Atmosphere and climate change

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Global Warming – Introduction

Over the last 650,000 years, the earth’s climate has experienced natural interchanges between rise and drop in overall global temperatures marked by advancement and retreat of ice covers and glaciers (NASA, 2018). Natural changes in earth’s climate are attributable to slight variations in the earth’s orbit around the Sun (NASA, 2018). However, the earth’s climate has, over the last few centuries, experienced dramatic rise in global temperatures attributable to man-made causes as opposed to variations in the earth’s orbit. Latest research evidence gathered from earth-orbiting satellites and aided by advancement in climate monitoring technologies reveal that the earth’s temperature has risen by averagely 1.1oC (2.0 Fahrenheit) since the early 20th Century whereby 2016 was regarded as the warmest year in earth’s recorded history (NASA, 2018). In real life, global warming manifest as shrinking Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, retreating glaciers in mountainous regions, rising sea levels, and decreasing snow cover.

Atmosphere and the Greenhouse Effect

Global warming and the subsequent changes in earth’s climate are attributable to the greenhouse effect within the earth’s atmosphere. The earth’s atmosphere, made up of gases including nitrogen, oxygen, methane, and carbon dioxide, is responsible for regulating the warm life-supporting temperatures of averagely 15oC on earth (Environmental Protection Agency, 2018). Technically, heat from the sun passes through the earth’s atmosphere, warms up the earth’s surface, and is subsequently re-radiated upwards into the atmosphere as infrared rays. Eventually, the radiated infrared heat is trapped by greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, and hydro-fluorocarbons and subsequently emitted back to earth as infrared rays; hence, sustaining the earth’s temperature at life-supporting ranges (Environmental Protection Agency, 2018). However, increase in greenhouse gases within the earth’s atmosphere causes absorption and subsequent emission of higher infrared heat; hence, causing the rise in earth’s temperatures; a phenomenon called global warming.

Impacts of Global Warming on Ecosystems

Global warming causes changes in the earth’s climate including rise in sea levels, severe heat waves, and stronger rainfalls (NASA, 2018). Subsequently, alterations in the earth’s climate impacts the earth’s ecosystems whereby habitat ranges change as evidenced by retreating Arctic plant and animal species following the retreat of Arctic ice covers (Cliquet, Maes, McLeod & Plessis, 2013). Technically, changes in temperatures within ecosystems are putting pressure on both flora and fauna whereby cold water fish are struggling to survive following the rise in ocean temperatures. Disruption of the earth’s ecosystems by rising global temperatures not only increases the risks of extinction among species but also causes disruptions in natural food webs. The atmospheric effects of greenhouse gases impact all stakeholders within natural ecosystems, including humans (UNEP, 2018). Thus, all inhabitants within an ecosystem suffer either direct or indirect and interconnected impacts of climate change.

Interconnectedness in Ecosystems

Ecosystems are made up of both the living and non-living things that directly and indirectly interact within a given locality (Battarbee, Kernan & Moss, 2011). For example, horticultural farmers spread across the United States need soil, water, clean air, and adequate sunlight to for better crop yields. However, changes in climatic conditions like increased acid rains attributable to increased emission of nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere will alter the pH of the soil; hence, leading to low crop yield, food shortages, and subsequently starvation (Lee, Murray, Unsworth & Schlemme, 2015). In day-to-day lives, it is easy to overlook the importance and specifically the interconnectedness of biodiversity within an ecosystem. Humans living in big cities like London, Shanghai and New York may not immediately appreciate the importance of preserving a tropical rainforest in Congo or Brazil. However, changes in forest ecosystems located in remote parts of Africa or South America have both direct and indirect impacts on the lives of people living and working in metropolitans like London and New York. Therefore, it is the collective responsibility of all humans on earth to practice environmental citizenship so as to promote the sustainability of the earth’s ecosystems.

Interconnected Impacts of Climate Change

Fresh Water Resources

In regards to the interconnected impacts of climate change, changes in global temperature influence the availability of fresh water. Approximately two thirds of the earths’ surface is covered by water bodies. However, 97% of the earth’s water is saline; hence, not suitable for consumption by fresh water flora and fauna. Approximately 2.5% of water on earth is available to the millions of fresh water species of plants and animals (Hans, Kattel, Liu & Yang, 2015). Rising global temperatures reduces the availability of fresh water whereby increased evaporation in fresh water lakes and rivers lead to drying up of fresh water reservoirs. Eventually, drying up of fresh water resources lead to water insecurity among humans and increases the risks of extinction for fresh water plants and animals (Human Rights Watch, 2015). Thus, increased emission of greenhouse gases into the earth’s atmosphere threatens to disrupt fresh water ecosystems.

Extreme Events and Resilience of Ecosystems

Besides the impacts of climate change on fresh water ecosystems, climate change also undermines the natural capacity of ecosystems to withstand extreme weather conditions. Rising sea levels and increased precipitation attributable to climate change causes increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events including hurricanes, forest wildfires, and floods (Folkersen, 2018). For example, Canada loses approximately 2.5 million hectares of forest cover annually to wild fires started mainly by lightning attributable to increased frequency and severity of storms (Carter et al, 2014). Forest fires not only lead to catastrophic loss of hundreds of plants and animal species, but the fires also lead to increased air pollution. Subsequently, increased air pollution cause a myriad of deadly human health problems including respiratory complications like asthma (Environmental Protection Agency, 2018). On the other hand, extreme floods in tropical parts of the world cause dramatic surge in incidences of tropical water-borne diseases including malaria and typhoid fever. Similarly, increased frequency and severity of hurricanes in coastal areas lead to catastrophic losses of lives and properties. Overall, climate change compromises the ability of ecosystems to withstand extreme events.

Deleterious changes in Biodiversity

Moreover, changes in the earth’s climate cause deleterious alterations in the biodiversity of ecosystems; hence, disrupting natural food webs and exposing the earth’s flora and fauna to extinction (Folkersen, 2018). For example, frequent and severe forest fires lead to loss of indigenous tree species like coniferous species and emergence of non-native ecosystems like grasslands. Loss of indigenous trees translates to loss of all plants and animal species that depended on the indigenous forest covers; hence, increasing risks of extinction (Hans et al, 2015). Similarly, increased rainfalls and rising ocean temperatures is decreasing the availability of fresh water fish including salmon and trout species. Increased erosion and runoff in rivers lead to loss of many fish species from lower-elevation streams. Similarly, rising ocean temperatures lead to migration of cold water fish from the surface waters to deep sea environments. Eventually, changes in fish communities lead to food shortages among human populations (Human Rights Watch, 2015). Thus, humans must adopt sustainable environmental practices to mitigate the deleterious impacts of climate change on the biodiversity of earth’s ecosystems.

In conclusion, it is evident that humans are part of an interconnected ecosystem where each member of the ecosystem contributes equally towards sustaining the habitability of the environment. Unfortunately, humans have neglected their role in sustaining the ecosystem by continuously pumping unprecedented amounts of greenhouse gases into the earth’s atmosphere. Increased levels of greenhouse gases lead to changes in climatic conditions that usher in interconnected impacts including alterations in biodiversity, water insecurity, and impair the capacity of ecosystems to withstand harsh weather conditions. Overall, there is an urgency to encourage humans to act selflessly towards promoting the sustainability of the ecosystems for future generations.

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  1. Battarbee, R., Kernan, M & Moss, B. (2011). Climate change impacts on freshwater ecosystems. Pittsburg: John Wiley & Sons
  2. Carter, S., Grimm, N., Lawler, J., Mack, M., Marzek, V & Tallis, H. (2014). Ecosystems, biodiversity, and ecosystem services. Nca2014.globalchange.gov. Retrieved from https://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/sectors/ecosystems
  3. Cliquet, A., Maes, F., McLeod, H & Plessis, W. (2013). Biodiversity and climate change: Linkages at international, national, and local levels. London: Edward Elgar Publishing
  4. Environmental Protection Agency (2018). Climate change indicators: Greenhouse gases. Epa.gov. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/greenhouse-gases
  5. Folkersen, V. M. (2018). Ecosystem valuation: Changing discourse in a time of climate change. Ecosystem Services, 29, 1-12
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  7. Human Rights Watch. (2015). There is no time left: Climate change, environmental threats, and human rights in Turkana County, Kenya. Hrw.org. Retrieved form https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/10/15/there-no-time-left/climate-change-environmental-threats-and-human-rights-turkana
  8. Lee, C., Murray, J., Unsworth, R & Schlemme, C. (2015). The cost of climate change: Ecosystem services and wild land fires. Ecological Economics, 116(4), 261-269
  9. NASA. (2018). Global climate change – Vital signs of the planet. Climate.nase.gov. Retrieved from https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
  10. UNEP. (2018). Climate change – We work to minimize the scale and impact of climate change. Unenvironment.org. Retrieved from https://www.unenvironment.org/explore-topics/climate-change
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