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4 Climate Change
U1: Carbon dioxide and water vapour are the most significant greenhouse gases.

Gases in the atmosphere retain heat: they absorb and radiate heat to keep Earth
warmer which is the Greenhouse effect.
Greenhouse gases that have the largest warming effect on the Earth are carbon dioxide
and water vapour.
Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere by cell respiration in living
organisms and also by combustion of biomass and fossil fuels. It removed from the
atmosphere by photosynthesis and by dissolving in the oceans.
Water vapour is formed by evaporation from the oceans and also transpiration in
plants. It is removed from the atmosphere by rainfall and snow. Water retains heat
after it condenses to form droplets of liquid water in clouds.

U2: Other gases including methane and nitrogen oxides have less impact.

Methane is emitted from marshes and other waterlogged habitats and form landfills sites
where organic wastes have been dumped. It is released during extraction of fossil fuels
and from melting ice in polar regions.
Nitrous oxide is released naturally by bacteria in some habitats and also by agriculture
and vehicle exhausts.
All of the greenhouse gases together make up less than 1% of the atmosphere.

U3: The impact of a gas depends on its ability to absorb long-wave radiation as well as
on its concentration in the atmosphere.

Two factors together determine the warming impact of a greenhouse gas:

How readily the gas absorbs long-wave radiation
The concentration of the gas in the atmosphere
Concentration of a gas depends on the rate at which it is released into the atmosphere
and how long on average it remains there.
Water vapour: 9 days
Methane: 12 years
Carbon dioxide: even longer.

U4: The warmed Earth emits longer-wave radiation.

Warmed surface of the Earth absorbs short-wave energy from the sun and then re-emits
it, but at much longer wavelengths. Most re-emitted radiation in infrared with a peak
wavelength of 10,000nm.
25% of is absorbed before it reaches the Earths surface i.e. Ozone absorbs UV light.
That means 75% reaches Earths surface converted to heat.

U5: Longer-wave radiation is reabsorbed by greenhouse gases which retains the heat in
the atmosphere.

High percentage of long-wave radiation re-emitted by the surface of the Earth is

absorbed before passed out to space. Between 70 - 85% is captured by greenhouse
gases in the atmosphere. Energy is re-emitted, some towards the Earth. Effect of this is
global warming. Without it average temperature at the Earth's surface would be about

U6: Global temperatures and climate patterns are influenced by concentrations of

greenhouse gases.

Earth's surface is warmer that it would be with no greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Average temperature 32 or higher.
If concentration of any greenhouse gases rises, more heat will be retained and expect
an increase in global average temperatures. This is not directly proportional to
greenhouse gas concentrations. Other factors have an influence: Milankovitch cycles in
the Earth's orbit and variation in sunspot activity. More causes include:
More frequent and intense heat waves
Some areas becoming more prone to droughts
Some areas becoming more prone to intense periods of rainfall and flooding
Tropical storms becoming more frequent and powerful
Change in ocean currents e.g. waking of Gulf-Stream would mean colder
temperatures in north-west Europe.

U7: There is a correlation between rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide

since the start of the industrial revolution two hundred years ago and average global

Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations were between 260 and 280pm until late 18th
century. This when concentrations started to rise above the natural levels- but since rise
was initially very minor and so impossible to say exactly when unnatural rise in
concentration began.
Since many countries started becoming industrialized from late 18th century to 20th
century and combustion of coal, oil and natural gas increased more rapidly, the
consequences were increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration.
Strong evidence for a correlation between atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and
global temperatures; but also other factors have an effect, so temperatures are not directly
proportional to carbon dioxide concentration. But also since industrial revolution,

correlation between rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and average global
temperatures has been noticed.

U8: Recent increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide are largely due to increases in the
combustion of fossilized organic matter.

Increasing quantities of coal were being mined and burned, during the industrial
revolution from the late 18th century onwards causing carbon dioxide emissions.
Energy from the combustion of coal provided a source of heat and power. Also during
the 19th century combustion of oil and natural gas became more frequent.
Due to the increase of burning of fossil fuels from the 1950s onwards; which shows the
period of steepest rises is atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, its hard to doubt that
the burning of fossil fuels is a major contributory factor in the rise of atmospheric carbon
dioxide concentrations to higher levels than experienced on Earth for more than 800,000

A2: Correlations between global temperature and carbon dioxide concentrations on


If concentration of any of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere changes, expect the
size of its contribution to the greenhouse effect to change and global temperature to either
rise or fall. Carbon dioxide can be used to test the hypothesis, since it has changed
To deduce carbon dioxide concentrations and temperatures in the past column of ice
have been drilled in the Antarctic. There is a very striking correlation between carbon
dioxide and global temperatures- periods of higher carbon dioxide concentration
repeatedly coincides with period when the Earth was warmer.

A1: Threats to coral reefs from increasing concentrations of dissolved carbon dioxide.

pH has fallen from 8.179 in late 18th C to currently 8.069 = 30% acidification. If carbon
dioxide concentration continues to rise ocean acidification will become more severe.
Marine animals such as reef-building corals that deposit calcium carbonate in their
skeletons need to absorb carbonate ions from seawater. Concentration of carbonate ions
in seawater is low, because they are not very soluble.
Dissolved carbon dioxide makes the carbonate concentration even lower. Carbon
dioxide reacts with water to form carbonic acid, which disassociates into hydrogen and

hydrogen carbonate ions. Hydrogen ions react with dissolved carbonate ions, reducing
their concentration.

If carbonate ion concentrations drop it

is more difficult for reef-building corals to absorb them to make their skeletons. If seawater
doesnt be a saturated solution of carbonate ions, existing calcium carbonate tends to
dissolve, so existing skeletons of reef-building corals are threatened.

NS1: Assessing claims: assessment of the claims that human activities are not causing
climate change.

There are many factors that could be having an influence:


Scientists need to be cautious about their claims and admit when there are
uncertainties-gives impression the science evidence is weaker than it actually is

Difficult to make predictions about the consequences of increased concentrations

of GHG and therefore increase in temperatures.

Minimization (down playing) of consequences by powerful fossil fuel companies

with political ties for economic gains

A3: Evaluating claims that human activities are not causing climate change.