Helping climate science make sense.

Climate in Context: Volcanoes and Climate Change; Assessing Arctic Marine Ecosystems

Arctic Marine Impacts Still Largely Unexplored

Map of the Arctic showing the locations where footprints of climate change impacts on marine biota have been reported. The Arctic shelves and the mean minimum extent of ice (1979–2000) are indicated.
The colors identify the reported organisms: Green: plankton; Red: benthos; Blue: fish; White: birds; Black: mammals.
Credit: Global Change Biology.

The Arctic is often pinpointed as one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change, and the steadily decreasing level of Arctic sea ice cover is one of the hallmarks of a warming planet. However, while researchers know a great deal about the shrinking sea ice extent and thickness, there are few reports of how Arctic marine ecosystems have changed in recent years.

In order to assess how climate change has affected the marine fauna of the Arctic, where warming is two or three times that of the average global rate, a group of researchers has, for the first time, compiled all the known studies of the biological footprint of climate change (you can think of this as the “amount of impact”) on Arctic marine ecology. In doing so, they have uncovered some surprising trends (and some not-so-surprising ones, too). Their synthesis is currently available online in advance of press in Global Change Biology.

Firstly, the research team found that the number of studies on marine biology and ecology in the Arctic is dwarfed by the number of similar studies in Antarctica (tho...


What Do Americans Really Think About Climate Change?

Poll Reveals Wide Gaps in Public Knowledge of Climate and Climate Change

Knowledge of Climate Change

A new poll from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication demonstrates yet again that communicators of climate science information, such as those of us at Climate Central, have a lot of work to do. The study of 2,030 adults found that 63 percent of Americans believe that global warming is happening, but they disagree about the cause of such warming. In an interesting exercise, the pollsters — Anthony Leiserowitz and Nicholas Smith of Yale University, and Jennifer R. Marlon if the University of Wisconsin-Madison — graded Americans' climate knowledge, and found that just eight percent of people would receive an "A" or "B", whereas 52 percent would flunk outright, with an "F".


Here are a few excerpts from the executive summary.

"The study also found important gaps in knowledge and common misconceptions about climate change and the earth system. These misconceptions lead some people to doubt that global warming is happening or that human activities are a major contributor, to misunderstand the causes and therefore the solutions, and to be unaware of the risks. Thus many Americans lack some of the knowledge needed for informed decision-making in a democratic society. For example, only: 

  • 57 percent know that the greenhouse effect refers to gases in the atmosphere that trap heat; 
  • 50 percent of Americans understand that global warming is caused mostly by hu...


GOOD Charts American Thoughts on Climate Change

Earlier this year we wrote about how the perception of climate change in America has changed in recent years. Well, if the adage is true and a picture really is worth a thousand words, then the online magazine GOOD’s new infographic, "What Americans Really Think About Climate Change," is a colorful alternative to both our post and others

What Americans Really Think About Climate Change tells a few different stories about our opinions. What do you see? (see full size image at


As far as infographics go, this one appears, at first glance, fairly straightforward and it charts how American opinions of climate change issues have changed in the past decade. The message seems to be that people are losing faith in climate change news. For example, fewer Americans today think climate change is occurring than compared to a few years ago. Another part of the graphic suggests that the majority of Americans don’t think climate change is going to be a serious threat in their lifetime.

On the other hand, when you look closely at the data, a different narrative might materialize in front of you. As of 2010, for example, only about 10 percent of Americans deny climate change is occurring (though nearly 40 percent are unsure). And while the past couple years found an increasing number of people think global warming news is exaggerated, the population is still pretty evenly divided about this. In fact, a full 30 percent actually think the news is underpla...


NASA’s Satellite Measures Microwaves to Map Arctic Sea Ice

Last week we reported the end of the 2010 Arctic sea ice melt season, as declared by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)  and also that this year reached the third-lowest sea ice minimum ever recorded by satellites. Of course, it makes sense that ice melts during the Arctic summer, when days are longer (up to 24 hours long, in fact) and temperatures are warmer in the Northern Hemisphere. Although some melting is expected, the warm season in the Arctic isn’t enough to melt all of the ice that accumulates over the dark, frigid colder winter. However, over the past 30 years, more and more ice has been melting, indicating that ocean and atmospheric temperatures are climbing in the Arctic.  

Aqua satellite image of Arctic sea ice as of September 3, 2010, when the extent of the ice was still shrinking.

Figuring out exactly how much ice there is and how much of it is melting seems like a daunting task, however, given that Arctic sea ice is so vast, averaging over 3 million square miles? 

One of NASA’s Earth Observing System satellites, Aqua, is perfectly equipped to help with that tough task. One of Aqua’s six sensors, known as the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR-E), actually measures the microwaves that radiate from the Earth’s surface, and can detect the boundary between ice and water in the Arctic with good precision. Everything on the planet, including you and me, emits microwave radiation, but the wavelength of the rays is different...


A Quick Guide to the Science of Climate Change? Check!

Royal Society Report

This week, Britain’s Royal Society released a short guide on the science of climate change. Compared to the average 3,000 page opus from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that is released every six years, this new report has been distilled to just 20 pages.

It’s been nearly a year since some members of the climate science community were accused of falsifying information about climate change. Although those scientists (and the science itself) have since been exonerated, some seeds of doubt were sown so deep for the public that there remains some misunderstanding about what climate research has shown concretely. This new short guide succinctly packages the current state of climate science into an easily digestible package. It certainly won't replace the IPCC reports, but this new travel-sized document is a good reference piece. 

According to the report, a specific climate science conclusion can be categorized in one of three ways: it is either widely accepted by the research community, generally accepted but still subject to some discussion, or in a few cases it is not yet well understood.

Keep in mind that conclusions listed as “well accepted” (including the facts that the Earth has warmed by nearly a degree Celsius since the 1850s and that human activity is largely responsible for the significant increases in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere) have been subject to detailed and constant scrutiny amongst researchers from around t...