Introduction

Hardly any other scientific issue has generated so much controversy as global warming has over the past few decades. Large groups of people strongly agree that global warming is real, it is happening right now, and action must be taken immediately before it is too late for the Earth to recover. Other groups disagree, saying that the present-day warming of the Earth's atmosphere is just part of a natural cycle and cannot be controlled. Still others do not know what to think about all the commotion; whether global warming is a good thing or bad. And it gets even more heated because a large part of this controversy is charged with emotion since it affects everyone on the planet in a personal way.

Although humans may not take the time to think about it every day, the climate we live in affects every aspect of our lives. Every single day, thousands of economic decisions are made based on climatic information. Reliable climate information is necessary in one way or another to make good business decisions in just about every enterprise in America. Construction, agriculture, and aviation rely strongly on climate data. Consumer business, although not as obvious, does as well. For instance, effective marketing strategies target advertising when the potential demand is greatest. Sports stores sell snowboards and skis when it snows and swimsuits when it is warm. Grocery stores sell more popsicles, lemonade, and picnic supplies in the summer. Retail stores sell bug spray, camping gear, and luggage racks during the summer vacation season. Climate also dictates where to build facilities. After all, Disneyland would probably not do as well in Fairbanks, Alaska.

In agriculture and horticulture, climate is extremely important. Seeds need to be planted at certain times, at certain latitudes, and require specific amounts of water to survive. If they do not get this, they will not grow. The type of climate in an area determines what kinds of buildings can be built. In areas that receive excessive amounts of snow, the buildings must be engineered to be able to hold the weight of the snow on their roofs. Related to this, insurance companies care about the climate, because they need to identify potential problem areas that may experience hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, landslides, and mudslides. These areas pay higher insurance premiums. Each one of us must deal with climate every day. What should we wear? Do we need a coat? Sunscreen?

The reality of global warming is that it will cause significant climate change. In fact, many scientists today refer to the phenomenon of global warming as climate change because they feel it is a better overall description of the situation. While it is certainly true that the atmosphere is warming up, that is only one part of what is going on. As the Earth's atmosphere continues to warm, it is setting off an avalanche of other mechanisms, which will do even greater harm to the Earth's natural ecosystems. Glaciers and ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, and ocean circulation patterns are changing, which then changes the traditional heat distributions around the globe. Seasons are shifting and storms are becoming more intense, leading to severe weather events. Droughts are causing desertification, crops are dying, and disease is spreading. Some ecosystems are shifting where they still can; others are beginning to fail. In short—humans are changing the Earth's climate—and not for the better.

Scientists believe that it is not too late to fix this problem we have brought upon ourselves if we act now. But in order to act, we must first become educated about global warming, so that we know just what we are dealing with. You, the readers, will be the leaders of tomorrow, and you do have the power to do something about this situation.

Climate Systems: Interactive Forces of Global Warming, the first volume in this multivolume set, lays out the basic scientific framework needed to understand how climate systems work and what global warming involves.

Chapter 1 presents the concept of global systems, climate cycles, the atmosphere's structure, and an overview of how the Earth's natural greenhouse effect operates. Chapter 2 discusses the carbon cycle and its link to other major natural Earth cycles, such as biogeochemical cycles and the hydrologic cycle. It also looks at the way carbon is balanced between the land, ocean, and atmosphere and how carbon sequestration and sinks affect that balance.

Chapter 3 examines climate as it relates to the movement of the Earth's continents through the plate tectonic process. It also presents some theories as to how plate tectonics contributes to carbon dioxide levels. Chapter 4 explores the flow of energy. It focuses on solar energy and its key role in dictating the Earth's climate, the Earth's energy, and atmospheric energy. It also explains the various methods by which heat energy is transferred through the atmosphere. It then discusses the concepts of the Earth's overall energy balance and why its maintenance is important to ecosystems.

Chapter 5 presents the planetary and global motions of the atmosphere that affect climate. It explains the varied effects of the Earth's eccentricity, tilt, and precession over time and how these movements affect the climate. It also addresses the Coriolis force—a major global force that is a product of the Earth's rotation that directly influences airflow and storm patterns. It concludes by looking at the large-scale effects of El Niño. Chapter 6 discusses the local motions in the atmosphere that affect weather and climate, from regional wind systems, to local wind systems, to extreme weather and emergency preparedness.

Chapter 7 delves into the Earth's ocean currents and explains ocean circulation, the roles of seawater density, temperature, and salinity, and major ocean currents that directly control climate and how their desta-bilization could cause an abrupt climate change. Chapter 8 explores the global warming issue itself. It looks at various scientific viewpoints on the issue, how advances in technology and education have influenced it, the collective growth of environmental awareness in the United States, and the effect that public and media response have had on the issue.

Chapter 9 compares scientific inquiry to the limits of technology and explains how they differ. It discusses the concepts of positive and negative feedback, the mission of the Intergovernmental Panel on Cli mate Change, and what is known and not currently known about global warming. Chapter 10 looks at the consensus about global warming from the majority of scientists, which countries are major contributors to the problem, strategies for coping with global climate change, current research, and what lies ahead.

My goal as author is to open the doors to this incredibly controversial topic and to challenge you to research the relevant issues further and decide for yourselves what kind of an environment you want to see in the future, for you, your children, and your grandchildren.

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