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Climate Literacy Standards: Volcanoes

1. The sun is the primary source of energy for Earth’s climate system.

           A. Sunlight reaching the Earth can heat the land, ocean, and atmosphere.  Some of that sunlight is reflected back to space by the surface, clouds, or ice. Much of the sunlight that reaches Earth is absorbed and warms the planet.

           B. When Earth emits the same amount of energy as it absorbs, its energy budget is in balance, and its average temperature remains stable.

           E. A significant increase or decrease in the Sun’s energy output would cause Earth to warm or cool.  Satellite measurements taken over the past 30 years show that the Sun’s energy output has changed only slightly and in both directions. These changes in the Sun’s energy are thought to be too small to be the cause of the recent warming observed on Earth.

2. Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth system.

            A. Earth’s climate is influenced by interactions involving the sun, ocean, atmosphere, clouds, ice, land and life. Climate varies by region as a result of local difference in these interactions.

            C. The amount of solar energy absorbed or radiated by Earth is modulated by the atmosphere and depends on its composition. Greenhouse gases—such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane—occur naturally in small amounts and absorb and release heat energy more efficiently than abundant atmospheric gases like nitrogen and oxygen. Small increases in carbon dioxide concentration have a large effect on the climate system.

            E. Airborne particulates, called “aerosols”, have a complex effect on Earth’s energy balance: They can cause both cooling, by reflecting incoming sunlight back out to space, and warming, by absorbing and releasing heat energy in the atmosphere. Small solid and liquid particles can be lofted into the atmosphere through a variety of natural and man-made processes, including volcanic eruptions, sea spray, forest fires, and emissions generated through human activities.

3. Life on Earth depends on, is shaped by, and affects climate.

             C. Change in climate conditions can affect the health and function of ecosystems and the survival of entire species. The distribution patterns of fossils show evidence of gradual as well as abrupt extinctions related to climate change in the past.

4. Climate varies over space and time through both natural and man-made processes.

            A. Climate is determined by the long-term pattern of temperature and precipitation average and extremes at a location. Climate descriptions can refer to areas that are local, regional, or global in extent. Climate can be described for different time intervals, such as decades, years, seasons, months, or specific dates of the year.

            B. Climate is not the same thing as weather. Weather is the minute-by-minute variable condition of the atmosphere on a local scale. Climate is a conceptual description of an area’s average weather conditions and the extent to which those conditions vary over long time intervals.

            C. Climate change is a significant and persistent change in an area’s average climate conditions or their extremes. Seasonal variations and multi-year cycles (for example, the El Nino Southern Oscillation) that produce warm, cool, wet, or dry periods across different regions are a natural part of climate variability. They do not represent climate change.

 Climate Literacy:  The Essential Principles of Climate Sciences. A Climate-oriented Approach for Learners of All Ages. Second version: March 2009.