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Eventually, the limits of probability restrain the scientific imagination.

If you are new to climate science, you may want to make a brief visit to climate science history pages on the Internet. The fossil fuel industry has a number of documents describing its own invaluable carbon dioxide research. Then begin your study of climate science with patience.

Many of us come to climate science to learn about global heating and the hubbub about the "greenhouse effect." This writer, for one, did not need climate science to understand that billions of people burning fossil fuels might, in some way, damage our planet. We created too many fires too quickly to ignore.

Climate science has many fields of study. Its core sciences are physics and chemistry, but we do not need to know a lot about these for now.

Climate science is also said to have "many lines of evidence" from many of the Earth Sciences. Climate science, then, is a multi-disciplinary science. This means that climate science uses both physics and chemistry as well as "proxies" from the observational sciences. These include Earth Sciences as used by NASA and NOAA.

"Proxies" are stand-in fields of research. These include ice-core samples, satellite readings and images, tree-rings samples, ocean drilled core samples, and land surface and ocean temperatures, cave studies, and more.

Climate science also uses computers to make climate models, but computers are not necessary to make climate models, just helpful. Computers do the heavy lifting for climate modeling by calculating millions of numbers quickly. Think of computers in science this way, for example: a computer is to the mind as a rope is to an arm.

Nobody knows everything about climate science. So begin where you like. The greenhouse effect is a nice place to start because this is where the first growing pains of climate science began, learning about greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor. (Now, that wasn't so hard.)

The greenhouse effect has two lines of evidence, and these are easy to learn. One is about greenhouse gases. The other, number two, is about atmospheres and greenhouse gases on Earth, Venus, and Mars. These two lines of evidence are said to be "indisputable" in climate science.

One, we can measure the heat-trapping effects of greenhouse gases in a laboratory.

Here's how you might test this line of evidence. Place carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor in a glass tube. Now, shine infrared light into the tube. Some of the light passes through the tube; some becomes absorbed by the various greenhouse gases; the tube's internal heat increases depending upon the gas densities and time of infrared exposure.

When John Tyndall made similar tests over 150 years ago, he repeated and refined this approach. These facts remain the same for all testers on Earth, Venus, and Mars.

These greenhouse gases show us how these planets heated, in part.

Evidence line number two, a planet with no greenhouse effect freezes, unless it has a nearby Sun. At night the average temperature drops for such planets. During day hours, temperatures rise depending on much sunlight becomes absorbed or reflected from such planets.

The more sunlight reflected, the colder the planetary temperature. (Albedo means "white" in Latin, and it stands for reflection in climate science.) With an atmosphere, a planet retains some heat because greenhouse gases create something like a blanket covering the planet.

Without an atmosphere, the global average temperature of Earth would be below freezing (3°Fahrenheit or -16°Celsius). With an atmosphere, Earth's average temperature is about 59°F and 15° Celsius. We see how an atmosphere makes a big difference for the average.

Now, Earth and Venus contain similar amounts of carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas. The difference, carbon dioxide on Venus stays in its atmosphere. Plus, Venus is so hot it can melt lead!

Earth's carbon dioxide remains "locked up" under its surface. This is changing with the burning of fossil fuels and forest burning.

Both Earth and Venus grew their atmospheres long ago as volcanoes released greenhouse gases into their atmospheres. A big difference between these two planets is that Earth's oceans absorbed about 60 percent its carbon dioxide. Earth's atmosphere and biomass (plants and animals) on land absorbed the rest carbon dioxide over time.

More, Earth's oceans absorb carbon dioxide easily because carbon dioxide easily dissolves in ocean water. It become carbonic acid, which cause ocean acidification at times. This gas also returns to the atmosphere over time, anywhere from days and weeks to over a thousand years later.

By the way, water returns to the oceans even more quickly, of course! It also evaporates into the atmosphere more quickly and becomes an even more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. But unlike carbon dioxide, water remains in the atmosphere for no more than a couple days to two weeks. Carbon dioxide will stay for days to a thousand years. When it comes to global heating, a little carbon dioxide goes a long way.

Land surface rocks also absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide rainwater to form carbonate rocks, but very slowly. These carbonate rocks contain about 200,000 times as much carbon dioxide as Earth's atmosphere - - wonder of wonders.

Now, Venus has no oceans, no means to dissolve carbon dioxide. So its carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for the life of the planet. Most likely, Venus lost its oceans, if any, long ago because it resides closer to the Sun than the Earth. Any water on Venus's surface would have vaporized from heat and joined carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. In turn, this vaporized water would have heated Venus even more. Then more water evaporated quickly from its ocean and added to the atmosphere's greenhouse gas density. This is called a "positive feedback loop." (See this image.)

Today, we have concerns for Earth's atmospheric carbon dioxide density and a positive feedback loop created by water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane.

Now, here's a serious thought to consider.

Tundra in the Arctic region stores great amounts of carbon dioxide and methane. As it warms, it releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. So now the question arises, when does global heating cause this Tundra to join a positive feedback loop adding greenhouse gases to Earth's atmosphere? Soon, later, never?


Understanding Climate through Modeling