Frequently Asked Questions

Climate and Land Use Change

USGS science helps communities understand the implications of change, anticipate the effects of change, and reduce the risks associated with a changing environment.

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Six metal poles support heating lamps several feet above the tropical floor. Tropical forest vegetation surrounds the structure
Not specifically. Our charge is to understand characteristics of the earth, especially the earth's surface, that affect our Nation's land, water, and biological resources. That includes quite a bit of environmental monitoring. Other agencies, especially NOAA and NASA, are specifically funded to monitor global temperature and atmospheric phenomena...
Weakened livestock, West Arsi, Ethiopia
With increasing global surface temperatures the possibility of more droughts and increased intensity of storms will likely occur. As more water vapor is evaporated into the atmosphere it becomes fuel for more powerful storms to develop. More heat in the atmosphere and warmer ocean surface temperatures can lead to increased wind speeds in tropical...
Climate Change and Elk Herds
• Temperatures are rising world-wide due to greenhouse gases trapping more heat in the atmosphere. • Droughts are becoming longer and more extreme around the world. • Tropical storms becoming more severe due to warmer ocean water temperatures. • As temperatures rise there is less snowpack in mountain ranges and polar areas and the snow melts...
A cabin along Alaska's Arctic coast was recently washed into the ocean because the bluff it was sitting on eroded away.
Scientists have predicted that long-term effects of climate change will include a decrease in sea ice and an increase in permafrost thawing, increase in heat waves and heavy precipitation, and decreased water resources in semi-arid regions.   Below are some of the regional impacts of global change forecast by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate...
Amargosa Desert, Nevada and California
Although people tend to use these terms interchangeably, global warming is just one aspect of climate change. “Global warming” refers to the rise in global temperatures due mainly to the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. “Climate change” refers to the increasing changes in the measures of climate over a long period...
Image: Remote Weather Station
Weather refers to short term atmospheric conditions while climate is the weather of a specific region averaged over a long period of time. Climate change refers to long-term changes.
Image: Smoke Stack - Air Pollution
There are many “natural” and “anthropogenic” (human-induced) factors that contribute to climate change. Climate change has always happened on Earth, which is clearly seen in the geological record; it is the rapid rate and the magnitude of climate change occurring now that is of great concern worldwide. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb...
Wilted wheat in Arsi Negele, south-central Ethiopia
The link between land use and the climate is complex.  First, land cover, as shaped by land use practices, affects the global concentration of greenhouse gases. Second, while land use change is an important driver of climate change, a changing climate can lead to changes in land use and land cover. For example, farmers may shift from their...
graph of New York Climate Division 4, temperature in January and December from 1901 to 2010
The scientific community is certain that the Earth's climate is changing because of the trends that we see in the instrumented climate record and the changes that have been observed in physical and biological systems.  The instrumental record of climate change is derived from thousands of temperature and precipitation recording stations around the...
Smoky Mountain fires on the night of Nov. 28, 2016
There isn’t a direct relationship between climate change and fire, but researchers have found strong correlations between warm summer temperatures and large fire years, so there is general consensus that fire occurrence will increase with climate change. Hot, dry conditions, however, do not automatically mean fire—something needs to create the...
Glacial terrain
Mount Rainier, Washington, at 14,410 feet (4,393 meters), the highest peak in the Cascade Range, is a dormant volcano whose glacier ice cover exceeds that of any other mountain in the conterminous United States. Mount Rainier has approximately 26 glaciers. It contains more than five times the glacier area of all the other Cascade volcanoes...
Tidewater glaciers of south-central Alaska
No one knows for sure. In the Devils Hole, Nevada, paleoclimate record, the last four interglacials lasted over ~20,000 years with the warmest portion being a relatively stable period of 10,000 to 15,000 years duration. This is consistent with what is seen in the Vostok ice core from Antarctica and several records of sea level high stands. These...