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Opinion: Some principles of Earth based climate change

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The key to climate variations, be it orbitally induced ice-age cycles or climate change due to enhanced CO2, is the feedback of other physical constituents to natural or man-made changes in radiation balance at the Earth’s surface.

In the case of CO2, it is the concomitant increase of atmospheric water vapor mass — Earth’s most dominant greenhouse gas — as CO2 increases. In the case of ice-age cycles it is snow and ice accumulation at the Earth’s surface, which, because of the asymmetry of land masses in the northern and southern hemispheres, can lead to nonlinear response to seasonal radiation changes due to Earth’s orbital changes (Milankovich theory) about the sun. For CO2 changes, there are also multiple equilibrium states due to ‘thermohaline circulation’ (induced by salt fluxes and boundary temperature conditions) in the ocean, which like the atmosphere, plays a key role in transporting heat from the equatorial regions (with more radiation warming) to the high latitudes, without which we could not easily be living in Alaska.

The important point in both these types of climate change is that, barring solar luminosity changes, over a seasonal cycle the amount of short-wave radiation received from the sun at the top of […]

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