A picture of climate change is worth 1,000 words

As a science writer, I’m constantly battling against those occasions on which words fail me. Perhaps I don’t explain an idea clearly enough, or maybe I just can’t figure out what to say. Well, over 100 blog entries into Simple Climate, I’m actually going to (kind of) shut up for once. Throughout the year there I’ve been able to include some great illustrations explaining climate change, from how it works to the temperature changes we’ve gone through. This week I’m rounding some of them up here, along with some other diagrams I thought were powerful that I haven’t included before. Have a look – I hope they get your thought processes going as much as the normal entries do.

This is my attempt for a simple diagrammatic explanation of climate change. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap heat from the sun in our atmosphere. We need this: if it didn't happen it would be too cold to live on earth. However, because we're pumping so much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere - mainly CO2 from burning fossil fuels - it's warming up more than it would normally.

This is my attempt for a simple diagrammatic explanation of climate change. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap heat from the sun in our atmosphere. We need this: if it didn’t happen it would be too cold to live on earth. However, because we’re pumping so much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere – mainly CO2 from burning fossil fuels – it’s warming up more than it would normally.

The animated movie of the spread of ice loss into northwest Greenland observed by satellite from 2003 through to 2011. The colour scale along the bottom shows ice thickness in centimetres with the black colour reached in the south at the end of the animation representing an 80 cm loss.

The above video was first published on this blog in this entry. I’ve also published several other illustrations of how Arctic ice has retreated.

Ten indicators with increasing or decreasing values that demonstrate that the planet is warming. Credit: NOAA

Ten indicators with increasing or decreasing values that demonstrate that the planet is warming. Credit: NOAA

The above image was first published in this blog entry.

Three measurements related to world climate where decreasing values provide evidence of global warming. All are decreasing. Credit: Met Office

Three measurements related to world climate where decreasing values provide evidence of global warming. All are decreasing. Included in these measurements are glacier masses. Credit: Met Office

Seven measurements related to world climate where increasing values provide evidence of global warming. All are increasing. Credit: Met Office

Seven measurements related to world climate where increasing values provide evidence of global warming. All are increasing. Credit: Met Office

The two images above are were originally published by the UK’s Met Office in July. I’ve also published another diagram illustrating sea level rise this year.

Another way at looking at the world's increasing temperature: Averaged over each decade, the Earth's temperature has increased strongly at the end of the 20th Century and early 21st. Credit: NCDC/NESDIS/NOAA

Another way at looking at the world’s increasing temperature: Averaged over each decade, the Earth’s temperature has increased strongly at the end of the 20th Century and early 21st. Credit: NCDC/NESDIS/NOAA

All four of the above images effectively illustrate the same blog entry. I’ve also included other diagrams showing sea temperature trends, trends in record temperatures in the US, average global annual temperatures for January-July, April, March, 2010 and 2009 overall. Plus I used the infamous “hockey-stick” graph showing how current temperatures compare to those seen over the past 1,000 years here.

As my initial diagram showed, the amount of heat energy trapped on Earth depends upon the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Here, atmospheric radiative forcing - a measure of the degree of warming Earth experiences - of all long-lived greenhouse gases and the 2009 update of the NOAA Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI), which shows radiative forcing has increased 27.5% since 1990. Credit: World Meteorological Organisation

Atmospheric radiative forcing – a measure of the degree of warming Earth experiences – of all long-lived greenhouse gases and the 2009 update of the NOAA Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI), which shows radiative forcing has increased 27.5% since 1990. Credit: World Meteorological Organisation

Original image and reference to source in this post, plus I also published another diagram showing the forcing effect of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

Temperature changes and atmospheric CO2 concentrations through history strongly demonstrates the effect of humans burning fossil fuels. Credit: Pew Center on Global Climate Change

Temperature changes and atmospheric CO2 concentrations through history strongly demonstrate the effect of humans burning fossil fuels. Credit: Pew Center on Global Climate Change

I first included the above image in this entry on the blog. I’ve also published diagrams illustrating how carbon cycles between CO2 and other uses in nature, and how important this is for the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. I’ve also published diagrams showing how another chemical cycle important to the climate, the water cycle, is being affected by climate change.

The range of greenhouse gas emissions that scientists predict will occur based on the pledges provided by governments after the Copenhagen climate negotiations in 2009, and how future negotations might change that path. A gigatonne equals a billion tonnes. Credit: Nature/Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research

The range of greenhouse gas emissions that scientists predict will occur based on the pledges provided by governments after the Copenhagen climate negotiations in 2009, and how future negotations might change that path. A gigatonne equals a billion tonnes. Credit: Nature/Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research

The above image was first published on this blog in this entry. I’ve also published graphs illustrating emissions from power sources and transport, how emissions are exported and have also published other blog entries covering projections of future CO2.

Using climate models, scientists predict that continued growth in CO2 emissions could lead to dangerous global temperature rises. The red lines represent a "business as usual" scenario that we might already be following, while the blue lines are what is needed to keep emissions below the 2°C level of warming that is usually considered as dangerous. Credit M. Meinshausen

Using climate models, scientists predict that continued growth in CO2 emissions could lead to dangerous global temperature rises. The red lines represent a “business as usual” scenario that we might already be following, while the blue lines are what is needed to keep emissions below the 2°C level of warming that is usually considered as dangerous. Credit M. Meinshausen

The above image was first published on this blog in this entry.

Climate models also suggest that by 2039, most of the U.S. could experience at least four seasons equally as intense as the hottest season ever recorded from 1951-1999, according to Stanford University climate scientists. In most of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, the number of extremely hot seasons could be as high as seven. Credit: Noah Diffenbaugh, Stanford University

Climate models also suggest that by 2039, most of the U.S. could experience at least four seasons equally as intense as the hottest season ever recorded from 1951-1999, according to Stanford University climate scientists. In most of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico, the number of extremely hot seasons could be as high as seven. Credit: Noah Diffenbaugh, Stanford University

This image was first published in this blog entry. The importance of this kind of warming is demonstrated by a diagram in this blog entry explaining why coral bleaches with higher temperatures. Other adverse effects of temperature include the staggering number of budgies that died in a heatwave shown in this entry, and how lizard populations are changing shown in this entry, and areas where researchers predict humans will eventually not be able to live due to the heat, shown here.

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18 Responses to “A picture of climate change is worth 1,000 words”

  1. Pinning detailed climate impacts on people could cost conservation « Simple Climate Says:

    [...] a strong body of evidence showing that climate change is happening, the IPCC is now recommending scientists try and link its [...]

    • stefanthedenier Says:

      When the climate wasn’t changing? Climate can change for better also Water changes the climate, not CO2. The amount of ice on the polar caps has nothing to do with the phony GLOBAL warming. Localized warmings / coolings can happen, GLOBAL, never. I have proven why: http://globalwarmingdenier.wordpress.com It is on record. Those GLOBAL warming charts are misleading at best, destructive for most of the people and for the climate. Should never be put climate with phony warming together. Deceives the people that: if they talk about CO2, the climate will stop changing, WRONG

  2. Scientists move closer to resolving missing heat “travesty” « Simple Climate Says:

    [...] more heat from the sun’s energy, only about half that heat could be measured. Consequently, though the 2000s were Earth’s warmest decade in over a century of records the rapid temperature rises that brought this about ground to a [...]

  3. stefanthedenier Says:

    The first picture on the top is brilliant. It shows that ”the radiation” comes from the other side of the ”dirty cloud” . H2O+CO2 clouds intercept big part of that radiation, where cooling is much more efficient. That’s how the scare about Nuclear Winter for year 2000 evolved. Before we even defrosted from their nuclear winter – they discarded that factor – instead are using the second factor: factor that compensates for the ”dimming affect” that part of the radiation never comes to the ground – dirty cloud slows cooling; because proportion in difference in temperature between upper atmosphere and the ground is less. WARMTH IN THE TROPOSPHERE IS 3 DIMENSIONAL, boys. Clear sky > warmer days on the ground (cooler upper atmosphere) colder nights; as in the desert. More H2O+CO2 in the air – cooler days / warmer nights; as in Kyoto city. Overall same temperature every day and night of every year in the troposphere; laws of physics say so. More CO2+H2O in the atmosphere = milder climate. Desert is opposite, examples exist, no need to experiment! Compare the desert inland Australia with rainforest in Brazil, same latitude / altitude, but completely different climates. Brazil has same CO2, same sunspots; what is missing inland Australia???!!! There are the correct answers

    • andyextance Says:

      I wouldn’t say the outer circle is a dirty cloud. I’d say it’s more of an invisible greenhouse gas/CO2 blanket. Besides, clouds are composed of water, not CO2. And their influence on climate is not well understood, even by the top climate scientists. But it’s not necessarily accurate to say that more water in the atmosphere will lead to more clouds that will cool the Earth. See this, from the NASA website (http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/briefs/delgenio_03/):

      “Clouds play a leading role in this real-life mystery. Clouds both reflect sunlight, which cools the Earth, and trap heat in the same way as greenhouse gases, thus warming the Earth. Different types of clouds do more of one than the other. The net effect of clouds on climate change depends on which cloud types change, and whether they become more or less abundant, thicker or thinner, and higher or lower in altitude.

      Many people assume that since more water will evaporate from the oceans as the climate warms, it will be cloudier, with thicker and denser clouds. However, a warmer atmosphere needs more water vapor molecules to become saturated and to condense into clouds, so it is hard to anticipate exactly how clouds respond to human-induced climate perturbations. For example, although summer is warmer than winter, and the humidity is usually higher in summer, nevertheless the sky is not noticeably cloudier on average in summer than in winter.”

      Meanwhile, CO2 doesn’t reflect sunlight, and there is some light and heat leaving the Earth it doesn’t absorb either. But some of the energy is changed when it is absorbed from the Sun by the Earth. When the Earth re-emits this heat, the CO2 in turn can absorb and re-emit it again. That heat may go out into space, or sideways in the atmosphere, or back down to Earth. But the energy that stays in the atmosphere does then warm the planet. That’s what the diagram’s supposed to convey

      I assume that your point about clouds is that a warmer planet makes more clouds, which should cool the planet back down again. I know the NASA link is more than ten years old, but it does say that’s not necessarily the case. If you have evidence to the contrary, please include a link to it in a comment here. I would also politely ask you to do that for all the arguments you have here. Without evidence to back up what you say, there’s no reason for me or any of the rest of my readers to believe you.

      • stefanthedenier Says:

        Andy, H2O controls the climate, on many different ways. Sea currents, water storages, topsoil moisture; more of it = better climate; or opposite is for worse climate. That has nothing to do with the phony GLOBAL warming. You can drive from east to west coast of USA / Australia in a week and experience 50 different climates – did 25 GLOBAL warmings happen in that week?

        2] You are pointing ”top scientists” Andy, with my limited English vocabulary – if those scientists were correct, I would have never ever got involved in the climate debate. They are not just wrong, but are back to front and destructive also. Napoleon said: successful officer is the one who knows what the opponent knows and has. What those ”scientists” stereotype knowledge have, is on TV every day. When one makes or uses ”temperature charts” is the biggest proof that the person doesn’t know how the self regulation of temp in the atmosphere works. I did include you a link to my website – is not much text – every text is related to others – if you read what is there – you will see how simple / correct proofs work and disprove beyond any reasonable doubt what those ”scientists” preach. When the truth is known, many of those ”top scientists” will end up in jail. If you read what I have, you will think different. When I read your text on methane, I realized how far the contemporary knowledge is from the truth. Obviously you are concerned about things that I am also. But you are using informations from people that should be in jail, hope they will be soon.

  4. brink1948 Says:

    I think your simple picture is the best there is for the general publc. It also shows that the greenhouse effect is not due to the earth atmosphere acting as a green house

    • andyextance Says:

      Thanks! I’d point out that obviously the CO2 in the atmosphere is acting much like a greenhouse does in keeping heat in, hence the name, but the Sun also plays a big role, if that’s what you mean.

  5. Scientists move closer to resolving missing heat “travesty” | Simple Climate Says:

    [...] more heat from the sun’s energy, only about half that heat could be measured. Consequently, though the 2000s were Earth’s warmest decade in over a century of records the rapid temperature rises that brought this about ground to a [...]

  6. Robin Curtis Says:

    Hi – have you come across a really simple animated or spreadsheet based model based on the first figure that you have on this page? Just want to be able to twiddle the basic parameters to show:
    increased CO2 conc in atmosphere = increased warming of atmosphere, with slightly (?) increased radiation to space, but with net result being a new steady state at a higher average Planet temperature. Really simple.


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