Elizabeth Kolbert’s chapter 2 entitled “A Warmer Sky” in her book “Field Notes From A Catastrophe” is basically about the discovery of global warming and the developments in its awareness. It also shows relevant data about certain factors that affect global warming.
John Tyndall’s discovery of the ratio spectrophotometer in 1859 was the advent of the awareness in global warming.
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The function of the said device is to differentiate absorbance and transmittance of their radiation exhibited by the gases. Results of the tests showed that the gases commonly found in the air such as nitrogen and oxygen did not absorb nor transmit any radiation. However, other gases such as carbon dioxide and water absorbed visible and infrared radiation (p.36).
With these results, Tyndall stumbled upon a baffling and shocking truth that will cause a worldwide sensation and concern in the following generations. Tyndall concluded that these gases contribute largely to the way the earth radiates and absorbs radiation from the sun. He thought of the atmosphere as a barrier that regulates the amount of radiation that enters the earth which affects its overall temperature. This notion was later known as the “natural greenhouse effect” (p.36).
The sun, earth and many hot bodies emit radiation and the amount of radiation is directly proportional to its temperature. This is further explained by the Stefan-Boltzmann Law which sates that the temperature raised to the fourth power is directly proportional to the radiation
emitted by the body. The role of the greenhouse gases is to absorb selectively the radiation from the sun and allow visible radiation to penetrate the atmosphere. The earth’s infrared radiation, on the other hand, is absorbed by the greenhouse gases and is emitted partially into space and partially back to earth.
This phenomenon regulates the temperature on the surface of the earth. After Tyndall passed away from an overdose of a sleeping drug, Arrhenius continued what Tyndall left unfinished. Arrhenius studied the effects of altering carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and he found out that rising carbon dioxide levels will increase the earth’s temperature, hence, he coined the phrase “to live under a warmer sky” to the next generations (p.42)
Interest in the climate change mellowed down after the death of Arrhenius. However, in the mid 1950’s, there was a rebirth in the awareness of global warming and this was due to Charles David Keeling, a chemist. The results of his research in the atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere or the “Keeling Curve” showed that the carbon dioxide level increases as time increases.
The results were devastating as years pass by. The Keeling curve also showed that the carbon dioxide level in 2005 was 375 parts per million and with this terrifying rate, it will increase to 500 parts per million by the middle of the century which will greatly affect the temperature of the earth and will make us feel the full effects of global warming (p.44)
Global warming threatens us to extinction. This is caused mainly by industrialization and we must stop, or if not, control the rise of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to save the future generations. Global warming will cause the polar and ice glaciers to melt that constitute to a rise in sea level. This rise will flood coastal regions and other land masses. There is also an expected change of rainfall patterns across the globe that will greatly
affect food crops and will be a major setback in food production in many nations. With the increase in temperature, plants and animals will be forced to live in cooler areas and those who are unable to adapt will be doomed of extinction. (Global Warming, Encarta)
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