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Today's changing climate poses challenges about the influence of human activity, such as greenhouse gas emissions and land use changes, the natural variability of Earth's climate, and complex feedback processes. Ice core and instrumental records show that over the last century, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations have risen to 390 parts per million volume (ppmv), about 40% above pre-Industrial Age concentrations of 280 ppmv and nearly twice those of the last glacial maximum about 22,000 years ago. Similar historical increases are recorded in atmospheric methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). There is general agreement that human activity is largely responsible for these trends. Substantial evidence also suggests that elevated greenhouse gas concentrations are responsible for much of the recent atmospheric and oceanic warming, rising sea level, declining Arctic sea-ice cover, retreating glaciers and small ice caps, decreased mass balance of the Greenland and parts of the Antarctic ice sheets, and decreasing ocean pH (ocean "acidification"). Elevated CO2 concentrations raise concern not only from observations of the climate system, but because feedbacks associated with reduced reflectivity from in land and sea ice, sea level, and land vegetation relatively slowly (centuries or longer) to elevated 2 levels. This means that additional human-induced climate change is expected even if the rate of CO2 emissions is reduced or concentrations immediately stabilized.
Additional Publication Details
Modern climate challenges and the geological record