How the Climate System Works

  • 2013 continued a trend of water vapor in the surface atmosphere increasing over land and ocean relative to the 1970s, while the atmosphere over land becomes less saturated. 

  • In October 2003, a little-known think tank in the Department of Defense quietly released a report warning that climate change could happen so suddenly it could pose a major threat to our country's national security. Why was the Pentagon worried about abrupt climate change? Because new evidence from Greenland showed it had happened before. 

  • The Amazon Rainforest is a living warehouse for carbon dioxide. As climate changes, the lush tropical ecosystems of the Amazon Basin may release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than they absorb. NOAA scientist John Miller talks about how climate conditions in 2010 and 2011 created a natural experiment on how drought affects the Amazon's carbon balance.

  • Concentration of carbon dioxide is about 1.4 times what it was before the Industrial Revolution. How much and how fast will Earth warm if carbon dioxide concentrations double the pre-industrial?

  • Among the questions triggered by the entrapment of a Russian ship near Antarctica on Christmas Eve were whether the ice conditions were out of the ordinary, and, if so, whether long-term climate change was playing a role.

  • The Arctic Oscillation describes simultaneous, geographically “choreographed” shifts in multiple features of the polar vortex: air pressure, temperature, and the location and strength of the jet stream. They all follow the hemisphere-wide oscillation of atmospheric mass back and forth between the Arctic and the middle latitudes, sort of like water sloshing in a bowl.

  • A few days of unusually cold weather in the U.S. and Canada aren't a sign that a century-or-more trend of rising global surface temperatures has reversed itself. In fact, the cold wasn't even all that widespread for the Northern Hemisphere.

  • The most likely explanation for the lack of significant warming at the Earth’s surface in the past decade or so is that natural climate cycles caused shifts in ocean circulation patterns that moved some excess heat into the deep ocean.

  • Earth's atmosphere includes billions and billions of gallons of evaporated water: in fact, water vapor is Earth's most abundant greenhouse gas.

  • Deke Arndt, Chief of the Climate Monitoring Branch, National Climatic Data Center

  • NOAA released the 2012 installment of the annual Arctic Report Card on December 5, 2012, as part of the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting. This image collection is a gallery of highlights based on the report's major themes. It was developed by the NOAA Climate.gov team in cooperation with Arctic Report Card authors and other Arctic experts.

  • Shallow melt ponds on the surface of consolidated sea ice act as skylights that promote massive under-ice phytoplankton blooms. These under-ice blooms may boost estimates of Arctic phytoplankton productivity by a factor of 10.

  • The lead character in the 2011 climate story was La Niña—the cool phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation—which chilled the central and eastern tropical Pacific at both

  • In 2011, Earth’s atmosphere was cooler and drier than it had been the previous year, but it was more humid than the long-term average.

  • Except for some La Niña-cooled regions of the tropical Pacific and a few other cool spots, the upper ocean held more heat than average in 2011 in the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, and Southern Oceans.

  • In early 2011, stratospheric temperatures rose over the tropics due to La Nina while temperatures over the poles fell below the long-term average.

  • In late-April 2011, an unusual, post-winter Nor’easter brought much-needed rain the Northeast United States.

  • Although solar flares can bombard Earth’s outermost atmosphere with tremendous amounts of energy, most of that energy is reflected back into space by the Earth’s magnetic field or radiated back to space as heat by the thermosphere.

  • Although they are related, meteorology and climatology have important differences, particularly in how scientists develop and use weather and climate models. What makes climatologists think they can project climate scenarios decades into the future when meteorologists cannot accurately predict weather more than two weeks in advance? This presentation by Wayne Higgins of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center clarifies the relationships and differences between weather and climate, as well as the differences between natural climate variability and human-induced climate change.

  • James Roger Fleming presents a historical perspective on how our understanding of Earth's climate system developed through innovations and discoveries by pioneering scientists in the 1800s and 1900s who asked and answered fundamental questions about the causes and effects of global climate change.

     

  • Humans currently release about 70 million tons of carbon dioxide every day into the atmosphere and about 20 million tons is being absorbed regularly by the oceans, causing the pH to drop.  Chris Sabine describes current and projected future impacts of this acidification on marine ecology.

  • This year’s Arctic Report Card emphasizes that climate change is more prominent in the Arctic than at lower latitudes.

  • Jackie Richter-Menge describes the "Arctic amplification" phenomenon: how the loss of Arctic sea ice leads to further warming.

  • In the 2011 Arctic Report Card, scientists report that the bright white surface of the Greenland Ice Sheet has grown less reflective. The darker surface absorbs more sunlight, accelerating melting.

  • Phytoplankton productivity has increased 20 percent over the past decade as sea ice extent declines and more open water habitat is available.

  • During spring 2011, the Northern Great Plains experienced record flooding. This video explains how a La Niña climate pattern helped set the stage for this extreme event.

  • In early 2010, water temperatures in the eastern tropical Pacific were warmer than average, but a summertime reversal cooled the region off over the rest of the year.

  • Between January and April 2010, temperatures in the Pacific were under the warming influence of a fading El Niño episode. Meanwhile, higher latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere were dominated by a strong negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation.

  • In 2010, global temperatures were marked by near-record warmth and strong natural variability. This is the first in a series of posts highlighting findings from the "State of the Climate in 2010" report.

  • In the Arctic, an ocean is surrounded by continents, while Antarctica is continent surrounded by oceans. These differences in the arrangement of land and water contribute to differences in each polar region’s climate, oceanic and atmospheric circulation patterns, and seasonal and long-term sea ice patterns.

  • Near the Earth’s equator, solar heating is intense year round. Converging trade winds and abundant water vapor all combine to produce a persistent belt of daily showers known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone.

  • Natural climate phenomena—the North Atlantic Oscillation & La Niña—can explain much of this winter's temperature patterns across North America.

  • The ocean is the largest solar energy collector on Earth. More than 90 percent of the warming that has happened on Earth over the past 50 years has occurred in the ocean. Not all of that heating is detectable at the surface because currents move some of the heat to deeper layers of water, where it can "hide" for years or decades.

  • The early wet season of 2010 was typical of La Niña, with rainfall in December 2010 between 200 and 400 percent above normal in much of Queensland, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

  • In early June 2010, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center reported that the ocean and atmosphere conditions across the Pacific were favorable for the development of a La Niña episode.

  • Weather in the Southeast this fall and winter is keeping up with the dry part of the typical La Niña pattern. Precipitation across most of the Southeast was "below" or "much below" normal for October-December.

  •  Researchers at NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center collaborate with tropical cyclone centers and scientific agencies around the world to assemble and maintain the International Best Track Archive for Climate Stewardship (IBTrACS), an inventory of tropical cyclones.

  • Carbon dioxide is everywhere: in the air, rising from cracks in the ocean floor, and in your soda can. Now it's showing up in the news! Find out why carbon dioxide is such a hot topic, and why it's going to be around for a long, long time.

  •  The Sun is the main source of power for the Earth's climate machine. Space-based measurements, begun in 1978, indicate Earth receives an average of 1,361 W/m<sup>2</sup> of incoming sunlight, and the amount varies by about one-tenth of a percent over the course of the 11-year solar cycle. 

  • The Pacific-North American teleconnection pattern influences regional weather by affecting the strength and location of the East Asian jet stream, and subsequently, the weather it delivers to North America.

  • The Southern Oscillation Index tracks differences in air pressure between the eastern and western sides of the tropical Pacific.

  • The total amount of water on Earth isn&rsquo;t increasing, but the volume of liquid that fills the ocean is growing as ice and snow on land melt. The water is also getting warmer, which makes it expand. 

  • El Ni&ntilde;o and La Ni&ntilde;a conditions occur when abnormally warm or cool waters accumulate in tropical latitudes of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. The Oceanic Nino Index is the tool NOAA scienitsts use to watch for these temperature changes. 

  • The Arctic Oscillation (AO) refers to an atmospheric circulation pattern over the mid-to-high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. The most obvious reflection of the phase of this oscillation is the north-to-south location of the storm-steering, mid-latitude jet stream.

  • Over the span of days or weeks, the strength of surface air pressure over the North Atlantic seesaws between Iceland and the Azores Islands. The shifting pressure reflects changes in atmospheric circulation that have a big impact on mid-latitude weather in the U.S. and Europe. 

  • (Updated June 2, 2014)

  • Human activities, mainly burning fossil fuels, are increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, amplifying the natural greenhouse effect.

  • Minimum sea ice extent observed by satellites each September has decreased by 13.7 percent per decade since the late 1970s. The seven lowest extents all occurred since 2007.

  • NOAA's Susan Solomon was awarded the 2009 Volvo Environment Prize for her pioneering contributions in atmospheric chemistry and physics.