CLIMATE SCIENCE PORTAL CLIMATE CHANGE 101
What is climate change?
While the term weather describes the short-term conditions outside at any given time and place, the term climate describes the longer-term view over large areas. For example, Maine has a warmer and dryer climate in the summer than in the winter. Climate change is exactly that, changes in the patterns we expect from monitoring the climate over many years. Scientists use a variety of methods to track changes in the climate over time , from measuring temperatures and ice loss from glaciers, to using mathematical models to predict changes in the future. The term global warming refers to the heating of the planet’s climate since around 100-150 years ago directly due to the activities of humans.
This graph shows the change in average temperature across the surface of the planet from 1880 to 2020. In those 140 years, 2016 and 2020 tie for the warmest on record (Reproduced from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies).
What is driving climate change?
Our changing climate is mainly due to the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) for energy which releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, where they trap heat, changing the Earth’s climate. Burning fossil fuels also has many other negative effects on the planet such as producing pollutants, damaging ecosystems, and impacting human health.
Climate change is bringing more than just novel climate conditions; it’s also introducing us to new terms little used before the contemporary climate change period. We’re now hearing words such as atmospheric rivers, bomb cyclone, and polar vortex. For a brief glossary of this new climate vocabulary see page 15 of this report:
The Maine Climate Science Portal was envisioned and developed by Maine Climate Action Now. Content development, to date, has been a largely-volunteer effort. Click here to see a full list of contributors.
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