Could we control our climate?
Could we control our climate?

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Could we control our climate?

1.1 The global whodunnit

Attributing the causes of the climate crisis is like solving a ‘whodunnit’, that is, a crime mystery. Thinking about it in this way is a useful way to unpack the different stages of the issue.

You will study this here in the context of past GMST changes. The six steps in our whodunnit to establish the causes of climate change are:

Step 1: Record the scene (measure climate change over time)

Here, the evidence is the global surface temperature record, but you could measure other aspects of climate change.

Step 2: Identify the suspects (what are the possible factors that can change climate?)

We consider all external factors that could warm surface temperatures.

Step 3: Identify the red herrings (are there any factors that may confuse your investigation?)

Mysteries can be made more difficult to solve by the presence and actions of ‘innocent parties’ which serve to confuse the investigation.

For the attribution of climate change, these ‘red herrings’ could be factors that cool surface temperatures, or random fluctuations that are not caused by any external factor but that might cause warming or cooling.

You will look here at three red herrings, both natural and human-caused.

Step 4: Establish what everyone was doing at the time (how much were each of the factors changing?)

The whodunnit analogy is perhaps a little more stretched here, but the next step is to estimate the strength of each factor (both ‘suspects’ and ‘red herrings’) through time, either by direct measurements or by other methods. If a suspect was not present, then they could not be responsible.

Step 5: Take everyone’s fingerprints (describe the pattern of change each factor causes)

Look for fingerprints. Luckily for us, each of the suspects and red herrings has a different fingerprint on global surface temperatures: a characteristic spatial pattern of temperature changes.

Step 6: Infer who has the most fingerprints on the scene (how strongly does each factor affect the temperature record?)

You will see how climate models – mathematical representations of the climate system are used to quantify the contribution of each of the fingerprint spatial patterns (Step 5) to the temperature record (Step 1).

In Session 2, you saw summaries of the evidence for Step 1 of the whodunnit, the measurement of climate change over time. You will now consider the suspects (Step 2) and the red herrings (Step 3). In climate science, these suspects and red herrings are termed ‘radiative forcings’, or just ‘forcings’, and act to change the Earth’s energy budget.

CC_1

Take your learning further371

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses372.

If you are new to university level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. Find out Where to take your learning next?373 You could either choose to start with an Access courses374or an open box module, which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification.

Not ready for University study then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn375 and sign up to our newsletter376 to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371