Climate Impacts

Basic Explanation of Global Warming

Our planet sustains life in part because our atmosphere prevents temperature extremes. The atmosphere’s delicate balance of Nitrogen, Oxygen, Argon, Carbon Dioxide allow, some of the solar rays to be reflected off the upper layers of the atmosphere, but most penetrate the air, and are either reflected off a shiny surface like snow or ice and back through the atmosphere, or absorbed by land and oceans. The solar energy that are absorbed by land and water is eventually released as thermal energy, and like a blanket, the atmosphere keeping the earth’s surface comfortable for life. In the absence of an atmosphere, the heat would dissipate and the planet would be cold.

Over the past 100 years, the concentration of carbon dioxide, and other heat trapping gasses like methane and nitrous oxide, in the atmosphere has increased significantly. While CO2 concentrations have risen and fallen many times during the planet’s history, the most recent rise in CO2, methane, NO3, known as greenhouse gases (GHG), has been caused by human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. As the concentration of GHG in the atmosphere rise, they act like a thick blanket around the planet, capturing more of the heat and causing temperatures rise.

Rising temperatures subsequently reduce the amount of ice and snow – especially in the polar caps, which are now reflecting heat out of the atmosphere. This means that more of the heat will be absorbed than reflected upward. It’s a feedback mechanism, which accelerates the global warming process; the rate at which it happens directly impacts the projections of climate change impacts.

The Difference between Weather and Climate

While the concepts of climate and weather are often confused, it is important to understand the difference.


Weather is the state of the atmosphere at any given time and place. Most of the weather that affects people, agriculture, and ecosystems takes place in the lower layer of the atmosphere. Familiar aspects of the weather include temperature, precipitation, clouds and wind that people experience throughout the course of the day. Severe weather conditions include hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, and droughts


Climate is the long-term average of the weather in a given place. While the weather can change in minutes or hours, a change in climate is something that develops over longer periods of decades to centuries. Climate is defined not only by average temperatures and precipitation but also by the type, frequency, duration, and intensity of weather events such as heat waves, cold spells, storms, floods, and droughts.