GPHY 314 Chapter 1: Introduction to the Climate Problem

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29 Dec 2020
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CHAPTER 1: An Introduction to the Climate Problem
Weather: actual state of atmosphere at particular time, easy to measure
o Important for making short-term decisions i.e. whether you bring umbrella
Climate: statistical description of the weather over a period of time, usually a few
decades, much harder to measure (requires decades of data)
o More important for long-term i.e. choosing where to build vacation home
Temperature is most often associated with climate and directly affects well-being of Earth’s
inhabitants
o Statistic most commonly discussed is average temperature, but extremes also matter i.e.
heat waves which can kill people
Precipitation rivals temperature in its importance to humans, because life without freshwater is
impossible
o Total annual precipitation of region, and distribution of rainfall throughout a year
o Form also important i.e. snow vs rain
What part of climate matters will vary between people, depending on how they rely on it
Two most important things we rely on to survive food production and freshwater availability
greatly affected by climate
What is Climate Change?
Most familiar is the progression between seasons, where non-tropical locations experience
significant temperature variations
Interested in whether today’s climate is different from that of a century ago
Shift of 2°C might seem unimportant but seemingly small changes in climate are associated with
significant impacts on environment
A Coordinate System for the Earth
Equator: line on Earths surface halfway between North and South Poles, dividing Earth
into northern and southern hemisphere
Latitude: distance in north-south direction between location and equator, measured in
degrees
o N for points in northern hemisphere, S for points in southern hemisphere
Tropics: region from 30°N to 30°S, covering half of the planets surface area
Mid-latitudes: region from 30° to 60° in both hemispheres, occupies ~1/3 of surface area
Polar regions: 60° to the pole, occupies remaining 1/6 of surface area
Longitude: angle in east or west direction, from prime meridian (line that runs
through North to South Pole through Greenwich, England, defined to be
0° longitude)
o E for locations east of prime meridian, W west
o In both directions, longitude increases to 180°, where east meets west at international
date line
Latitude + longitude together identify the location of every point on earth
Why You Should Believe This Textbook
Problem with relying on firsthand experience about climate -> Present situation is unique
o People have never changed the composition of global atmosphere as much or as fast as is
currently occurring
Another type of shortcut is relying on values -> Can accept claims that fit with your overall
worldview while rejecting those that dont
If you rely on an opinion leader, no guarantee that they have a firm grasp of the science
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