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Understanding Climate Change - June 22, 2014

Climate change, as defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is a non-random change in climate that is measured over several decades or longer. The change may be due to natural or human-induced causes.
Understanding Climate Change

Many people will look outside on an unseasonably cold day and ask, “What ever happened to global warming?” Global warming is no longer used prevalently by climate scientists because it can cause confusion for the public due to weather and climate often being used as synonyms, even though they are different in a number of critical aspects.

Weather is not the same as climate. The best way to describe the difference between these two words is, “You pack your suitcase based on the weather, but you pick where you go for vacation based on climate.”

Weather, as defined by the administration, is the state of the atmosphere with respect to a variety of conditions including wind, temperature, cloudiness, moisture, pressure, etc. This differs from climate, which is defined as the composite or generally prevailing weather conditions of a region throughout the year, averaged over a series of years. Weather refers to atmospheric conditions at a given point in time, whereas climate refers to “average” weather conditions for an area throughout a long period of time.

Climate change can be a difficult and scary thing to talk about, as it has real implications that can dramatically alter the way we live forever. When discussing climate change, it is always best to separate facts from fiction.

The best way to know if your information is viable or correct is to see where it came from. Many international, federal, state and nonprofit agencies are working on climate change and can provide valid, peer-reviewed, scientifically based data on the patterns and predictions.

Some facts that we know, based on collected data and research being done around the world, include the fact that humans are contributing to greenhouse gases, which in turn contributes to climate change. Also, we know sea-level rise is and will continue to occur, meaning sea levels will rise between 1 and 2 feet by 2050 and between 2 and 6 feet by 2100, depending on specific locations and how much we try to mitigate the damage.
 
We know there will be an increase in extreme weather, meaning we will have record high heat days in some areas and record extreme cold days in others. We will also have more extreme weather events — more intense hurricanes and tropical storms, an increase in tornado activity and longer and hotter heat waves.

We know that polar ice caps and glaciers are melting, which can in turn contribute to sea-level rise.

One of the best ways we have of predicting the effects of climate change in a local area or even globally is the use of specific climate models. These models predict future climate or weather patterns or events based on the data and information provided being run through numerous mathematical formulas and equations.

Many people question the use or data collected from these models because they think these models are not very complicated. However, they are often quite complex.

Climate models fundamentally must follow the physical laws, such as conservation of energy and mass, and use a plethora of collected data based on the parameters of the created model (i.e. temperature data for a temperature model, precipitation data for a precipitation model, etc.).

Climate change is occurring on a global scale, and its consequences effect the entire human race. Whether you believe in climate change or not, there is proven data indicating that humans are contributing to climate change. This means everyone should want to become climate experts to better understand what is happening to our planet and what we can do to help mitigate and reverse the damage caused.


Harrison Jackson is the Coastal Stewards Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. 


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