Climate change is a topic that has been quite prevalent in the news recently, both online and offline. Climate change is becoming more and more of a topic in the public eye, and even our children are beginning to discuss it.
However, there is still a lot of confusion about what climate change is and how it could be measured. This article will explore what climate change is and if there is a single instrument to measure climate change.
So is there a single instrument to measure climate change? No, there is no single instrument that measures climate change as a whole. Climate change is complicated and involves a lot of factors. It is impossible to measure climate change and its entirety with just one instrument. But this does not mean that climate change cant be measured and is not currently measured.
Climate change is an aggregation of many factors. To measure climate change, you have to measure and combine results from different parameters, such as rainfall, temperature, sea level, the mass of the cryosphere, e.t.c.
So the simple answer is there is no single instrument to measure climate change. But often, the simple answer isn’t always usually the correct answer, so read on. I have some explaining to do.
To discuss climate change measurement and instruments for measuring climate change, we have first to understand what climate change is.
What is climate change?
Climate change is the change in the average weather condition over a period of time. The United Nations Climate Action defines climate change as long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns.
These changes may occur naturally, such as through variations in the solar cycle like the ice age era when we had mammoths living on Earth. The climate changed naturally to what we have today without human influence. The transition from the Ice age to today’s weather was climate change, and that change in climate is considered climate change that occurred naturally.
There is an argument that climate change is inevitable because it is a natural process. They argue that since the beginning of the Earth, the Earth has gone through various climate changes, so climate change is inevitable.
That being said, since the 1800s, though, human activities like burning fossil fuels such as gasoline have been the main drivers of climate change. This is not in any way natural, except if you consider a man who is the change agent of nature, as being the natural influence.
So, is there a single instrument to measure climate change?
I still cannot talk about climate change measurement with regards to a single instrument measurement in the current dispensation without also talking about global warming. This is because global warming is a very contentious issue, and the essence of the entire climate change debate rests on global warming.
Global warming is the long-term heating of Earth’s climate system observed since the pre-industrial period (between 1850 and 1900) due to human activities, primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels, which increases heat-trapping greenhouse gas levels in Earth’s atmosphere.
Global warming means that the Earth is warming, or rather, getting hotter.
How is this related to climate change? Remember that climate change means a change in the average weather condition over a period of time. Before the ice age, the Earth became cold and ushered in a new climate which we called the ice age.
This time around, the Earth is warming. This warming is what we refer to as global warming which is our current cause of climate change.
So in other to measure climate change, we have to measure all contributing factors to climate change, and one of the major factors to measure is global warming. Warming should be measured by a device that reads temperature (something like a thermometer), right?
If that premise is correct, one can claim that a thermometer can be a single instrument to measure climate change, but that would oversimplify climate change to just temperature. So, no, a thermometer is not a single instrument to measure climate change.
But is there a single instrument to measure global warming?
Well, global warming is basically the warming of the Earth, so you might think a thermometer should do the trick and be named the single instrument that measures climate change, but that’s completely not true. It is a lot more complicated than that.
You see, global surface temperature has been measured since 1880 at a network of ground-based and ocean-based sites. Over the last century, the Earth’s average surface temperature has increased by about one degree Celcius (Emphasis on “Average”).
That might not seem like much, but that is a whole lot. To put this in perspective, if water freezes at 0 degrees Celcius, at 1 degree Celcius, you wouldn’t have frozen water. Yes, extremely cold, but not frozen completely. So this makes the thermometer a very bad single instrument to measure climate change.
How to Track or measure climate change
Temperature is just one factor to track. What are others?
Climate change is complicated and cannot be measured by a single instrument.
To properly track climate change, we have to track some key climate change indicators. These indicators include:
- Global annual average surface temperature
- Ocean heat content
- Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases
- Global mean sea level
- Changing extent or mass of the cryosphere
- Annual Precipitation
These are major indicators, but by no means are they the entire climate change parameters/indicators. As knowledge of climate change increases and scientists understand the complex mechanism of our planet’s climate system, improvements will be made, but at this level, these indicators are what you need to know about climate change measurement and tracking.
These indicators are complex on an individual level and even get more complex when brought together to measure climate change. Notwithstanding, these parameters or indicators are easier to understand and track.
1. Global annual average surface temperature
Global surface temperature is a very simple indicator. It tracks the temperature of the surface of the Earth through the use of various instruments, including satellites and ground-mounted instruments. Satellites have also gotten better over the years with onboard sensors that can track the slightest change in the Earth’s surface temperature. Satellite data can measure changes in global temperature accurately, even down to a minute scale.
One reason why this indicator or global annual average surface temperature is important is because it shows how much the planet has warmed up globally.
But at what rate should we look? Should we look at short or long-term variations? What is normal or abnormal? These are some questions I will leave you with. Hopefully, we will answer them in another article. But in the meantime, tell us what you think in the comment section below.
2. Ocean heat content
This is another important indicator used to measure climate change. The oceans can store up a lot of heat, and when that heat level changes, it is easy for us to measure. Various sensors can monitor ocean conditions and how much heat has been locked up in the oceans. This helps track climate change progression.
3. Atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases
Greenhouse gases are key contributors to global warming. Many gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapor, have been accumulating in the atmosphere over the years. They trap heat in the atmosphere, known as the greenhouse effect.
Global air temperature has been increasing since the 1950s, primarily due to rising concentrations of these greenhouse gasses. The atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses are very important because they show how much the Earth’s atmosphere is warmed up by trapped heat from global warming and how that may affect weather conditions locally and globally.
The biggest reason why this indicator used to measure climate change is important is that it shows how much the planet has warmed up by trapping heat by greenhouse gasses. So if there is an increase in the quantity of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, then there are reasons to believe that the climate is warming. Therefore, it is an indicator of climate change.
4. Global mean sea level
Global mean sea level is one of the major parameters to track. Global mean sea level is a very simple measure that shows how much water has been added to the oceans that feed the seas by melting glaciers and ice caps at a local scale. If there is an increase in this indicator, then it means there has been an addition of water in the oceans and seas, which means we are experiencing global warming.
The global mean sea level has increased over the last century. As you may know, ocean heat content and atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have also been rising.
5. Changing extent or mass of the cryosphere
The mass of the cryosphere shows how much ice is melting into the ocean and how it affects the planet. As global warming increases, ice in the cryosphere melts and adds to the oceans, which causes the sea levels to rise. This has been happening for decades and has continued to rise at an alarming rate in recent years.
6. Annual Precipitation
This is another major indicator to track. As the climate warms, we can expect a change in precipitation. Some areas will experience extreme droughts, while others will experience extreme floods.
The graph shows how precipitation varies across the globe and how it is an important parameter to track when measuring climate change. For example, in the United States, precipitation has decreased over the last century.
Why are a variety of instruments needed to measure change in the climate system?
Like we said at the beginning of this article, climate change is so complicated that it can’t be measured by just one instrument. One thing to have in mind is that there are a variety of key climate indicators, and they are not limited to the ones mentioned above.
So in other to measure climate change, you have to measure all these key indicators and they require a variety of instruments, hence the reason for a variety of instruments needed to measure changes in the climate system.
What can you do to help?
This article tried to explain the basic indicators and parameters used to measure climate change and climate change measuring instruments.
Climate change is a complex subject, and therefore, cannot be measured by a single instrument.
I am aware that there is some sort of distrust in climate science, but climate change is real. Just look around you and pay close attention.
- Do you feel that your local weather conditions are changing?
- Are there any changes in precipitation levels at your location?
- Is there any rise or fall in global temperature levels in your community?
- Tell us in the comments below.