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How the Climate System Works

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

  • 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. 

  • The Oceanic Nino Index tracks the sea surface temperature in the east-central tropical Pacific Ocean. It is NOAA's primary indicator of the climate patterns known as El Niño and La Niña. 

  • 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.

  • Temperatures measured on land and at sea for more than a century show that Earth's globally averaged surface temperature is experiencing a long-term warming trend.

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

  • Sea level has been rising over the past century, and the rate has increased in recent decades as melting of glaciers and ice sheets has accelerated.

  • 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.

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

  •  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. 

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