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2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #5C

Posted on 1 February 2015 by John Hartz

A climate hawk separates energy thought experiments from road maps

Updated, Jan. 29, 10:50 p.m. | David Roberts, the progressive environmental blogger who coined the phrase “climate hawk,” has done the environmental community a great service with a Grist post stressing the difference between a vision of a climate-safe energy future and a strategy for making that vision a reality.

One of his core lines is:

[M]ost decarbonization scenarios are thought experiments, not practical roadmaps. But when they are reported to the public, that distinction is often lost.

Marking the difference is essential unless you want to give the public a false sense that it’ll be easy to satisfy the world’s energy needs without overheating the planet.

A Climate Hawk Separates Energy Thought Experiments from Road Maps by Andrew Revkin, Dot Earth, Jan 27, 2105

China nears peak coal, but its rustbelt pays the price

China’s great coal boom is grinding to a halt, and the consequences for both the global climate and hundreds of millions of Chinese factory workers could be dramatic.

Three trends have dominated the debate over China and climate change for the past decade: China’s economy will grow by double digits, the country will burn more coal every year, and global emissions will continue to climb with no end in sight. China has grown to be the world’s second largest economy and the No. 1 emitter of greenhouse gases, consuming nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined.

But preliminary data from 2014 show that China’s coal production just declined 2.5 percent, the first drop since the year 2000. Analysts are now predicting what was almost unimaginable just a few years ago: China’s coal use could peak and begin to decline by 2020.

That dramatic shift would put China on track to meet its treaty pledge of peaking total emissions in 2030. Falling demand for coal reflects strict new pollution controls, growing renewable energy use, and an economic shift away from coal-intensive infrastructure development.

China Nears Peak Coal, But Its Rustbelt Pays the Price by Matt Sheehan, The Huffington Post, Jan 30, 2015

Climate change is altering the global heat engine

Cllimate scientists have been warning for a while that as the planet heats up, storms will become fewer but stronger. This trend has been seen in a variety of historical data tracking wind speed, rain and snow over the past century or so. Now a team of researchers has figured out why, and the explanation is firmly rooted in atmospheric thermodynamics. Global warming is intensifying the world’s water cycle, and that drains energy from the air circulation that drives stormy weather, say Frederic Laliberté of the University of Toronto and his colleagues.

The researchers “have offered a thermodynamic explanation for what the models have been doing all along,” says Olivier Pauluis of New York University, who wrote an accompanying perspective article on the study. 

Earth's atmosphere acts like a gigantic heat engine, working on many of the same principles as your car’s engine. Fuel—in this case, energy from the sun—is used to do work. Because more sunlight hits the tropics than higher latitudes, the planet constantly redistributes heat via air motions. Those air motions are the engine’s work. They also help produce the rainstorms and snowstorms that can ruin your day. The engine isn't 100-percent efficient, though. Some heat is lost to space. And much of the remaining energy is expended in the planet’s water cycle, used in the evaporation and precipitation of water.

Climate Change Is Altering the Global Heat Engine by Sarah Zielinski, Smithsonian, Jan 29, 205

Climate change’s bottom line

It was 8 degrees in Minneapolis on a recent January day, and out on Interstate 394, snow whipped against the windshields of drivers on their morning commutes. But inside the offices of Cargill, the food conglomerate, Greg Page, the company’s executive chairman, felt compelled to talk about global warming.

“It would be irresponsible not to contemplate it,” Mr. Page said, bundled up in a wool sport coat layered over a zip-up sweater. “I’m 63 years old, and I’ve grown up in the upper latitudes. I’ve seen too much change to presume we might not get more.”

Mr. Page is not a typical environmental activist. He says he doesn’t know — or particularly care — whether human activity causes climate change. He doesn’t give much serious thought to apocalyptic predictions of unbearably hot summers and endless storms.

Climate Change’s Bottom Line by Bert Helm, New York Times, Jan 31, 2015

Climate change "refugees" off the agenda, but problem looms large

The days when newspapers ran headlines about the hundreds of millions of climate change refugees who'd be knocking on the doors of rich countries in the coming decades are long gone. Experts in environmental migration are not exactly mourning the loss.

In the past few years, as researchers have deepened their understanding of how climatic stresses are pushing people to move, they have stopped making predictions about the numbers and started talking about the complexity of the phenomenon.

Recently we ran a story about how impoverished villagers on the mud flats of Pakistan's south coast are being forced to move inlanda few kilometres due to a combination of sea-level rise, storm surges, flooding and land erosion - a far cry from the early spectre of mass migration across borders.

Climate change "refugees" off the agenda, but problem looms large by Megan Rowling, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Jan 30, 2015

Most Americans support government action on climate change, poll finds

An overwhelming majority of the American public, including half of Republicans, support government action to curb global warming, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University and the nonpartisan environmental research group Resources for the Future.

In a finding that could have implications for the 2016 presidential campaign, the poll also found that two-thirds of Americans say they are more likely to vote for political candidates who campaign on fighting climate change. They are less likely to vote for candidates who question or deny the science that determined that humans caused global warming.

Among Republicans, 48 percent said they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports fighting climate change, a result that Jon A. Krosnick, a professor of political science at Stanford University and an author of the survey, called “the most powerful finding” in the poll. Many Republican candidates either question the science of climate change or do not publicly address the issue.

With fossil fuels growing as sources of electricity across the globe, the IEA sees nuclear power as a stable source of low-carbon power helping to take polluting coal-fired plants offline.

Most Americans Support Government Action on Climate Change, Poll Finds by Coral Davenport and Marjorie Connelly, New York Times, Jan 30, 2015

Nuclear power needs to double to meet warming goal

Since the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in Japan chilled global attitudes toward nuclear power, the world has been slowly reconciling its discomfort with nuclear and the idea that it may have a role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to tackle climate change.

The International Energy Agency and the Nuclear Energy Agency suggest in a report released Thursday that nuclear will have such a significant role to play in climate strategy that nuclear power generation capacity will have to double by 2050 in order for the world to meet the international 2°C (3.6°F) warming goal

Nuclear Power Needs to Double to Meet Warming Goal by Bobby Magill, Climate Central, Jan 26, 2015

Obama Moves To Protect Against Flooding From Rising Sea Levels

President Barack Obama issued an executive order on Friday directing federal, state and local agencies to incorporate projections for sea level rise in planning and construction along the coasts.

The new Federal Flood Risk Management Standard requires that all federally funded projects located in floodplains, including buildings and roads, be built to withstand flooding. The requirement, the White House said in a release Friday, would “reduce the risk and cost of future flood disasters” and “help ensure federal projects last as long as intended.”

“It is the policy of the United States to improve the resilience of communities and Federal assets against the impacts of flooding,” the order states. “These impacts are anticipated to increase over time due to the effects of climate change and other threats. Losses caused by flooding affect the environment, our economic prosperity, and public health and safety, each of which affects our national security.”

Obama Moves To Protect Against Flooding From Rising Sea Levels by Kate Shepqrd, The Huffington Post, Jan 30, 2015

Storms like U.S. blizzard may get stronger but less frequent - study

Large storms like the blizzard that battered New England this week may become more severe but less frequent as the Earth's climate changes, scientists said on Thursday.

The Canadian-led study noted that warmer air can hold more moisture, meaning more fuel for rain, hail or snow, and found knock-on effects on how the atmosphere generates storms.

"In a future climate, the global atmospheric circulation might comprise highly energetic storms," they wrote in the journal Science.

Storms like U.S. blizzard may get stronger but less frequent - study by Alister Doyle, Reuters, Jan 29, 2015

The world can live better and fight climate change, UK report says

The world can improve living standards for all while cutting climate-changing emissions to keep to an internationally agreed limit for global warming, a team led by the British government said on Wednesday.

It launched an online calculator allowing businesses, governments, researchers and the public to explore how different ways of pursuing economic development to 2050 will shape carbon emissions and rising temperatures.

Even though the world's population is set to rise to 10 billion by 2050 from 7 billion today, the tool shows it is possible for everyone to eat well, travel further and live in more comfortable homes, without pushing global temperature rise above 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change said.

But to achieve that, we must use energy more efficiently, shift away from fossil fuels, protect forests and make smarter use of land, it added.

The World Can Live Better And Fight Climate Change, UK Report Says by Megan Rowling, Thomson Reuters Foundation/The Huffington Post, Jan 28, 2015

U.S. EPA chief hopes pope will spur concern on climate change

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Friday she hoped Pope Francis' upcoming message to his flock on the environment would help galvanize concern about climate change and convince sceptics that "the science is real".

EPA administrator Gina McCarthy, visiting the Vatican to discuss climate change, said U.S. President Barack Obama shared the pope's belief that it was a moral issue because its effects would be felt most by the poorest and weakest nations.

"The pope knows his own beliefs and I want him to know that the president is aligned with him on these issues," she told reporters.

U.S. EPA chief hopes pope will spur concern on climate change by Philip Pullella, Reuters, Jan 30, 2015

We can solve climate change, but it won’t be cheap or easy

Pretty much everyone who acknowledges the problem of climate change is hungry for good news about it, which makes sense, as most of the news is overwhelming and awful. There is high demand for optimism — I hear it every time someone asks me to write or speak on climate — so inevitably there is supply.

Take, for instance, Paul Krugman, who crows, in a column called “Salvation Gets Cheap,” that “even under the most ambitious goals the [IPCC] assessment considers, the estimated reduction in economic growth would basically amount to a rounding error, around 0.06 percent per year.” Joe Romm touts the same number in “Climate Panel Stunner: Avoiding Climate Catastrophe Is Super Cheap — But Only If We Act Now.”

I appreciate the can-do spirit, but as Krugman and Romm no doubt both know, the idea that aggressive climate mitigation is going to shave precisely 0.06 percent off GDP growth is utterly fantastical.

We can solve climate change, but it won’t be cheap or easy by David Roberts, Grist, Jan 26, 2015

Why is the 'Climate President' approving more oil drilling?

Something doesn't compute here.

Last week, President Obama rightly declared in his State of the Union address: "No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change."

This week, the Obama administration announced plans open up the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas drilling and offer more lease sales in the sensitive Arctic waters off Alaska. Ramping up offshore drilling will not only raise the risk of disastrous oil spills and threats to wildlife, but will also deepen our dependence on the very fossil fuels driving us into the global climate crisis.

Here's the thing about dealing with global warming: You can't say you want to make it better and then do the opposite. Rhetoric won't curb carbon dioxide emissions and poetic speeches won't stop the seas from rising and the planet from warming.

Why Is the 'Climate President' Approving More Oil Drilling? Op-ed by Miyoko Sakashita, Huffington Post/Common Dreams, Jan 30, 2015

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Comments 1 to 4:

  1. Really enjoyed Dave Robert's article, and also Revkin's support of Dave's views on this. I was sad to see Joe Romm attacking their pragmatic approach :(  We need some serious planning to actually move forward on this issue, as opposed to Romm's 'Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead' attitude. We also need to present a unified front on Climate issues in general, this kind of infighting is well noted (and laughed at) by the 'opposition', if you get my meaning.


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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Thank you for the positive feedback. 

  2. Unfortunately the reluctance to accept the importance of significant action towards the changes of the way the most fortunate enjoy their life is very popular and powerful among those who are the problem.

    The successful denial that their overconsuming enjoyment and pursuits are a problem is the real problem. The popularity of that attitude fuels the profitability of activity that is clearly understood to be unaccepable.

    Through the past 25 years, the combined power of the profitability and popularity of a lack of concern for the future has created the horrible present day situation. As mentioned, there now is little chance of avoiding significant future consequences. And there is significant resistance among the real trouble makers to any action that would be a 'sacrifice  to their potential to personally benefit more just for the potential benefit of others, no matter how minor their sacrifice is compared to the magnitude of trouble others would face if the sacrifice was not made'.

    The ability of people to personally succeed through activity that clearly has no long term future, and actually adds to the future challenges to be overcome by others, distracts effort from the important essential tasks that need to be focused on.

    It is clear that the socio-economic-political system has never been very good at developing toward a sustainable better futre for all. It actually has no interest in that type of development. It even motivates people to try to get as much wealth and power no matter how unacceptable their means are, because there is ample evidence that unacceptable activity can be gotten away with.

    That is the barrier to the amount and type of research and development that is required.

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  3. I have been reading the new work by Laliberte, that analyzes the earths atmosphere as a heat engine and predicts fewer but more violent storms.

    This brought to mind that there  a heat engine aspect to textbook analysis of Global Warming I have never quite understood. Consider the standard treatment of the  Earth with no GHG. One knows the flux incident on the Earth from the Sun and considers the earth as having no GHG but an albedo of about 0.3. The Earth and Sun are clearly in themal balance in this case and the average Earth temperature comes out about 254 K. 

    In all textbooks I have read, one assumes that, even with an atmosphere,  there must be   thermal balance between the Earth and the Sun. Then if there is some forcing by - say - a burst of methane, eventually the Earth reacts to that forcing F by attaining a corresponding increase in temperature at the Earth's surface. 

    But consider the First Law of Thermodynamics: If the Earth's intermal energy is U then  U2 - U1 = F.  But the new internal energy U2 could have a mechanica component. Say the forcing F is applied; then concieveably U2 = U2(T) + U2(mechanical) --I could apply heat to a container of water and not only incrrease the temperature but also produce a convective flow in addition.

    Perhaps one could argue that the forcing acts adiabatically on the water molecules in the atmosphere so that U2(mechanical) is small.  But I have never seen this covered in any text to date; the assumption is always made that all the forcing goes into a temperature increase. 

    As far as Climate Change is concerned, the U2(mechanical) term could be as or more damaging as if the entire U2 -U1 were thermal.  


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  4. curiousd - in my understanding, the effect of forcing change is usually interested in the change in radiation at the surface. This must produce a temperature change on the surface in accordance with S-B to satisfy 1st law. However, the energy lost from that heated surface will be mix of radiation, evoration and convection. Ultimately though, at TOA, these convert to radiative losses. While the conventional energy balances figures show atmospheric convection etc , they dont show the energy associated with ocean systems. Not immediately apparent to me why not.

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