A Series on Climate Science

I have been approached by some people who asked me how climate scientists actually get the ‘data’ they always refer to, what those data are and how it is possible to look so far into the past with them. So, I thought I will kick off this new year with a series about climate sciences. You will get one new post every week. As of now, I plan to do 4 posts but maybe there is more coming up while I write and it will be 5 or 6 posts.

I am super excited that this happened because I always thought that this is maybe a bit of a dry, boring topic. I am even more happy to hear from my readers, that this is a topic that interests them because it’s something I am very passionate about. YAY science! I love to write about this in an understandable way because I think it’s something we all ought to know so that we can all comprehend how dire the situation regarding the climate crisis is.

After a little thinking, where I thought whether to do this in one post or more, I came to the conclusion that it’s best to make a series about it. This series will discuss natural cycles one by one and conclude with, what we call ‘climate archives’, at the end.The climate archives are the actual data I was asked about but I think it’s a bit more complex than that. I

n order to understand how the archives work, you have to grasp how natural cycles work. Also, to understand that there are no gaps in our knowledge about how humans impact the climate system.

So, in this article, I will give you a list of the upcoming posts so you know what is waiting for you:

1. How does ‘Climate’ work?

In the first post I want to discuss how our climate works or, basically, how the atmosphere works. The main question in this part is ‘what drives our weather’. There are winds that circulate the Earth from east to west or from west to east. Those winds, called jetstreams, connect us all. If something bad, e.g. a nuclear catastrophe, happen in one part of the planet, we will all be affected sooner or later because those winds carry the particles with them around the globe. Also from north to south there is a simplified connection where rain is formed above the equator and travels north and south.

These atmospheric patterns are also influenced a lot by huge ocean currents called gyres. Or, you could also say the ocean currents are influenced by the wind patterns… that’s maybe a chicken and egg question. Either way, we are all interconnected, whether we are aware of it or not. This way our CO2 emissions travel to already hot and dry countries which had nothing to do with those emissions and affect the population there. Also, environmental catastrophes don’t just stay in one spot. Our winds and waters connect us all.

2. The Water (Hydrological) Cycle

Most of you will probably be like ugh, school… Miss Comfypants… something a little more exciting please…? Haha, I feel you! Even at university, when I thought I am already doing what I love, I could be bored out of hell with those kinds of things. Until I had the right teacher. Now, I find this really interesting and exciting and I will do my best to entertain you with this knowledge as well.

With the water cycle, we will make a journey, we will follow one drop of water on its path around the world. It will end up in mountains, in dry lands, in cities, in rivers and one way or the other it will end up in the ocean again. It will rise as rain again and close the cycle.

This is a very simplified, short description but it shows already, that the water cycle strengthens our connection across countries and continents. It also gives a hint at how the waste we create in highly industrialized countries may affect people far away.

3. The Carbon Cycle

Yes, we have to talk about this because only then we can discuss the data climate scientists use. This is one of the most important parts when it comes to reconstructing the past. Water and air.

A graph depicting the Carbon Cycle. It shows in a simplified version how one carbon particle travels from land to sea and back to the atmosphere.
A simplified version of the carbon cycle showing how one Carbon particles travels from land to water and back to the atmosphere.

This is, again, a journey of one carbon particle and how it reaches the atmosphere, what it those there and where it may end up after all. Just like the water cycle, the carbon cycle is a natural part of life on planet Earth. Carbon is needed for photosynthesis, for plants to have energy. It is respired by our soils, emitted during wild fires, volcanoes spit it out in huge amounts when they erupt and oceans and forests balance a possible surplus.

Then humans came and we altered the cycle. We made it a lot faster than it would be in an unaltered Earth 2.0. In only 100-150 years we did what the Earth normally does in millions and millions of years.

4. Climate Archives

The last part of this series finally discusses the initial question.  What are the data and where do they come from? How can we as scientists be so sure about it? What do they tell us, how do we read them? What accounts as an archive, what can be used to reconstruct past climate?

There are quite a lot of things we can use to look into the past and make our informed guesses about the future. For example we use cores from the Arctic and Antarctic. The snow that fell in those remote areas was compacted and became the ice shields we now know. During this process, bubbles of air have been trapped in the ice. This is ancient air, that shows us how the atmosphere was composed like 40.000 years ago.

Through the above mentioned wind patterns and the hydrological cycle, ice cores store information from the whole planet in them. They are truly a great proof of how we are all connected. Entrapped in those air bubbles, we can see how more and more particles emitted by humans made it into the (Ant)Arctic ice shields. We can see, how we changed history.

Ice cores are not the only archive, for me they are just one of the most fascinating ones. I will discuss other archives and what they show us in the final post belonging to this series.

Enjoy reading and please engage in the discussion

I hope you all enjoy reading this rather science-y series of posts and I hope that we will have a discussion about it. If you have more questions or are interested in more, I am always happy to hear from you. As I have been inspired by some readers to write this series, I am always glad to hear from you about what you’d like to read hear on this blog.

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