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Global warming question continued

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To answer this question from the Happy Hollow 6th grade, I did an e-mail poll of everyone involved with the science.  Each was asked to add an anecdote to support their answer.  The results of our poll were too long to post on our e-mail exchange page.

Matthew Glazewski, Meteorologist/Climatologist
Yes, I do. And I call it "climate change."

Tom Bolmer, Shipboard Science Tech
I  Believe. The "evidence" seems over whelming in favor of us causing Global Change.

Rachel Fletcher, Outreach/Photographer
I completely believe/agree with the global warming theory simply due to the fact that I have much "faith" in scientists.

Frank Bahr, VMADCP/Instrument Tech                           
   I think there are few folks who do not think there is global worming. The more pointed question is whether humankind is contributing to it, or whether its just part of nature's cycles. The climate record is full of ups and downs.
   Firstly, I do "believe" in global warming. Many global measurements (average temperature of several ocean basins like the Caribbean for example) show it.
   But I also believe that human activity is contributing to the warming trend. We know that various gases have the potential to warm the earth's atmosphere (simply a fact), we know we have put out these gases (another fact). We see a strong correlation in time between the warming trend and the human generation of these gases (another fact). I find it most likely, therefore, that the human generation of these gases contributes to the warming trend (conclusion, not a fact).

Zachary Brown, Biological Oceanographer
Yes, I do believe that global warming is occurring.  A professor of mine once said, "if you believe in physics, you believe in global warming."   That's because we know that CO2 absorbs radiation at the wavelengths that the earth emits, and there can be no doubt that we are increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.  If these two pieces of well-proven information are accepted, the only arguments left are about the levels of human induced vs. natural global warming, and what the effects may be.  Not about whether global warming is occurring.

Dale Chayes, Instrument/Tech Support
There is no question that warming is happening. One interesting set of data is from the change over time in the opening and closing dates of the ice roads in northern Canada. These dates are set based on the ability of the ice roads to (reasonably safely) carry heavy trucks (tractor trailers) with heavy loads driving on ice covered lakes through the bush. Over the last couple of decades, the roads open progressively later and close progressively earlier.  There is a similar set of data about when vehicles are allowed to drive over the frozen tundra on the north slope.
There are two interesting unknowns that will become clear over time if we continue to pursue the science robustly:1) How much of the warming is anthropogenic (human caused) and how much might be "natural", e.g. from orbit and tilt changes, and 2) How do we have to improve our climate models in order to get accurate predictions a decade in advance.

Pat Keoughan, Outreach/Educator
I know climate change IS happening.  If weather is day to day changes in the atmosphere and climate is the average of the weather over time, during my 60+ years on earth I have been witness to warming winters and summers, overall. I remember stories of my parents being able to walk over the frozen Hudson River.  I remember many days of sledding and snow that lasted for weeks.  I don't see that any more.  I have been paying attention to this issue since 1986 and have been reading about changes in vegetation where, for example, fruit ripens early, before the birds migrating there to eat it arrive.  For the last two years I have followed weather stories from around the world and  have have been shocked at how many severe and/or unusual weather events have happened globally.  If they continue, it will be more proof to me that global climate change is a reality.  (I think "climate change" is a better name for this process than "global warming".)

Emily Shroyer, Microstructure Oceanography
Yes, I think that humans have caused the earth to warm. Our actions have caused large increases in the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases that are in the atmosphere, and it is difficult to believe that these changes are not influencing our climate.

Benjamin Harden, Outreach Video/ Meteorologist
I definitely think climate change is happening. The evidence is really overwhelming; as a whole our planet is going to heat up due to the carbon dioxide we are emitting in to the atmosphere. What isn't so well known yet is how climate change is going to rear its ugly head. As a meteorologist, the questions that interest me are not always the ones that ask how hot or cold it's going to be, but involve the weather system as a whole: Is there going to be more or less rain? Are we going to see more or fewer hurricanes? Which places are going to see big shifts in the type of weather they experience? Indeed, are some places going to experience very little change? The climate of the planet is changing, but what it's changing to will require a great deal of research, some has already been completed, but there is still much more to come...

Sharon Nieukirk, Marine Mammal Biologist
Yes, I do believe in global warming or I'd rather put it - I believe in climate change. It takes a long time to get evidence for such a theory but there is growing evidence that things are changing all over the world, and this is coincidental with what we are doing to the earth. Here is one of my favorite websites:   It's often difficult to get reliable information on the internet but this site is by NASA and lays out the argument very well.  This might be beyond your students' interest but there is also evidence that the length and severity of el nino events is also changing......and that drastically affects weather all over the world! Here is a great site for kids re: climate change. (Check out the polar bear on the "ice cube"!)

Wilken vonAppen, Physical Oceanographer
I like to say that if you want to believe, you should go to church. Science is about an exchange of arguments. As such, I do not "believe" in a theory. However, it is my opinion that the arguments in support of a global climatic change outnumber the arguments against it both in quantity (the number of different lines of evidence) and in quality (theoretical understanding and observational support of the different lines of evidence). These arguments have convinced me that global warming is real and happening, but I would not say that I hold it as a belief.

This is my view of your question from a natural science and science philosophy point of view. However, if you do not intend to go to this level, you might as well count me in the "believer" category.

There is, however, another point I would like to make: There is also an economic point of view regarding climate change. This point of view tells us that we have to deal with a risk (the risk that above mentioned theory might be true - currently the more likely case - or false). A simple risk assessment calculates the cost (ranges from money to lost economic power to the loss of human lives) associated with acting on climate change (or to be more precise: taking up action that according to the theory of climate change might limit global warming). This risk assessment clearly shows that acting now and not having to deal with the climatic consequences later is significantly cheaper than not acting now and having to deal with the consequences. Acting now may incur a small unnecessary cost if climate change theory is incorrect while not acting now may incur a huge unnecessary cost if climate change theory is correct. So irrespective of whether the theory is correct or not (as I have mentioned, I am convinced that the arguments from the natural sciences can give us an answer, but this is unimportant for the economic point of view), economic theory concludes that we should act now in order to minimize costs.

Regarding the arguments in support of the theory of climate change: the area of the ocean that we are currently sailing in (the Western Arctic north of Alaska) was ice covered year round 30 years ago. As we can see now, that is not currently the case - clearly a regional climate change. But since the globe is the sum of many regions, this is an observational argument in support of global climate change.

I realize that this response is significantly too complicated for students and much longer a response than what you were asking for. If you think that you can explain some of those concepts to students, I would be delighted, but I also would not mind if that is not possible.

Josh Jones, Marine Mammal Researcher
    Great question!  This one requires just a few more words than yes or no.  Many things have to be taken on faith.  The beauty of science is that, for some things, we can trade faith for observation and analysis. The increase in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has been measured and carefully reported by thousands of scientists in hundreds of locations worldwide over the past fifty years or so. The warming effects of that increase in CO2 have also been well studied and are being documented through observations all over the world.  I believe the conclusions that are based upon all of this work.  The climate is warming and it is being caused by gasses that we are releasing into our atmosphere.

   Something that I DO believe on faith alone is that under the right set of circumstances, we have the ability to act together as a species to make changes in the way we live. The question is what those circumstances will be and when.

Brian Hoover, Sea Bird Observer
    Yes, absolutely.  I believe that we are living in a time of general climate change, and global warming is one aspect of this climate change.  In the arctic and antarctic areas of the world, there is evidence of warming in the melting and fracturing ice cover and the changing habitats.  And we can see further proof in the animals that live there- their behavior and populations are shifting with their changing environment.  Plants and animals in cold regions are very well adapted for such a harsh environment.  They depend on the timing of snow and ice to know how to find food, when to breed, and when to migrate.  When conditions change, certain species may do better and certain species may do worse.. and that is what we are observing.  We see some temperate species doing well, and moving into new areas that used to be too cold for them.  And we see some species from cold areas that are being pushed out by the newcomers, as their habitat changes.

   While it seems clear that global warming is happening, it is much harder to figure out WHY it is happening.  There are probably many reasons, some that we know and some that we don't know.  And how much global warming happens because of things that people do, or pollution?   Showing that something happens, and knowing why it happens, are two very different things.  Weather patterns and climate are very complicated, and very difficult to understand, and we must continue to study them to better understand the WHY of global warming.

Lena Schulze, Undergraduate Meteorologist/Oceanographer
I believe in a global climate change due to all the evidence we see all around us!

Craig McNeil, Chemical Oceanographer
Brilliant question! Global warming is not really a 'theory', it's an observation.  Scientists have measured global average increases in air temperature (0.74 degrees C, over the last 100 years) and ocean temperature (0.1 degrees C, in upper 700m from 1961 to 2003).  Interestingly, the Arctic has warmed faster than other places on the planet. The 'theory' part relates to the cause of this warming - Is it due to natural cycles or human influence?  I believe that the observed warming of the planet over the last 100 years is, in large part, due to human influence based on my reading of the science literature.  But even if this 'theory' is proved wrong, it won't hurt to be cautious and drastically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. That's why I mostly cycle or take a bus to work.  ;-)

Matt Biddle, M.A.T.E. Intern
First of all, the term global warming has some inherent assumptions involved with it, so I like to use the term global climate change.  From some of the research I conducted at Humbolt State University, I can be validated in saying that there is a change in the earth's climate..One example that is a "hot topic" in oceanography is ocean acidification which, in turn, is one of the results of a changing system due to major climate variations.

Melinda Webster, Physical Oceanography Graduate Student
Climate change is happening, without question. There's a multitude of evidence from within and outside of the scientific community which supports this. Why climate change is happening and what the impacts may be are the tough questions, and no doubt, increasing greenhouses gases play a significant role in both.

Elizabeth Rexford, Community Observer
   Our earth is going through one of the many phases of Global Climate Change, which includes the warming of the planet’s 'air conditioning system' - the Arctic and Antarctic areas.  More specifically for the Arctic region in Northern Alaska, much of the impacts of 'global warming' for this region can be seen through the environmental changes brought on the diminishing old (multi-year) sea ice extent.
    Satellite imaging carried out by NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center shows that 40 percent of our multiyear ice has rescinded between 2005 and 2007.  In my opinion, there is no room to argue that an environment that has been cold for nearly 10,000 years is going through a heat stroke.  The planet’s various ecosystems operate naturally together like the many systems in a body would.  What happens when a body gets overheated?  It does not operate normally as it should.
    The ocean ice has supported Inuit communities for many reasons, a few being walrus hunting and spring whaling.  Subsistence hunters harvest an average of 5,000 Pacific Walruses each year, and have reached anywhere from 3 to 16 thousand harvests annually as seen in the fifty years of data provided by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.  Every part of the walrus is used for feeding the local communities, while the skins and bones are used for things such as blankets and crafts. (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, page 4)
    The walruses depend on the thickness and availability of multi-year ice; ice that has been around for numerous years and is on average about 9 feet thick.  This kind of ice grows thicker along the coast, which supports walruses and hunting crews.  One walrus alone can weigh up to 4,000 pounds.  In November of last year, the Federal Marine Mammals Commission offered a recommendation to continue investigations that would lead to listing the Pacific walrus population as endangered.  Female walruses haul out on the drifting sea ice in order to give birth, nurse their young, rest, and gain access to their food sources.
    In 2007, thousands of walruses were beached while their access to food was limited due to the thinning ice.  This caused mothers to become thinner and increased stampeding among the herds, which caused the death of many baby walruses.  What was the cause of the beaching and stampedes?  I believe it is climate change.
    Whaling is also very important to northern communities, who bring in an about 50 bowhead whales per year.  The whales caught average about 30 to 70 feet in length and weigh about a ton per foot.  You can imagine how much more meat this brings into the communities!  The spring and fall whaling seasons also help set the tone for the rest of the year in Arctic whaling communities.  Nalukataq, the whaling festival, happens in late June every year, where hunters distribute tons of meat and the community members are thrown into the air using a blanket that is made from the seal skin of the boat that landed the whale.  This is symbolic of a successful whaling season and brings the community together.  The meat is also distributed during Thanksgiving and Christmas, marking successful years.
    The year 2006 yielded the lowest spring harvest of bowhead whales in the past 35 years, according to the annual report issued by the International Whaling Commission.  They noted that the “difficult ice and weather conditions challenged hunters during the spring.”  The loss of sea ice negatively affects the spring whaling season, since whalers have to be more careful to not camp on the thinning parts of the ice, and the local search and rescue organizations have to increase their oversight during the season.
    What difficult ice and weather conditions were they talking about?  From NASA's satellite imagery, one can see that the older, thicker multi-layer ice declined, replaced by newer, thinner seasonal ice.  The first-year ice is typically 6 feet thick (or less), several feet thinner than the multi-year ice, and more vulnerable to the summer melt.
    Today, people of the north still make their way out onto the pack ice and tundra to set up hunting camps, like they have for millennia.  The northern Inuit hunting culture has existed for thousands of years and has lived off of the ice and ‘harsh’ Arctic environment.  Even today, seventy percent of foods in most Inuit households come from subsistence hunting. Fish, seals, walruses, beluga and bowhead whales are hunted among other things, providing tons of food, as well as materials for things like the boats, jackets and blankets used.  Hunting brings everyone together. It is a huge part of education and development in the North, and the entire Northern lifestyle evolves around community hunting activities.
    The health of the walrus and bowhead whale are intrinsically tied to the health of the Northern communities. It is not surprising that the 40 percent loss of multi-year ice coverage between 2005 and 2007 contributed to the anomaly of beached and trampled walruses in 2007 and the very low spring whaling season of 2006.
    For too long, American communities have become comfortable within the capitalistic world market. Many of us live our lives, within the comforts of our own homes, without thinking about where our energy is coming from and where the pollution is going.  The Northern Inupiat hunting lifestyle is being threatened by the shrinking and weakening of sea ice.  Who carries the burden of the warming Arctic temperatures while others benefit from the over-usage of fossil fuels?

Last updated: September 29, 2010

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