FAQs on Climate, Water, and Carbon
Do most scientists believe the climate is changing?
In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) determined that the "warming of the climate system is unequivocal" based on measurements of average air and ocean temperatures, extensive melting of snow and ice and rising sea levels.
The IPCC is a scientific body established by the World Meteorological Organization and by the United Nations Environment Programme.
While scientists are naturally skeptical, much of the debate now centers on the intensity of the changes, how quickly they may occur and what can or should be done to mitigate or adapt to these changes.
Is the entire Earth getting warmer and how will global warming affect me?
Global warming is a commonly-used "catch all" term that really means that the average surface temperature of the planet has increased. Land has warmed faster than the oceans, increasing by about 0.74 degrees centigrade since 1900.
The effect of this depends on where you live. Rising temperatures will have greater impact on the planet's natural ecosystems, bringing about some intense changes in the weather, rising sea levels, availability of drinking water, crop yields, seasonal periods and plant and animal life. There will be global winners and losers, but even if countries escape the brunt of ecosystem changes, they may suffer economic difficulty due to problems elsewhere in the world.
Hasn't it been normal for the Earth to go through hot and cold climate cycles over thousands of years?
The scientific reconstruction of past climate conditions indicate that the Earth has swung from ice ages to warm climates over the last million years or more. Many factors brought about those changes, including variations in the planet's orbit, solar activity, ice cover, continental changes and greenhouse gasses.
But the IPCC and other scientists found that since the pre-industrial age the increased energy use by people is causing a greater release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, boosting amounts by 70 percent between 1970 and 2004. These increased gas concentrations, among other things, are causing the abrupt climate changes on Earth.
How is the CWC unique and what does it hope to accomplish by linking researchers from different areas of study?
The complex problems posed by abrupt climate change don't fall neatly into separate scientific topics. More than 50 OSU scientists, encompassing a host of research fields, will examine interlocking climate issues, using a broad array of techniques to tackle these problems from many viewpoints. In an exceptional matchup, they are linked with policy researchers in order to better frame scientific and policy-oriented responses to the dilemmas raised by climate change.
The CWC will leverage $12 million provided by Ohio State's Office of Academic Affairs through its Targeted Investment in Excellence Program. The money – unique for its size and spending flexibility -- is an "investment," not a "grant." The funds will allow CWC to increase that investment through partnerships with governments, industry, foundations and philanthropic organizations, ensuring sustained research of issues raised by CWC's three founding questions.
What are greenhouse gasses and what role do they play in climate change?
Greenhouse gases contribute to the insulation of the atmosphere — producing the so-called greenhouse effect — which lets sunlight in to heat the Earth but stops some of that heat from escaping back out into space.
Greenhouse gases include methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, carbon dioxide and others. Carbon dioxide is one of the main culprits of climate change, trapping heat near the planet's surface. Carbon dioxide is produced in large part by the burning of fossil fuels to produce energy.
What is carbon sequestration and what is its role in climate change?
Carbon sequestration, also known as carbon farming, is a process for reducing carbon dioxide in the air by trapping it in soil and plants. This could help ease the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, which are causing Earth's temperature to rise.
Storing carbon can be accomplished by: reducing the amount of crop lands that are plowed and changing over to no-till farming; planting more trees in the tropics and temperate regions; increasing the production of biofuels.
I see that the CWC will study the volume and movement of surface water. How does that relate to climate issues and why is it important?
Population growth and uneven distribution of fresh water is expected to impact the availability of water for drinking, irrigation and industrial use, a situation that could grow more critical as the climate changes. For example, under a changing climate some global regions are expected to experience greater droughts or more intense floods. Current information and data are limited regarding the flow and water volume in rivers, lakes and wetlands. Increasing knowledge in those areas would allow scientists to better predict the availability of water and also the potential hazards from floods.
How do studies of the Ohio River basin relate to climate change issues?
The Ohio Basin has a rich agricultural and industrial history due, in part, to the abundance of natural resources like water and quality soils. We need to understand how this resource base might change under increasing global temperatures. For example, what is the potential for a mild drought in Ohio and how might that impact soil and water quality?
Why does the CWC link scientific research on climate change with government policy?
Adjustment to climate change will require some behavioral change, which can be voluntary or brought about by the adoption of new policies. Planners must strike a balance between the positive and negative consequences of new policy as it relates to costs to society and climate change risks.
Climate change is complex. Scientific discovery will help society and policy makers better evaluate the benefits and costs of undertaking policies to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
What can I do to help lessen the impact of climate change?
A good first step is to calculate your own "carbon footprint" to see how much carbon you are releasing every day. Energy carbon calculators can be found at http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/wycd/calculator/ind_calculator.html and at http://www.nature.org/initiatives/climatechange/calculator/. Once calculated, you can find opportunities to reduce your personal emissions through some important and simple lifestyle changes. Many ideas can be found at the U.S. EPA website and the World Wildlife Fund climate change sections.