Ecology, Climate Change and Related News

Conservation Science for a Healthy Planet

Climate change: How do we know? NASA

Leave a Comment

The Evidence on NASA’s website

The Earth’s climate has changed throughout history. Just in the last 650,000 years there have been seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat, with the abrupt end of the last ice age about 7,000 years ago marking the beginning of the modern climate era — and of human civilization. Most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in Earth’s orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives.

Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.
– Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 

The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.1

Earth-orbiting satellites and other technological advances have enabled scientists to see the big picture, collecting many different types of information about our planet and its climate on a global scale. This body of data, collected over many years, reveals the signals of a changing climate.

The heat-trapping nature of carbon dioxide and other gases was demonstrated in the mid-19th century.2 Their ability to affect the transfer of infrared energy through the atmosphere is the scientific basis of many instruments flown by NASA. There is no question that increased levels of greenhouse gases must cause the Earth to warm in response.

Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that the Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. Ancient evidence can also be found in tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks. This ancient, or paleoclimate, evidence reveals that current warming is occurring roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming.3

The evidence for rapid climate change is compelling:

Sea level rise

Global temperature rise

Warming oceans

Shrinking ice sheets

Declining Arctic sea ice

Glacial retreat

Extreme events

Ocean acidification

Decreased snow cover


  1. IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Summary for Policymakers, p. 5

    B.D. Santer, “A search for human influences on the thermal structure of the atmosphere,” Nature vol 382, 4 July 1996, 39-46

    Gabriele C. Hegerl, “Detecting Greenhouse-Gas-Induced Climate Change with an Optimal Fingerprint Method,” Journal of Climate, v. 9, October 1996, 2281-2306

    V. Ramaswamy, “Anthropogenic and Natural Influences in the Evolution of Lower Stratospheric Cooling,” Science 311 (24 February 2006), 1138-1141

    B.D. Santer, “Contributions of Anthropogenic and Natural Forcing to Recent Tropopause Height Changes,” Science vol. 301 (25 July 2003), 479-483.

  2. In the 1860s, physicist John Tyndall recognized the Earth’s natural greenhouse effect and suggested that slight changes in the atmospheric composition could bring about climatic variations. In 1896, a seminal paper by Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius first predicted that changes in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could substantially alter the surface temperature through the greenhouse effect.

  3. National Research Council (NRC), 2006. Surface Temperature Reconstructions For the Last 2,000 Years. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

  4. Church, J. A. and N.J. White (2006), A 20th century acceleration in global sea level rise, Geophysical Research Letters, 33, L01602, doi:10.1029/2005GL024826.

    The global sea level estimate described in this work can be downloaded from the CSIRO website.

    T.C. Peterson, “State of the Climate in 2008,” Special Supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, v. 90, no. 8, August 2009, pp. S17-S18.

  6. I. Allison, The Copenhagen Diagnosis: Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science, UNSW Climate Change Research Center, Sydney, Australia, 2009, p. 11 01apr_deepsolarminimum.htm

  7. Levitus, et al, “Global ocean heat content 1955–2008 in light of recently revealed instrumentation problems,” Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L07608 (2009).

  8. L. Polyak,, “History of Sea Ice in the Arctic,” in Past Climate Variability and Change in the Arctic and at High Latitudes, U.S. Geological Survey, Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Product 1.2, January 2009, chapter 7

    R. Kwok and D. A. Rothrock, “Decline in Arctic sea ice thickness from submarine and ICESAT records: 1958-2008,” Geophysical Research Letters, v. 36, paper no. L15501, 2009

  9. C. L. Sabine, “The Oceanic Sink for Anthropogenic CO2,” Science vol. 305 (16 July 2004), 367-371

  10. National Snow and Ice Data Center

    C. Derksen and R. Brown, “Spring snow cover extent reductions in the 2008-2012 period exceeding climate model projections,” GRL, 39:L19504

    Rutgers University Global Snow Lab, Data History Accessed August 29, 2011.

View all articles

Comments are closed