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Climate change is a key issue on today’s social and political agenda. This unit explores the basic science that underpins climate change and global warming.
Having studied this unit you should:
- understand the physical basis of the natural greenhouse effect, including the meaning of the term radiative forcing;
- know something of the way various human activities are increasing emmissions of the natural greenhouse gases, and are also contributing to sulphate aerosols in the troposphere;
- be aware of the difficulties involved in the detection of any unusual global warming ‘signal’ above the ‘background noise’ of natural variability in the Eath's climate and of attributing (in whole or in part) any such signal to human activity;
- understand that although a growing scientific consensus has become established through the IPCC, the complexities and uncertainties of the science provide opportunity for climate sceptics to challenge the Panel's findings.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 Global climate and the greenhouse effect
- 1.1 Introduction
- 1.2 What determines the Earth's GMST?
- 1.3 Energy flows within the Earth-atmosphere system
- 1.4 An overview of the global energy budget
- 1.5 ‘Radiative forcing’ as an agent of climate change
- 1.6 The human impact on the atmosphere: the coming of the industrial age
- 1.7 Summary
- 1.8 End of section questions
- 2 What do we know about recent climate change?
- 2.1 Preamble
- 2.2 Records of the Earth's temperature
- 2.3 Contested science: a case study
- 2.4 The meaning of ‘consensus’: peer review and the IPCC process
- 2.5 A ‘collective picture of a warming world’
- 2.6 An evolving consensus on attribution
- 2.7 Summary
- 2.8 End of unit question
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This unit explores the topic of climate change and global warming. We will begin by exploring how the Earth’s global mean surface temperature is determined through a global “balancing act” of the rate of energy that comes from the Sun and the rate at which the planet returns that energy into space. We will also discuss the natural greenhouse effect, and how this contributes to a balanced global climate. We will then go on to consider the human impact on the atmosphere, including the impact of industrialisation, other sources of greenhouse gases that are connected to humans and the numerous and varied means of measuring climate change that are available.
This unit is an adapted extract from The Open University course Science in context (S250). If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Tuesday, 26th July 2011
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements section.
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