Why is climate change happening and what are the causes?

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 heat radiation. Human activity has increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, leading to more heat retention and an increase in surface temperatures. Atmospheric aerosols alter climate by scattering and absorbing solar and infrared radiation and they may also change the microphysical and chemical properties of clouds. Finally, land-use changes, such as deforestation have led to changes in the amount of sunlight reflected from the ground back into space (the surface albedo).

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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...

Does the USGS monitor global warming?

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...

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 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...

Will global warming produce more frequent and more intense wildfires?

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...

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. Learn more:...

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...

How much carbon dioxide does the United States and the World emit each year from energy sources?

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that in 2019, the United States emitted 5.1 billion metric tons of energy-related carbon dioxide , while the global emissions of energy-related carbon dioxide totaled 33.1 billion metric tons.

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...
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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: October 26, 2015

Ancient Permafrost Quickly Transforms to Carbon Dioxide upon Thaw

Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey and key academic partners have quantified how rapidly ancient permafrost decomposes upon thawing and how much carbon dioxide is produced in the process.

Attribution: Water Resources
Date published: December 4, 2014

New Heights of Global Topographic Data Will Aid Climate Change Research

The U.S. Geological Survey announced today that improved global topographic (elevation) data are now publicly available for North and South America, Pacific Islands, and northern Europe. Similar data for most of Africa were previously released by USGS in September. 

Date published: June 25, 2014

Carbon Storage in U.S. Eastern Ecosystems Helps Counter Greenhouse Gas Emissions Contributing to Climate Change

On the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today released a new report showing that forests, wetlands and farms in the eastern United States naturally store 300 million tons of carbon a year (1,100 million tons of CO2 equivalent).

Date published: March 11, 2014

Amazon Carbon Dynamics: Understanding the Photosynthesis-Climate Link

What controls the response of photosynthesis in Amazon tropical forests to seasonal variations in climate?

Date published: October 14, 2009

Arctic Now Traps 25 Percent of World's Carbon -- But That Could Change

The arctic could potentially alter the Earth's climate by becoming a possible source of global atmospheric carbon dioxide. The arctic now traps or absorbs up to 25 percent of this gas but climate change could alter that amount, according to a study published in the November issue of Ecological Monographs.

Date published: July 23, 2008

"Carbon farm" project will study ways to capture atmospheric CO2

Imagine a new kind of farming in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta - "carbon-capture" farming, which traps atmospheric carbon dioxide and rebuilds lost soils. 

Date published: May 11, 2007

Abrupt Climate Change: Causes and Ecosystem Responses

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists who study trends in climate change will be presenting the results from new studies at a workshop held in Pacific Grove, California, May 13-16, 2007.

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April 21, 2013

USGS Climate Connections: Questions from Colorado

America has questions about climate change, and the USGS has real answers. In this episode of Climate Connections, USGS scientists answer questions gathered from downtown Denver, Colorado. Questions include:

  • How is Colorado affected by climate change and how can I learn more?
  • Were the wildfires this past summer related to climate change?
  • Do
August 12, 2012

Climate Connections: Questions from Washington, DC

America has questions about climate change, and the USGS has real answers. In this episode of Climate Connections, USGS scientists answer questions gathered from students at H.D. Woodson High School in Washington, DC. Questions include:

  • If you could tell the public one thing about climate change, what would it be?
  • Does climate change impact humans or
March 13, 2012

Climate Connections: Questions from Glacier National Park, MT (Ep 4)

America has questions about climate change, and the USGS has real answers. In this episode of Climate Connections, USGS scientists answer questions gathered from the beautiful Glacier National Park in Montana. Questions include:


  • When I come back in ten years, what will I see in Glacier National Park?
  • How is climate change impacting the
October 31, 2011

Climate Connections: Questions from Puerto Rico

America has questions about climate change, and the USGS has real answers. In this episode of Climate Connections, USGS scientists answer questions gathered from Puerto Rico. Questions include:
- Why has the rainy season been so long in Puerto Rico?
- How is global warming impacting the island of Puerto Rico?
- What are solar storms and are they related to

July 27, 2011

Climate Connections: Questions from North and South Carolina

America has questions about climate change, and the USGS has real answers. In this episode of Climate Connections, USGS scientists answer questions gathered from North and South Carolina.

video thumbnail: USGS Public Lecture Series: Climate Change 101
August 24, 2009

USGS Public Lecture Series: Climate Change 101

Climate change is an issue of increasing public concern because of its potential effects on land, water, and biological resources. In the next several years, the United States will be challenged to make management and policy decisions as well as develop adaptation and mitigation strategies that will require anticipating the effects of a changing climate and its impacts on

video thumbnail: USGS Public Lecture Series: Watching Nature's Clock: A Citizen-Scientist Effort to Track Seasonal Signs of Climate Change
May 5, 2009

USGS Public Lecture Series: Watching Nature's Clock: A Citizen-Scientist Effort to Track Seasonal Signs of Climate Change

A new USGS program, the USA National Phenology Network, is recruiting tens of thousands of volunteers to team up with scientists to help track the effects of climate on seasonal patterns of plant and animal behavior. Come learn how you can contribute to this new national effort, by getting outside, and observing and recording flowering, fruiting and other seasonal events.

USGS CoreCast
March 22, 2009

Can We Move Carbon from the Atmosphere and into Rocks?

A new method to assess the Nation's potential for storing carbon dioxide in rocks below the earth's surface could help lessen climate change impacts. The injection and storage of liquid carbon dioxide into subsurface rocks is known as geologic carbon sequestration.

USGS scientist Robert Burruss discusses this new methodology and how it can help mitigate climate

Image: Smoke Stack - Air Pollution
March 17, 2009

Smoke Stack - Air Pollution

An example of human activities that impact the earth's atmosphere.

Attribution: Ecosystems
USGS CoreCast
September 28, 2008

Farming Carbon to Help the Atmosphere and the Land

Long-standing farming practices in California's Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta expose fragile peat soils to wind, rain and cultivation, emit carbon dioxide (CO2) and cause land subsidence. To capture or contain the carbon, farmers would ‘grow’ wetlands. In doing so, they would begin to rebuild the Delta's unique peat soils, take CO2 out of the atmosphere, ease pressure

Erosion and climate change along Alaska's Arctic Coast
December 31, 1969

Erosion and climate change along Alaska's Arctic Coast

Erosion and climate change along Alaska's Arctic Coast