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Ocean Surface Topography from Space
OVERVIEW
Global Warming or Global Climate Change?
kids walking along the beach

Is this just part of a natural cycle? How much of this warming is due to the burning of fossil fuels? Is human nature affecting Mother Nature? What should we do? What challenges will our children have to face? Our response to global warming begins by formulating the right set of questions.

The first step in addressing the issue of global warming is to recognize that the warming pattern, if it continues, will probably not be uniform. The term "global warming" only tells part of the story; our attention should be focused on "global climate change." This refers more to the redistribution of heat over the Earth's surface rather than the gradual rise in global temperature and sea level. Some spots will warm, while others will cool; these changes, and the accompanying shifts in rainfall patterns, could relocate agricultural regions across the planet.

Plot of mean sea level change. S. Nerem, U. Colorado
Image credit: S. Nerem, U. Colorado
Fortunately, the ocean provides abundant clues to help analyze the world's changing climate. Since water expands and contracts with temperature changes, the height of the sea at any point on its surface is related to how much heat is contained in the water column below that point. With the aid of remote sensing satellites, sea surface height and other ocean attributes can be monitored continuously and globally, providing powerful information for studying climate changes and for understanding how they affect our agriculture/environment, and similarly, how the latter affect the climate changes. As our ability to collect and interpret this data improves, everyone, (including our political leaders), will be able to learn from the ocean how human beings and climate changes are connected, and how this growing awareness can best contribute to the course of society to the next century and beyond.

For more information on global climate change, see NASA's Global Climate Change website.


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