Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature’s Animal Ambassador
People are confused. They hear the terms “global warming” and “climate change” tossed about without much explanation. We all talk about the weather, but what does that word actually mean, and how does it relate to these other terms?
NASA defines global warming: “Global warming is the increase in Earth’s average surface temperature due to rising levels of greenhouse gases.” So global warming is a measurable statistic. Record the temperature at many sites on Earth for a given year, add them up, and divide to get an average. Rising levels of greenhouse gases are also well measured. The famous “Keeling curve” of atmospheric CO2 begun in Hawaii in 1957 is the best example.
Climate change is more complicated. Climate change is a long-term change in the Earth’s climate and includes measures of the atmosphere, oceans, land, cryosphere (snow and ice), wind, precipitation, deforestation, wildfire, and more, as well as temperature. So, climate change is a more inclusive measure of many factors changing the Earth system, which is very different from a single statistic like the rise in temperature from global warming.
Then there’s the weather. What, exactly is the weather? That term refers to what’s going on in the atmosphere at a particular time and place. It includes the air temperature, wind speed, humidity, and precipitation. Weather happens day to day, while global warming is shown by recording day-to-day temperatures over a long period of time. Climate change is a long-term process that can result in drastic changes in conditions on our planet.
To sum up: Weather refers to what’s happening in the atmosphere at a given time and place over the course of days to months.
Global warming refers to an upward trend in the average temperature over a period of years to decades.
Climate change is a long-term process that can be influenced by changes in the average temperature but includes many other factors.
To watch a brief but amazing video of the affect of global warming and climate change over the next 20 years, click here.
Dorothy's recent book The Call of the Osprey, has been chosen as a Best Science Trade Book for Students by the National Science Teachers Association. It covers research being done in Western Montana by scientists at the University of Montana. Starting in the late 1800's, Butte, MT, at the headwaters of the Clark Fork River, was the largest copper mine in the U.S. The major result of the mining was two-fold—the electrification of America and the largest Superfund cleanup site in the U.S. Call of the Osprey deals not only with current research but also with the history of Butte and the lives of the scientists involved in the research. Click here to find out more.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. "Defining Weather, Global Warming, and Climate Change."
Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 16 Apr. 2018,
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