Environment: understanding atmospheric and ocean flows
Environment: understanding atmospheric and ocean flows

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Environment: understanding atmospheric and ocean flows

Environment: understanding atmospheric and ocean flows

Introduction

The scientific theory of plate tectonics suggests that at least some of the Arctic lands were once tropical. Since then the continents have moved and ice has changed the landscape. This free course, Environment: understanding atmospheric and ocean flows, will concentrate on evidence from the last 800 000 years using information collected from ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica to discuss current and possible future climate.

The cores show that there have been nine periods in the recent past when large areas of the Earth were covered by ice. During the last 10 000 years – called the Holocene, which encompasses the entire development of human civilisation – there has been an unusually stable climate compared with the rest of the record.

The Arctic, like any region, has always undergone climate change but there is evidence, for example in the decreasing sea ice cover, which suggests that the changes are happening faster. In this course you will consider evidence from the ice cores which suggests that flows of chemicals and energy dominate natural systems and cause these changes. You will consider flows of water, heat and even pollution around the planet and look at how, through positive feedback processes, the flows that are affecting the Arctic are already changing the whole planet. There will be further changes, with an impact on us all.

The Arctic is often considered a victim of climate change – and it certainly is – but this course hopes to show that the Arctic acts as a planetary barometer. To discover the evidence that the Earth is dominated by flows you will start by looking at the most famous Arctic animal of all – the polar bear.

This OpenLearn course is an adapted extract from the Open University course U116 Environment: journeys through a changing world [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

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