Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

Climate Change Geography

Climate Change Geography

Climate change refers to changes in the climate on a long-term time scale. This includes global temperatures, as well as other climatic components. Climate change is a very relevant topic and is discussed a lot across subjects. In geography, we explore climate change as it relates to weather, the causes of climate change, real-world examples and how all of this might affect people and the planet.

Climate change definition in geography

Climate change is the long-term change in average weather patterns experienced around the globe. It can occur because of natural causes and/or through human activity.

The long-term shifts in the climate commonly referred to as ‘climate change,' take many forms. Some examples include:

  • Global warming (an increase in temperatures on Earth)

  • Changes in precipitation patterns

  • Increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events

Climate Change: Global warming

Global warming has occurred rapidly on Earth over the past century and is exponentially increasing. Essentially, global warming is the process of global temperatures increasing. There is plenty of evidence that there has been a dramatic increase in global temperatures. As well as just temperatures being recorded as higher, the melting ice caps, sea ice, glaciers and rising sea levels demonstrate that global warming is having tangible impacts across the world.

Climate Change: Changes in precipitation

Climate change will likely include changes in precipitation patterns across the world. Some scientists believe that areas that receive lots of precipitation will get wetter, and areas that receive little precipitation will get drier. Others believe that wet areas will become drier, and dry areas will become wetter. Uncertainties in projections make it difficult to predict specific precipitation changes. This is because, unlike temperature, precipitation cannot always be predicted by scientific laws. However, most models agree that global warming will be accompanied by significant changes to precipitation.

Climate change geography, desertification, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Some areas are already experiencing desertification

Climate Change: Extreme weather events

There are many types of extreme weather events, including:

  • Tropical storms/cyclones
  • Heatwaves/cold waves
  • Droughts/floods

Climate models indicate that extreme weather events will likely become more frequent and intense as a result of climate change. You may have noticed in the news that these events are happening more often and more intensely across the world! This will have a wide range of impacts which will be discussed later on.

Climate Change, A man riding his bike in a flood, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Increased flood risk is likely to occur as the climate changes

Causes of climate change

Climate change geography is very strongly linked with both the carbon cycle and Water Cycle:

Climate change and the carbon cycle

One of the major causes of climate change is an increased level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere. CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases cause global temperatures to rise because they have the ability to trap energy from the sun, which heats up the planet. Higher levels of carbon dioxide, in particular, have been shown to account for a large proportion of global warming because of its influence over the water cycle. Therefore, as more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, the Earth continues to get warmer. Methane (CH4) also contributes to warming temperatures. We discuss natural carbon cycle variations in our 'Climate Change Causes' article and touch on anthropogenic-induced variations in our 'Carbon Cycle' article.

Climate change and the water cycle

Another example of a prominent greenhouse gas is water vapour. In fact, water vapour is the greenhouse gas responsible for most of the so-called ‘greenhouse effect’. The influence of other greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide) creates a positive feedback loop. As greenhouse gases warm the Earth, sea temperatures rise. These rising sea temperatures create more evaporation, which releases more water vapour into the atmosphere. Water vapour is a greenhouse gas and so warms the planet even more.

As well as its impact on global temperatures, climate change is altering precipitation regimes across the world. This leads to water surpluses in some areas, and water deficits in others, which can result in flooding and drought events. This is built on more in our 'Climate Change and the Water Cycle' article.

A water surplus occurs when more water enters a system than leaves.

A water deficit occurs when more water leaves a system than enters.

Anthropogenic climate change

The climate has always been variable because of natural forces, like changes in the Earth’s orbit and natural fluctuations in the carbon budget (balance between the inputs and outputs of carbon throughout the Earth system).

However, the ongoing and projected climate change we are now experiencing has been largely attributed to anthropogenic (human) activities. One key way that humans are causing climate change is through their modification of the carbon cycle. There are lots of ways that humans do this, including:

  • The extraction and burning of fossil fuels (putting more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere)

  • Deforestation (reducing the amount of greenhouse gases being absorbed out of the atmosphere)

Climate Change, World map with CO2 emissions from food productions highlighted on it, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Food production is the largest cause of deforestation and emits a large amount of CO2

The effects of climate change

Climate change generates effects of all different types, from environmental effects to social and economic effects.

Here are a few examples of the effects of climate change:

Effect

Secondary effect

Tertiary effect

Increased temperatures

Melting ice/glaciers

As ice can help cool the planet, its removal can increase the rate of global warming.

Increased sea temperatures

Melting sea ice; sea-level rise

Destruction of habitats; submergence of land.

More CO2 is absorbed by the ocean

Ocean acidification

Loss of habitat; death of animals; interruption of ocean currents.

More extreme weather events

There are several potential secondary effects, such as destruction of houses and infrastructure; displacement of people; and deaths.

Recovering from extreme events can put significant financial pressure on areas, some of which cannot afford it.

Changes in precipitation

Alterations in the water supply of areas, potentially leading to water shortage and/or water surplus.

Increased political tensions as nations sharing a drainage basin compete for water supply.

At the moment, climate change is disproportionately affecting certain parts of the world and subgroups of society. Here are some examples:

  • The deforestation of the Amazon rainforest destroys the habitat of and marginalises many indigenous communities.
  • Lower-income countries are less able to recover from extreme weather events because there is not the same access to money and resources to recover damages.
  • Some countries/regions are at risk of disappearing entirely. For example, Tuvalu and Kiribati are disappearing because of sea-level rise.

Evidence for climate change

These climate change effects provide evidence for climate change as we are able to see them increase in frequency and intensity alongside changes in the climate. The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) was set up in order to investigate and share information relevant to climate change. In its most recent report, it states that

“it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.(1)

The report provides climate change facts that substantiate this statement, as is summarised in the table below:

Component

Difference between 1850-1900 and 2011-2020 averages

Global surface temperature

  • 1.09°C

Global land temperature

  • 1.59°C

Global sea temperature

  • 0.88°C

Here are some more climate change facts:

  • Average global 2020 temperatures were the second warmest ever on record.
  • Approximately 148 billion tons of ice were lost from Antarctica every year between 1993 and 2019.
  • Surface ocean waters have become 30% more acidic since ~1750.
  • Climate change worsened the 2019-2020 Australian fires, which increased the percentage of species at threat of extinction by 14%.

If left unabated, climate change will continue on its current trajectory and cause irreversible damage to Earth. There are certain boundaries, referred to as ‘tipping points’, beyond which the Earth cannot be saved from climate change. As we are fast approaching these, it is becoming more and more urgent to take action.

Climate Change Geography - Key takeaways

  • Climate change comprises long-term changes to global temperatures and precipitation regime
  • Climate change is strongly influenced by the carbon and water cycles.
  • Climate change can be attributed to human activity, primarily through their contributions to rising CO2 in the atmosphere.
  • Climate change has and will continue to have significant environmental, social, political and economic impacts if it isn’t slowed down soon.

References

  1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2021). Cliamte Change. The Physical Science Basis. Summary for Policy Maker. IPCC Report (2021). https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM_final.pdf
  2. Food Production, Deforestation & CO2, Our World in Data, https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/co2-deforestation-for-food
  3. Fig. 1: Desertification (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Village_Telly_in_Mali.jpg) by the village of Telly (https://www.flickr.com/photos/72092071@N00/2703657040/) licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)
  4. Fig. 2: Flood risk (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Urban_flood_cropped.jpg) by johndal (https://www.flickr.com/photos/johndal/2835286257/in/photolist-5jxzPP-GMYPh-dxZ6YV-99EMz9-dgJGFN-dxSC3t-2jsbwH-5jBTQ5-5jxB8X-gF2qp-GMYQf-5jBUBC-5jxBgX-99ENnh-dgJP17-dgJMcb-9id1Bv-7XTr9i-7PFpsk-5jxz1x-7XWG8j-ampKGU-ampJwY-dgJE6G-5jBSSY-9N5KiH-9ig5N1-dgJQK1-5puhdW-ampMuj-dgJN3h-qXd4uv-4YfCmX-rQv3W4-dy5AQm-7PFpAT-9c7vP2-7cwNtp-5jxARv-9BAN4A-8ChMYf-7PFptx-99P3vb-6zszRC-k7x8Dw-7PJAVs-9bWQFh-Ure6Cq-iYJaX4-aHKMLg/) licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en)
  5. Fig. 3: CO2 emissions (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Annual_CO2_emissions_from_deforestation,_global.png) by Our World in Data (https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/co2-deforestation-for-food?stackMode=absolute®ion=World&country=) licensed by CC BB-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Climate Change Geography

Climate change is long-term shifts in the climate (e.g. temperatures and precipitation). It is caused by increased atmospheric greenhouse gases, which has increased exponentially since industrialisation movements began.

There are lots of mitigation and adaptation strategies that could slow or stop climate change. These include switching to renewable energy sources, reforestation (planting more trees) and carbon capture and storage (CCS). 

Climate change affects the environment (melting ice/glaciers; more frequent and intense extreme weather events and sea level rise); society (death; displacement and political tensions) and economics (causing financial crisis). 

In geography, the causes of climate change fall under two categories; natural causes and human activity. 

Natural causes of climate change include the Milankovitch Cycles and natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions. 

Human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels results in an increased greenhouse effect and causes global temperatures to rise. 



Climate change is important as it helps us to better understand the Earth and its natural cycles. Preventing climate change is important to protect and preserve natural habitats and ecosystems. This includes protecting human life. 

Final Climate Change Geography Quiz

Question

What is climate change?

Show answer

Answer

The long-term shifts in the climate

Show question

Question

Name some examples of climate change

Show answer

Answer

Global warming; changes in precipitation; extreme weather events

Show question

Question

How is climate change affecting extreme weather events?

Show answer

Answer

It is making them more frequent and more intense

Show question

Question

What is the evidence of global warming?

Show answer

Answer

Melting ice; rising sea levels and higher recorded temperatures

Show question

Question

Name some examples of extreme weather events:

Show answer

Answer

  • Tropical storms/cyclones

  • Heatwaves/cold waves

  • Droughts/floods

Show question

Question

What is the greenhouse effect?

Show answer

Answer

Where more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap solar radiation and cause the Earth to warm up

Show question

Question

What are natural causes of climate change?

Show answer

Answer

Changes in the Earth's orbit and natural fluctuations in the climate budget

Show question

Question

Name 2 ways that humans are altering the carbon cycle:

Show answer

Answer

Deforestation and the extraction and burning of fossil fuels

Show question

Question

True or false: some people are more affected by climate change than others

Show answer

Answer

True

Show question

Question

Which organisation was set up to share information about climate change?

Show answer

Answer

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Show question

Question

What are the effects of climate change?


Show answer

Answer

Climate change affects the environment (melting ice/glaciers; more frequent and intense extreme weather events and sea level rise); society (death; displacement and political tensions) and economics (causing financial crisis). 

Show question

Question

Which cycles strongly affect and are affected by climate change?

Show answer

Answer

Water and carbon

Show question

Question

What will happen if climate change is not addressed soon?

Show answer

Answer

Irreversible damage to the planet

Show question

Question

By how much has the average land surface temperature increased since 1850-1900?

Show answer

Answer

+1.59°C

Show question

Question

How much have the oceans acidified since 1750?

Show answer

Answer

30%

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Climate Change Geography quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.