What Causes Climate Change

What causes climate change?

There are two main causes responsible for climate changes. One is a result of natural occurrences, and the other is man-created. The main contributors of climate changes are elaborated in greater details below.

Climate changes do not usually take place immediately after the occurrence of the contributing causes. This is because the earth’s climate system is very large, and it moves slowly and has time-lags in its reaction to the contributing causes.

For example, a year of dry conditions may do no more than shrink rivers and lakes slightly or cause plains to dry marginally. However, in the next year, there may be less rainfall, possibly leading to a drier following year. Only after a certain period where a critical point is reached, will the entire climate system be altered substantially. At such a point, no rain may fall in the area at all. And unfortunately, by this time, the change in the area’s climate may have become irreversible, and may in turn contribute adversely to the climate in the larger region.

What causes climate change: : Natural events

Some of the common natural causes of climate change include continental drifts, volcanic eruptions, and ocean-atmospheric currents.

Continental drifts Continental drifts and continent plate tectonics are one factor for what causes climate change.

With such huge landmass or water-mass movements, it is not surprising that the physical attributes of the land and water bodies in the region may be affected. There may also be significant changes in ocean currents and winds. All these factors contribute to climate changes in the area.

Even today, some continents continue to drift. One such continent on the move is the Himalayan range which is rising with every passing year, as a result of the Indian landmass drifting towards the Asian landmass. This is an extremely slow process, but continues to happen this very minute.

Volcanic eruptions Volcanic eruptions are another factor for what causes climate change.

Erupting volcanoes release huge amount of sulphur dioxide, dust, water vapor, and ash into the earth’s atmosphere. This thick coat in turn obstructs solar radiation from the sun from entering the earth’s surface which results in creating a cooling affect on the earth, at least temporarily.

In the stratosphere, the sulphur dioxide released also combines with water to form sulphuric acid. This sulphuric acid also blocks sunlight, changes wind directions, as well as lead to other forms of pollution (eg. water and land).

Carbon dioxide may also be released into the atmosphere. Being greenhouse gases, they may trap the sun’s heat instead, leading to green house effect. Nevertheless, according to the US Geological Survey, human activities are estimated to generate more than 130 times the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by volcanoes.

Ocean-atmospheric currents Ocean currents are also significant contributors, when it comes to what causes climate changes.

Oceans occupy close to three fourth of the earth’s surface and receive twice the amount of earth’s radiation when compared to the Earth’s surface. The surrounding landmasses get some of the sun’s heat which is in turn transported away through the water in the ocean.

The exchange of heat between the huge water and land masses has an important part to play in determining the wind and water currents, as well as the climate over these regions.

Strong winds blowing across the surface of the ocean’s surface affect the ocean currents and most coastal areas are in turn affected by these ocean currents. These factors are in turn what causes climate change in some of the coastal regions, as well as in other parts of the world.

A well-known ocean-atmosphere phenomenon experienced in the Pacific Ocean is the El Nino, which affects climate all over the world. Because El Niño's warm pool feeds thunderstorms, it increases rainfall across the east-central and eastern Pacific Ocean.

El Niño is associated with warm and very wet summers in South America, and warmer winters in North America. The warm ocean currents blowing across the Norwegian coast have melted ice in the Norwegian Sea even during winter. When it occurs, El Nino led to drier conditions for some parts of Southeast Asia and Northern Australia, increasing bush fires and worsening haze and the greenhouse effect substantially.

What causes climate change: Man-created causes

While there are many naturally occurring events that can lead to major climate changes around the world, what causes climate change in the most rapid and major way today is probably man himself (and that includes you and I).

And the global climate change that we are most concerned today is the increase in the Earth's average temperature – ie. global warming.

A main factor contributing to global warming is the greenhouse effect, which arises mainly from the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere. Greenhouse gases (eg. carbon dixode, nitrous oxide, water vapor and methane) are gases that absorb and emit radiation within the infrared range. They trap the sun’s heat and prevent the heat from escaping, and inevitably lead to the warming of the earth’s atmosphere.

Many of man’s activities are contributing to the greenhouse effect and global warming at alarming rates.

Some of the major contributors of greenhouse gases in our industrialized world today include power plants (to generate electricity to operate our numerous electrical and electronic gadgets), industries, trade and commence (to produce enough goods and services to satisfy our culture of consumerism), and our modes of transportation (eg. cars, planes, trains).

All these activities use up valuable fossil fuels and in turn release large amounts of greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere, in other words, leave very deep carbon footprints on this earth.

Large amounts of methane (a greenhouse gas) are emitted from waste in landfills. This process is sped up today, with the increased amount of waste generated as a result of our buy-and-throw-away culture.

In attempts to enrich the soil and produce larger agricultural yields, the large scale use of chemical nitrogen-based fertilizers, have also led to the accumulation of nitrous oxide (another greenhouse gas) in the earth’s atmosphere.

In turn, large scale deforestation, to make way for infrastructure (eg. roads, homes, cities) as well as for resources such as wood and paper, adds on to the greenhouse effect horrors. Not only does deforestation cause pollution (through soil erosion, forest burning etc), it also reduces the rate carbon dioxide is being removed from the earth’s atmosphere.

In other words, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are being produced faster than they can be removed. These greenhouse gases end up accumulating on the upper surface of earth and block the heat from leaving the earth’s surface resulting in global warming.

We need to do something

Now that we have a better understanding of what causes climate change, we need to do something about it.

It is time that you and I make efforts for a green life, reduce our carbon footprints and fight climate change.

We need to start making concentrated efforts at reducing consumption and waste and put recycling into practice.

And we can help undo some of the impact of deforestation by contributing to forest conservation and growing efforts.

We need to conserve energy and resources, through using less electricity, as well as investing in energy efficient appliances. We can invest in greener sources of energy, such as solar energy. We can also adopt green driving tips (don’t drive if you can!) and green living practices.

We also need to switch to more organic methods of agriculture and seek more sustainable methods. We can also help reduce pollution by using more eco-friendly products.

Start now, before it is too late.


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