Topic 1e - Climate change and the Anthropocene

Over a 10,000 year period, from the Neolithic revolution to the industrial revolution, the population rose from a few million to over 1 billion people, spurred by the use of energy from a mixture of biofuels, water and solar power, and a small amount of coal. Since the industrial revolution, which began in the UK in the 18th Century, until now, the population has reached far over 7 billion people, powered by the combustion of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas. By 2050 the population is expected to reach 10 billion people.

This era, known as the Anthropocene has resulted in local and global scale pollution; the destruction of stratospheric ozone; land use change - by 2005, humans had converted nearly two-fifths of Earth’s land area for agriculture, and one-tenth to urban areas; the modification of biogeochemical cycling; the destruction of species ecosystems and ecosystem services; and climate change.

Over the last 150 years human activity has been the cause of increasing greenhouse gases (GHG)in the atmosphere. The largest release being Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from burning fossil fuels and industrial processes, followed by Methane. The increase in GHG has caused global temperatures to rise, which can be seen in the famous ‘hockey stick’ graph, where average global temperatures went from a steady slight decline into a sharp, steady increase in 1900.

Satellite observations combined with modelling helps to improve our knowledge on CO2 and CH4 sources and sinks which is required for better climate prediction.

Featured Educators:

  • Prof. John Burrows

Don’t forget you can download the video, transcript and take any quizzes available with the links on the right.

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Elevated CO2 over parts of Western Europe

This data from 2003-2005 is data from the SCIAMACHY instrument aboard Envisat, and was the first time scientists detected regionally elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Temperature records of the past 1000 years (Hockey stick graph)

Green dots show the 30-year average from the PAGES (Past Global Changes) 2k project reconstruction. The red curve shows the global mean temperature, according HadCUT4 data from 1850 onwards. In blue is the original hockey stick of Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1999 ) with its uncertainty range (light blue).