this evidence, scientists have been able to conclude that in order for life to survive, a certain standard ought to be maintained. They have also used this evidence to suggest that human activity may have little to do with the ongoing climate change.
Crane, Robert G., James F. Kasting, and Lee R. Kump. The Earth System. Prentice Hall, 2010.
Harries, John E., et al. “Increases in greenhouse forcing inferred from the outgoing longwave radiation spectra of the Earth in 1970 and 1997.” Nature 410.6826 (2001): 355.
Mann, Michael E., et al. “Global signatures and dynamical origins of the Little Ice Age and Medieval Climate Anomaly.” Science 326.5957 (2009): 1256-1260.
Niell, A. E., et al. “Comparison of measurements of atmospheric wet delay by radiosonde, water vapor radiometer, GPS, and VLBI.” Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology 18.6 (2001): 830-850.
Zachos, James, et al. “Trends, rhythms, and aberrations in global climate 65 Ma to present.” Science 292.5517 (2001): 686-693.
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