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Burning Fossil Fuels

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Burning Fossil Fuels

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-eighteenth century, fossil fuels have been burnt to provide power and energy. Burning fossil fuels has contributed to imbalances in the carbon cycle, impacting the climate, ecosystem and hydrological cycle.

Impact of burning fossil fuels on the balance of the carbon cycle

Carbon reservoirs can be both a source (adding carbon to the atmosphere) and sink (removing carbon from the atmosphere). When the sources and sinks are balanced, the carbon cycle is in equilibrium. Human activities such as burning fossil fuels have increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) without any increase in carbon sinks. This has been linked to the rise in global temperatures due to CO2 enhancing the Greenhouse Effect. Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by 48% since the Industrial Revolution.¹

Impact on climate and weather of burning fossil fuels

Due to the rising global temperature, the annual average land temperatures are projected to increase by more than the global average. It is predicted that:

– Northern and Eastern Europe will have warmer winters whilst Southern Europe will have warmer summers.– Northern Europe will have more precipitation, and Southern Europe less precipitation.Burning Fossil Fuels Climate projections for Europe StudySmarterProjected annual mean temperature and annual precipitation. Image: EEA CC BY 2.5 DK

Impact on the Arctic of burning fossil fuels

The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the Earth, referred to as Arctic amplification. As permafrost starts to thaw, it releases CO2 and methane (CH4), increasing the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. This leads to further global warming causing ice and snow cover to melt, reducing the albedo effect, and leading to a positive feedback loop.

This climate change has also started to change the Arctic tundra ecosystem. The warming has begun to melt the sea ice in the summer months and greatly reduce snow cover and permafrost. Some shrubs and trees that could not survive previous conditions have started to establish themselves. It has also begun to affect the habitat of local wildlife, such as the red fox migrating northwards, which means it has to compete with the Arctic fox for food and territory.

Burning fossil fuels and the hydrological cycle

Due to increased temperatures and evaporation rates, there will be more moisture in the atmosphere, impacting the hydrological cycle. Glacial melt and precipitation rates are affected, which changes river discharge, leading to an increased risk of flooding in the winter and drought in the summer. When glaciers melt quicker than they form, it is referred to as retreating. During the summer, much of Europe's water comes from Alpine glaciers. Climate scientists predict that by 2100 the Eastern Alps will be completely ice-free, and a large part of the Western Alps would be without ice. The following effects of the hydrological cycle are expected:

  • Snow as precipitation will cease and affect the rainfall pattern.
  • River discharging patterns will change, creating greater flooding possibilities in the winter and drought in the summer.
  • The flow of water from the melting Alpine glaciers will increase sediment yield. This could cause discharge and sediment yields to fall once the glaciers retreat and water quality declines.

Burning Fossil Fuels - Key takeaways

  • From the industrial revolution, the rise of the amount of fossil fuels burnt has caused imbalances in the carbon cycle, impacting the climate, ecosystem, and hydrological cycle.

  • The carbon cycle balance maintains equilibrium from the balance of the reservoirs being a source and sink. The burning of fossil fuels has changed this balance leading to increased carbon in the atmosphere.

  • Northern and Eastern Europe are projected to have warmer winters whilst Southern Europe will have warmer summers. It is also predicted that Northern Europe will have more precipitation and Southern Europe less. There will be an increase in extreme weather.

  • The Arctic is warming at twice the rate, referred to as Arctic amplification. This will also affect the Arctic tundra ecosystem.

  • Glacial retreat will affect the hydrological cycle, leading to changes in rainfall, river discharge patterns and sediment yields.

Footnotes

1. https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/

Frequently Asked Questions about Burning Fossil Fuels

Some people believe that burning fossil fuels has an economic advantage, with relatively low costs compared to renewable options.

Burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases which affect the climate of the Earth, leading to global warming.

Burning fossil fuels is bad for the environment and human health. It increases the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and also lowers air quality.

Coal, natural gas, oil.

Final Burning Fossil Fuels Quiz

Question

What caused more fossil fuels to be burnt to provide power and energy in the mid-eighteenth century?

Show answer

Answer

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-eighteenth century, fossil fuels have been burnt to provide power and energy.

Show question

Question

What does it mean for the carbon cycle to be in equilibrium?


Show answer

Answer

The carbon reservoirs can be both a source (adding carbon to the atmosphere) and sink (removes carbon from the atmosphere). When the sources and sinks are balanced it is said the carbon cycle is in equilibrium.

Show question

Question

What is the greenhouse effect?


Show answer

Answer

Human activities such as burning fossil fuels have increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide CO2 without any increase in carbon sinks.This has been linked to the rise in global temperatures due to the carbon dioxide CO2 enhancing the greenhouse effect.

Show question

Question

What is the impact of burning fossil fuels on the carbon cycle balance?


Show answer

Answer

The carbon cycle is usually balanced by the sinks and sources of carbon. However as the fossil fuels are being burnt, there is more carbon released into the atmosphere than sequestered and puts the carbon cycle out of balance.

Show question

Question

How will the global rising temperature affect the temperature in Europe?


Show answer

Answer

Due to the rising global temperature, the annual average land temperatures are projected to increase by more than the global average. It is predicted that Northern and Eastern Europe to have warmer winters whilst Southern Europe to have warmer summers.

Show question

Question

How will the global rising temperature affect the precipitation in Europe?


Show answer

Answer

Northern Europe to have more precipitation and Southern Europe less precipitation.

Show question

Question

What is Arctic amplification?


Show answer

Answer

Arctic amplification refers to how the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world.

Show question

Question

How is the Arctic landscape changing due to the effects of burning fossil fuels?


Show answer

Answer

The climate change caused by the fossil fuels has led to warming which has begun to melt the sea ice in the summer months and greatly reduce snow cover and permafrost. This has affected the Arctic tundra ecosystem as shrubs and trees that could not survive before have started to establish themselves.

Show question

Question

Give an example of Arctic wildlife changing due to the effects of burning fossil fuels.


Show answer

Answer

It has begun to affect the habitat of local wildlife, such as the Red Fox migrating Northwards which means it has to compete with the Arctic Fox for food and territory.

Show question

Question

How is the hydrological cycle impacted by increased temperatures?


Show answer

Answer

Due to the increased temperatures and evaporation rates, there will be more moisture in the atmosphere which will impact the hydrological cycle.

Show question

Question

What kind of risks are there due to the change in the hydrological cycle?


Show answer

Answer

Glacial melt and precipitation rates are affected which change river discharge leading to more risk of flooding in the winter and drought in the summer.

Show question

Question

What is glacial retreating?


Show answer

Answer

When glaciers melt quicker than they are formed, it is referred to as glaciers retreating.

Show question

Question

What effects in Europe are predicted due to glaciers retreating?


Show answer

Answer

It is predicted that snow as precipitation will cease and affect the rainfall pattern, river discharging patterns change, creating greater possibilities of flooding in the winter and drought in the summer. Water flow from the melting Alpine glaciers would increase the sediment yield. Leading to discharge and sediment yields to fall once the glaciers retreat and water quality declines.


Show question

Question

What is predicted to happen to the Alps by 2100?


Show answer

Answer

It is predicted by climate scientists that by 2100 the Eastern Alps would be completely ice-free and a large part of the Western Alps would be without ice.

Show question

Question

During the summer, where does much of Europe's water come from?

Show answer

Answer

During the summer, much of Europe's water comes from the Alpine glaciers.

Show question

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