|National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration|
"NOAA is a science-based agency which has the responsibility to predict changes in the oceanic and atmospheric environments and living marine resources, and to provide related data, information, and services to the public, industry, the research community, and other government agencies."
What is the greenhouse effect, and is it affecting our climate?
"The greenhouse effect is unquestionably real, and is essential for life on Earth. It is the result of heat absorption by certain gases in the atmosphere (called greenhouse gases because they trap heat) and re-radiation downward of a part of that heat. Water vapor is the most important greenhouse gas, followed by carbon dioxide and other trace gases. Without a natural greenhouse effect, the temperature of the Earth would be about zero degrees F (-18°C) instead of its present 57°F (14°C). However, the concern is not with the fact that we have a greenhouse effect, but it is with the question regarding whether human activities are leading to an enhancement of the greenhouse effect."
|Are greenhouse gases increasing?|
"Human activity has been increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (mostly carbon dioxide from combustion of coal, oil, and gas; plus a few other trace gases). There is no scientific debate on this point. Pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide (prior to the start of the Industrial Revolution) were about 280 parts per million by volume (ppmv), and current levels are about 370 ppmv. The concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere today, has not been exceeded in the last 420,000 years, and likely not in the last 20 million years. According to the IPCC Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES), by the end of the 21st century, we could expect to see carbon dioxide concentrations of anywhere from 490 to 1260 ppm (75-350% above the pre-industrial concentration)."
|Is the climate warming?|
"Yes. Global surface temperatures have increased about 0.6°C (plus or minus 0.2°C) since the late-19th century, and about 0.4°F (0.2 to 0.3°C) over the past 25 years (the period with the most credible data). The warming has not been globally uniform. Some areas (including parts of the southeastern U.S.) have, in fact, cooled over the last century. The recent warmth has been greatest over North America and Eurasia between 40 and 70°N. Warming, assisted by the record El Niño of 1997-1998, has continued right up to the present, with 2001 being the second warmest year on record after 1998."
Is the climate becoming more variable or extreme?|
"On a global scale there is little evidence of sustained trends in climate variability or extremes. This perhaps reflects inadequate data and a dearth of analyses. However, on regional scales, there is clear evidence of changes in variability or extremes.
In areas where a drought or excessive wetness usually accompanies an El Niño, these dry or wet spells have been more intense in recent years. Other than these areas, little evidence is available of changes in drought frequency or intensity.
In some areas where overall precipitation has increased (ie. the mid-high northern latitudes), there is evidence of increases in the heavy and extreme precipitation events.
Many individual studies of various regions show that extra-tropical cyclone activity seems to have generally increased over the last half of the 20th century in the northern hemisphere, but decreased in the southern hemisphere....Where reliable data are available, tropical storm frequency and intensity show no significant long-term trend in any basin.
Global temperature extremes have been found to exhibit no significant trend in interannual variability, but several studies suggest a significant decrease in intra-annual variability. There has been a clear trend to fewer extremely low minimum temperatures in several widely-separated areas in recent decades. Widespread significant changes in extreme high temperature events have not been observed.
There is some indication of a decrease in day-to-day temperature variability in recent decades."
|Can the observed changes be explained by natural variability, including changes in solar output?|
"Since our entire climate system is fundamentally driven by energy from the sun, it stands to reason that if the sun's energy output were to change, then so would the climate. Since the advent of space-borne measurements in the late 1970s, solar output has indeed been shown to vary. There appears to be confirmation of earlier suggestions of an 11 (and 22) year cycle of irradiance. With only 20 years of reliable measurements however, it is difficult to deduce a trend. But, from the short record we have so far, the trend in solar irradiance is estimated at ~0.09 W/m2 compared to 0.4 W/m2 from well-mixed greenhouse gases. There are many indications that the sun also has a longer-term variation which has potentially contributed to the century-scale forcing to a greater degree. There is though, a great deal of uncertainty in estimates of solar irradiance beyond what can be measured by satellites, and still the contribution of direct solar irradiance forcing is small compared to the greenhouse gas component. However, our understanding of the indirect effects of changes in solar output and feedbacks in the climate system is minimal. There is much need to refine our understanding of key natural forcing mechanisms of the climate, including solar irradiance changes, in order to reduce uncertainty in our projections of future climate change."