Global warming

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"Global warming" has been introduced by the scientific community and the media as the term that encompasses all potential changes in climate that result from higher average global temperatures. Hundreds of scientists from many different countries are working to understand global warming and have come to a consensus on several important aspects. In general, Global warming will produce far more profound climatic changes than simply a rise in global temperature.

An analysis of temperature records shows that the Earth has warmed an average of 0.5°C over the past 100 years. This is consistent with predictions of global warming due to an enhanced greenhouse effect and increased aerosols. Part of the current global warmth is associated with the tropical El Nino, without which a record global temperature would probably not have occurred.

The Earth's climate is the result of extremely complex interactions among the atmosphere, the oceans, the land masses, and living organisms, which are all warmed daily by the sun's energy. This heat would radiate back into space if not for the atmosphere, which relies on a delicate balance of heat-trapping gases - including water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane - to act as a natural "greenhouse," keeping in just the right amount of the sun's energy to support life.

For the past 150 years, though, the atmospheric concentrations of these gases, particularly carbon dioxide, have been rising. As a result, more heat is being trapped than previously, which in turn is causing the global temperature to rise. Climate scientists have linked the increased levels of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere to human activities, in particular the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas for heating and electricity; gasoline for transportation), deforestation, cattle ranching, and rice farming.

As the Earth's climate is the result of extremely complex interactions, scientists still cannot predict the exact impact on the earth's climate of these rising levels of heat-trapping gases over the next century. The current best estimate is that if carbon dioxide concentrations double over preindustrial levels, according to the scientific possible scenarios, an atmospheric doubling of carbon dioxide could occur as early as 2050.

In 1995, scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - the authoritative international body charged with studying this issue-reached a conclusion in the Second Assessment Report, which summarizes the current state of scientific knowledge on global warming, also called climate change.

For the first time ever, the Panel concluded that the observed increase in global average temperature over the last century "is unlikely to be entirely natural in origin" and that "the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate."

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