What doesn’t change with climate?

Global warming and subsequent climate change have a lot of different effects. The composition of the atmosphere changes. The troposphere swells and the atmosphere gets wetter. Oceans warm and expand. There are chemical changes in the ocean waters. Well known example of that is the ocean acidification caused by the increasing carbon dioxide concentration.

The biosphere gets shuffled. Some species shift to other places looking for more suitable conditions in which to live. Body shape and/or size changes for some species. The timetables between species get all mixed up. For example, because of an earlier spring the available food (caterpillars) is gone before the eggs of migratory birds hatch. Some, or according to predictions quite many, of the species will even go extinct.

Glaciers and ice sheets are melting. There are changes even in the lithosphere when the pressing weight of the ice sheets and glaciers is reduced as they melt into the ocean. Today at some places we can still see this same effect at work as the Earth’s crust is uplifting because the weight of the ice sheets that were there during the last glaciation (i.e. the “ice age”) was removed when the ice melted away. This effect also affects the asthenosphere, a viscous layer below the lithosphere.

So the climate change shows up everywhere – in the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, asthenosphere, and beyond. Is there anything within Earth’s system that doesn’t change with climate?

Changes in the Earth’s core are probably small. However, as the ice sheets are melting and their weight is redistributed to the Oceans, rotation of the Earth is affected. This might also have some minor effect in the Earth’s core.

Warming affects the rate of weathering and changes in rainfall affects the erosion processes which means that also mountains, for example, change with climate.

Outside the Earth things of course don’t change that much because we are talking about a change in Earth’s climate. This means that the Sun doesn’t change, so perhaps the amount of solar radiation reaching the Earth remains unaffected? It seems that this isn’t so as the changes in the atmosphere and in cloud cover affect the amount of solar radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface. One could argue that higher in the atmosphere the amount of solar radiation is unaffected, but then we also start to leave the Earth’s system.

By the way, not all things in outer space remain unaffected by the changes in Earth’s climate. The albedo (reflectivity) of Earth changes and that shows for example in the Moon. The amount of radiation from Earth to Moon (this is known as earthshine) changes a little, so the temperature of the Moon changes a little (but probably not enough to be observable). The climate change makes Earth look a little different from outer space – at least the brightness of the Earth changes. Also, and here we venture deeper into the hair splitting department, before climate equilibrium is reached, the outgoing radiation from Earth would be reduced, cooling all of the bodies in the solar system a very tiny bit, even the Sun.

The amount of some substances in the atmosphere might remain quite unaffected, but as there are major changes in the atmosphere (for example the concentrations of water vapor and carbon dioxide are changing a lot), it is expected that the amount of all substances in the atmosphere changes too at least a little.

The spatial and temporal distribution of elementary particles within the Earth's system changes with climate, but particles themselves are probably unaffected, although we cannot be sure about that. Atoms are slightly more complex particles, but also they might remain largely unaffected. Moving on to even more complex particles, in the molecular level we already see some changes with climate. For example, the amount of different molecules in the atmosphere changes, which changes the amount of collision between the molecules, which then affects the vibration of the molecules. The changes in the vibration affect how the molecules absorb radiation, so the change in molecules with climate is even measurable in the spectrum of the molecules.

So it seems that there aren't many things in the Earth’s system that remain unaffected by climate change. Climate change affects almost everything, even if the changes in some cases mentioned above are just tiny. Only elementary particles seem to remain unaffected, though we cannot really be sure even of that.


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Posted by Ari Jokimäki on Thursday, 7 March, 2013

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