Cheng Shae Nee Geology 108

7D6B4294 / 13869870 Assignment Report

Question 1
Anthropogenic climate change has been in the spotlight of concern in the recent years. Many climatologists and meteorologists are uncertain about future climate change, and the calamities that may befall us when humans disrupt the natural balance of the climate. The global temperature is one of the key factors that induce climate change. The Earth’s temperature is always changing. However, humans can only sustain their lives on Earth if the global temperature stays within our comfortable range. Any variations of the global mean temperature can disrupt the equilibrium of human life. The global mean temperature can be divided into two parts based on data measurement methods. ‘Instrumental temperature records’ are temperature data obtained from modern methods, such as through weather stations, weather buoys, weather balloons, or through Geographic Information System (GIS) via satellites. The oldest known data obtained by this method dates back to only 1861, which dwarfs compared to the Earth’s climate history of 4.6 billion years(Soon and Baliunas). The second method is using ‘climate proxies’, where the global mean temperature of the past is measured by indirect methods such as oxygen isotopes, tree rings, ice bubbles etc. The second type of measurement can provide the global mean temperature for up to millions of years ago, but contains more uncertainties since other existing factors can manipulate the results of the findings. ‘Instrumental temperature record’ can be subdivided again into two parts, surface temperature and lower atmosphere temperature (troposphere). Many climate models tell that when there is a change of mean surface temperature, the mean troposphere temperature will rise simultaneously but on an amplified scale. To calculate mean surface temperature, data from land (via weather stations) and sea (via weather buoys or satellites) are obtained. To calculate mean troposphere temperature, weather balloons and satellites are used. A weather station is a facility where atmospheric observations are made with modern technology in order to make weather predictions as well as record data for further climate studies. The maximum, minimum, mean, and mode temperatures are determined by using thermometers situated in highly ventilated gauges.

Figure 1 A weather station situated in the North Pole

Cheng Shae Nee Geology 108

7D6B4294 / 13869870 From the picture above, there is Assignment Report high density of weather stations in urban regions of the globe. The greatest flaw is that the number of weather stations is not equally distributed around the globe. Henceforth, the data from all weather stations obtained may be more biased towards climate changes in urban countries.(Peterson 2006)

Figure 2 The distribution of weather stations around the globe

Secondly, from the information above, developed nations are known to undergo a phenomenon called the ‘urban heat island’ effect. Since weather stations population are denser in urban areas, data produced may be inaccurately represented due to heat emissions from cars, compressors etc.(Peterson 2006)

Figure 3 A graph illustrating the urban heat island effect

The Sea Surface Temperature (SST) is another method in measuring global mean temperature. Prior to the 1940s, SST was measured by reading from a thermometer inserted into a ducked bucket of seawater into the ocean. After 1940s, SST was taken by measuring the temperature of the seawater entering an engine cooling system. Today, one of the methodologies of attaining the SST is through sea buoys scattered in the ocean.(Soon and Baliunas)

Figure 4 A sea buoy

Cheng Shae Nee Geology 108

7D6B4294 / 13869870 Assignment Report From the diagram above, it is noticed that the global buoys are fairly distributed around the globe. It is deemed to be fairly reliable in obtaining the SST. However, one flaw is the inconsistency of data measurement methods before and after the 1940s, leading to great variances between old and new data.(Soon and Baliunas)

Figure 4 Global distribution of sea bouys Weather balloons are used to evaluate the upper atmospheric conditions and gather information by height finding radar, remote sensing by earth-orbiting stationary satellites and aircraft instruments. Light gas (such as Helium or Hydrogen) is placed inside a latex material and has a radiosonde attached to the lower end of the string. The weather balloon rises to the troposphere and measure properties such as temperature, precipitation, wind speed etc. Weather balloons are perceived as more reliable since its data is highly similar to the data collected by satellites. However, its limitation lies with the fact that data collected by this method dates back to only less than 100 years ago.(weather balloon) Figure 5 A weather balloon

Satellites are observational devices released into the upper atmosphere to detect the global climate behaviours. They obtain data by having sensors called scanning radiometers which record thermal and infrared images. These infrared images show the amount of heat absorbed and then reflected by land, sea, clouds etc. Up till today, it is the most reliable and modern technology in measuring global mean temperature.(weather satellite)

Figure 6 Picture of 2 different weather satellites that orbit the earth

Cheng Shae Nee Geology 108

7D6B4294 / 13869870 Assignment Report

The second part of this report is concerning the second method of temperature measurement, proxy measurement. There are many methods to determine the paleoclimate, such as sedimentary structures, ice bubbles, paleontological evidence etc. However, only the 3 common methods to be discussed in this report, which are tree rings, coral deposits, and ice cores. (Bruckner 2008)

Trees has a unique nature that can mark time, it has growth rings. One growth ring represents one year of growth. The thickness of the growth ring represents its rate of growth in that year. Trees grow faster in warmer climate, and slower in colder ones. By using radiocarbon techniques, scientists can determine the growth year of the tree in relation to human time, and then, determine the surface mean temperature by its growth rate. Scars and burns of the tree can also mark past events such as forest fires.(Bruckner 2008)

Figure 7 Cross section of a tree that can help mark time

While this method is a great way to determine mean local temperature of a region for thousands of years ago, there are a few criticisms posted by scientists. First of all, another factor that accelerates tree growth rate is the amount of precipitation. The more precipitation, the faster a tree will grow. If one do not posses an independent record of precipitation for a region, it would be difficult separate both factors from data obtained from tree rings. Another flaw in using this method is that tress ring growth only happens when it photosynthesizes. Tress does not photosynthesize during the night time or the cold winter. Night and winter temperatures are important in determining local mean temperature, hence, data obtained may skew. Lastly, the exponential rise in anthropogenic carbon dioxide and urban heat island effects can also accelerate tree growth, causing biasness in the results. (Loehle 2007)

Cheng Shae Nee Geology 108

7D6B4294 / 13869870 Assignment Report

Moving on, corals are also used as temperature proxies. Corals do not have defined layers like tree rings, but their carbonate or silicate shells can imprint the effects of temperature during that time. Oxygen exists in two isotopes, 18O and 16O. At warmer waters, 18O tends to be less. Since corals extract calcium carbonate (CaCO3) from the sea water, the ratio between 18O and 16O can help determine the sea temperature during that time(Soon and Baliunas).

One of the uncertainties that come with this method is that sea water temperature alone is not the only controlling factor in oxygen isotope variation. 16O is dominant in rainfall, and can dilute 18O concentration during long periods of rainfall. Conversely, long periods of drought can cause 18O to concentrate over time.(Soon and Baliunas)

Figure 8 Calcareous corals that contains oxygen isotopes

Ice sheets that cover Antartica, Greenland, and some islands of Northern Canada represent the accumulation of several thousands of years of snowfall. In very cold, dry, areas, year to year evaporation and melting is extremely little. Snow compresses into annual layers of ice. The thickness of each layer reflects the amount of snowfall during the year (which marks precipitation), and from each layer, the oxygen isotopes can give a clue on the mean atmospheric temperature.(Soon and Baliunas)

Figure 9 The drilling of ice cores

Cheng Shae Nee Geology 108

7D6B4294 / 13869870 Assignment Report

Among the uncertainties that come with this method is that snow deposition varies from one location to another. To overcome this, data has to be collected from many random spots. Another uncertainty to note is its timescale uncertainty. As depth of ice increases, so does its timescale uncertainty. Seasonal markers are difficult to identify. Also, there is a diffusion uncertainty, where geochemical markers (such as 18O and 16O) migrate in the ice due to difference in geophysical properties (molecular mass etc).(Soon and Baliunas)

Bruckner, M. 2008. Paleoclimatology: Climate Proxies. (accessed October 2, 2008). Loehle, C. 2007. A 2000-Year Global Temperature Reconstruction Based On Non-Treering Proxies. Energy & Environment 18 (7+8): 1049-1051. (accessed October 2, 2008). Peterson, T. C. 2006. Examination of Potential Biases In Air Temperature Caused By Poor Station Locations. Americal Meteorological Society: 1073 - 1080. AMS Online Journals. (accessed October 1, 2008). Soon, W., and S. Baliunas. Lessons & Limits of Climate History: Was the 20th Century Climate Unusual? The Marshall Institute. (accessed October 2, 2008). weather balloon. In The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. Pearson Education, publishing as Infoplease. weather satellite. In The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. Pearson Education, publishing as Infoplease.

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