How do we know the climate is changing?

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 world. We have very high confidence in these records as a whole. The evidence of a warming trend over the past century is unequivocal.  

Many types of instrumental records point to a climate warming trend. Our streamflow records show an earlier peak in spring runoff; borehole temperature records in Alaskan permafrost as well as water temperature records on land and sea show the warming trend. The physical and biological changes that confirm climate warming include the rate of retreat in glaciers around the world, the intensification of rainfall events, changes in the timing of the leafing out of plants and the arrival of spring migrant birds, and the shifting of the range of some species.  

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What are the long-term effects of climate change?

Scientists have predicted that long-term effects of climate change will include a decrease in sea ice and an increase in permafrost thawing, an 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...

What is the difference between weather and climate change?

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.

How can climate change affect natural disasters?

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...

What are some of the signs of climate change?

• 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...

How do changes in climate and land use relate to one another?

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 might shift from their...

How do we know glaciers are shrinking?

In addition to qualitative methods like Repeat Photography , USGS scientists collect quantitative measurements of glacier area and mass balance to track how some glaciers are retreating ( Glacier Monitoring Studies ). For example, ablation stakes show the seasonal gain and loss of snow, snow-pit analyses measure density of snow, and precision GPS...

How does carbon get into the atmosphere?

Atmospheric carbon dioxide comes from two primary sources—natural and human activities. Natural sources of carbon dioxide include most animals, which exhale carbon dioxide as a waste product. Human activities that lead to carbon dioxide emissions come primarily from energy production, including burning coal, oil, or natural gas.

Has the USGS made any Biologic Carbon Sequestration assessments?

The USGS is congressionally mandated (2007 Energy Independence and Security Act) to conduct a comprehensive national assessment of storage and flux (flow) of carbon and the fluxes of other greenhouse gases (including carbon dioxide) in ecosystems. At this writing, reports have been completed for Alaska , the Eastern U.S. , the Great Plains , and...

Which area is the best for geologic carbon sequestration?

It is difficult to characterize one area as “the best” for carbon sequestration because the answer depends on the question – best for what? However, the area of the assessment with the most storage potential for carbon dioxide is the Coastal Plains region, which includes coastal basins from Texas to Georgia. That region accounts for 2,000 metric...

How much carbon dioxide can the United States store via geologic sequestration?

In 2013, the USGS released the first-ever comprehensive, nation-wide assessment of geologic carbon sequestration , which estimates a mean storage potential of 3,000 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide. The assessment is the first geologically-based, probabilistic assessment, with a range of 2,400 to 3,700 metric gigatons of potential carbon dioxide...

What’s the difference between geologic and biologic carbon sequestration?

Geologic carbon sequestration is the process of storing carbon dioxide (CO2) in underground geologic formations. The CO2 is usually pressurized until it becomes a liquid, and then it is injected into porous rock formations in geologic basins. This method of carbon storage is also sometimes a part of enhanced oil recovery, otherwise known as...

What is carbon sequestration?

Carbon dioxide is the most commonly produced greenhouse gas. Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. It is one method of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere with the goal of reducing global climate change. The USGS is conducting assessments on two major types of carbon...
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Date published: August 14, 2017

Walrus Sea-Ice Habitats Melting Away

Habitat for the Pacific walrus in the Chukchi Sea is disappearing from beneath them as the warming climate melts away Arctic sea ice in the spring, forcing the large mammals to “haul out” of the ocean and temporarily live on land.

Date published: June 6, 2017

Increased Sea Ice Drift Puts Polar Bears on Faster Moving Treadmill

A new study led by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Wyoming found that increased westward ice drift in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas requires polar bears to expend more energy walking eastward on a faster moving “treadmill” of sea ice.  

Date published: November 15, 2016

A Mix of the Historic and Futuristic: Using Virtual Reality to Help Identify Tribal Climate Change Issues

Can indigenous knowledge of the local environment help inform climate science? If so, then what is the best way for climate scientists and tribal members to share what they know?

Date published: September 20, 2016

Changing Times, Changing Stories: Climate Change Perspectives Vary Notably Among Generations in Subarctic Alaska

New research from the U.S. Geological Survey and partners illustrates how climate change is perceived among different generations of indigenous residents in subarctic Alaska. While all subjects agreed climate change is occurring, the older participants observed more overall changes than the younger demographic.

Date published: July 27, 2016

Thousands of Walruses Forced to Haul Out in Alaska

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Date published: June 29, 2016

Polar Bear Outlook Favorable Under Certain Scenarios

“The scenarios predicted by our models are encouraging in that there are clear actions that humans can take to improve the chances that healthy polar bear populations persist in the future.” - Todd Atwood, USGS

Date published: May 4, 2016

A Warming Climate Could Alter the Ecology of the Deepest Lake in the United States

Warming air temperature is predicted to change water temperature and water column mixing in Oregon’s Crater Lake over the next several decades, potentially impacting the clarity and health of the iconic lake, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report released today.

Date published: April 20, 2016

How Climate Change Might Affect Polar Bears' Bodies

You really are what you eat. That’s the taking-off point for a new polar bear study, conducted by U.S. Geological Survey researchers with an assist from the Oregon Zoo — and published this week in the journal Physiological and Biochemical Zoology. 

Date published: November 30, 2015

USGS Projects Large Loss of Alaska Permafrost by 2100

Using statistically modeled maps drawn from satellite data and other sources, U.S. Geological Survey scientists have projected that the near-surface permafrost that presently underlies 38 percent of boreal and arctic Alaska would be reduced by 16 to 24 percent by the end of the 21st century under widely accepted climate scenarios.

Date published: October 19, 2015

Arctic Mammals May Face Shrinking Habitat from Climate Warming

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A new scientific study predicts that some of Alaska’s mammal species will respond to future climate warming by concentrating in northern areas such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska. If true, for many species, this would be a significant northward shift into tundra habitats where they are currently absent.

Date published: August 8, 2015

Adaptive capacity of species - a fundamental component when assessing vulnerability to rapid climate change.

A new paper led by U.S. Geological Survey Ecologists Erik Beever (Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center) and Michelle Staudinger (Northeast Climate Science Center) addresses the importance of including adaptive capacity of species as a fundamental component when assessing vulnerability to rapid climate change.

Date published: July 17, 2015

As Climate Warms Hawaiian Forest Birds Lose More Ground to Mosquitoes

ISLAND OF HAWAI‘I, Hawaii — Hawai‘i, the name alone elicits images of rhythmic traditional dancing, breathtaking azure sea coasts and scenes of vibrant birds flitting through lush jungle canopy. Unfortunately, the future of many native Hawaiian birds looks grim as diseases carried by mosquitoes are due to expand into higher elevation safe zones.

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July 30, 2017

A Record of Change: Science and Elder Observations on the Navajo N.

A Record of Change—Science and Elder Observations on the Navajo Nation is a 25-minute documentary about collaborative studies using conventional physical sciences, combined with tribal elder observations to show that local knowledge and conventional science partnerships can effectively document ecosystem change and determine the resulting challenges to livelihoods. 

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June 22, 2017

PubTalk 6/2017 — Effects of Climate Change: A Scientific Path Forward

Title: The Effects of Climate Change: A Scientific Pathway Forward

  • The frequency of extreme and unpredictable weather events is increasing.
  • What are the effects of an increase or decrease in carbon emissions?
  • What is scientific research projecting for the future of climate change?
April 30, 2016

Polar Bear - POV Cams (Spring 2016)

This short clip is representative of a large amount of video footage of an adult female polar bear, equipped with a point of view camera, that is used by scientists to study polar bear behavior and feeding rates. Camera were attached to 10 animals in the southern Beaufort Sea over the course of several years, and stay on the animals for about 2 weeks until it is retrieved

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This is a glacier animation for Glacier National Park.
April 5, 2016

Glacier Animation

The simulation below reflects the predicted exponential rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations, a 2xCO2 "global warming" scenario, with a concurrent warming of 2-3 degrees centigrade (4-5 degrees Fahrenheit) by the year 2050. In addition it assumes that precipitation, primarily in the form of rain, will increase over the same time period about 10 percent (based on the

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1,500 walruses resting on shore
April 4, 2016

1,500 walruses resting on shore

More than 1,500 walruses resting on shore at Cape Grieg in southeastern Bristol Bay.

Image: Two Swimming Polar Bears
March 14, 2016

Two Swimming Polar Bears

Data collected from long distance swims by Polar bears suggest that they do not stop to rest during their journey.

Image: An Adult Polar Bear and Her Two Cubs
March 14, 2016

An Adult Polar Bear and Her Two Cubs

An adult female polar bear and her two cubs travel across the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean north of the Alaska coast.

August 21, 2015

2015 Climate Bootcamp

The Northwest Climate Science Center (NW CSC) is a Department of the Interior (DOI) initiative, sponsored by the USGS and jointly hosted by Oregon State University, the University of Idaho, and the University of Washington. One objective of the NW CSC is to support and train graduate students and early career professionals to work at the interface of scientific research on

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June 9, 2015

What's the Big Idea? — Remote Sensing Understand Climate Change

Zhuoting Wu, research ecologist at the USGS Western Geographic Science Center, explains how the USGS uses remote sensing technology to help Tribal communities better understand the effects of climate change.

December 1, 2014

Climate Change Impacts on Aquatic Ecosystems in PNW

This webinar was held as a part of the Climate Change Science and Management Webinar Series, a partnership between the USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center and the FWS National Conservation Training Center. Webinar Description: Trout and salmon populations, which play a critical role in many ecosystems and economies, have dramatically declined in the

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September 8, 2014

Extreme Climate Events and Species Population Dynamics

This webinar was held as a part of the Climate Change Science and Management Webinar Series, a partnership between the USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center and the FWS National Conservation Training Center. Webinar Description: Extreme events (floods, droughts, and fires) have a high public profile and changes in their frequency, magnitude, and duration

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November 15, 2012

PubTalk 11/2012 — Understanding Climate-Wildlife Relationships

-- are American pikas harbingers of changing conditions?

by USGS Research Ecologist Erik Beever

 

  • American pikas are denizens of rocky talus and lava-flow habitats in mountain ecosystems across western North America
  • Mountain environments, cauldrons of climatic harshness, exhibit sharp topographic, vegetative, and
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