(COVINGTON, La.) — 2016 was the hottest year on record since tracking worldwide temperatures began in 1880. Further, it was also the third consecutive year to be titled “hottest year on record.” The real question, however, stands, why is the earth warming?
“I think a lot of it is due to carbon emissions,” Biology and BioMed II teacher Ann Pfalzgraf said. “But I also think some of it is natural, too.”
Carbon emissions are released naturally by ocean-atmosphere exchange, plant and animal respiration, soil respiration and decomposition, and from volcanic activity such as eruptions. Carbon emissions, which come from both natural and industrial influences, continue to increase, which helps the global temperature increase.
“As the concentration of carbon dioxide rises,” Paulina Kolic, a Science Policy Fellow with the National Academies of Sciences Gulf Research Program said, “more heat is trapped causing a warming effect, thus giving rise to the term Global Warming.”
Much of the carbon dioxide comes from industrial means, instead of natural means.
“The concentration of carbon dioxide has fluctuated over time for the last 450,000 years,” Kolic said. “However, it’s important to note that concentration has remained under 300 ppm (parts per million) until the Industrial Revolution. During the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide was at approximately 280 ppm. That means over the past 200 years, carbon dioxide concentrations have risen from 280 ppm to 405 ppm.”
Much of the rise comes from automobiles, factories, and other industrial works. The carbon dioxide helps “thicken” the earth’s blanket. As the heat gets trapped in, it also causes the polar ice caps to melt.
“The problem for us down here,” Pfalzgraf said, “is you’re going to get polar ice caps melting, which means sea level rise, which affects our wetlands and coastal areas.”
It is important to note, however, that carbon dioxide levels have risen and fallen naturally throughout the Earth’s history.
“The Earth’s climate naturally changes,” Kolic said. “For example, there are glacial (cold) and interglacial (warm) periods that occur on multi-millennial time scales. During interglacial periods, the temperature is warmer, carbon dioxide levels peak (around 300 ppm), and solar radiation increases.”
According to Carbon Brief, volcanic eruptions have and continue to effect the climate. When volcanic eruptions occur, it releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. However, eruptions also release Sulphur Dioxide with the clouds which later convert to Sulphate Aerosol, which reflects sunlight, helping cooler temperatures prevail.
Environmental scientists believe that human industries and works are swinging the natural balances of nature into chaos by releasing too much carbon dioxide. The problem is, how can humans stop releasing carbon emissions without ultimately abandoning our way of life?
According to Kolic, humans can limit driving or limit the carbon emissions that are being released into the atmosphere. Humans could also use and install more renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind turbines. Other major fixes include planting trees to help convert carbon dioxide to oxygen, and recycling.
Kolic also states that releasing too much carbon emissions can leave the earth with serious long term changes.
“In the long term, we should expect hotter temperatures and more extreme weather events due to climate change,” Kolic said. “Scientist have also predicted increased occurrences of severe storms such as hurricanes. Another example of a weather event that was exacerbated by climate change was the Baton Rouge flood of 2016.”