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Global Warming On Assignment

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Global Warming
Step into the world of writers and photographers as they tell you about the best, worst, and quirkiest places and adventures they encountered in the field.

Global Warming Zoom In

Take an in-depth look at climate change in the following stories:

Go to GeoSigns
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Go to EcoSigns
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Go to TimeSigns
Go to TimeSigns >>

Global Warning @ National Geographic Magazine
By Tim Appenzeller and Dennis R. Dimick
Photographs by Peter Essick

There's no question that the Earth is getting hotter—and fast. The real questions are: How much of the warming is our fault, and are we willing to slow the meltdown by curbing our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels?

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

Global warming can seem too remote to worry about, or too uncertain—something projected by the same computer techniques that often can't get next week's weather right. On a raw winter day you might think that a few degrees of warming wouldn't be such a bad thing anyway. And no doubt about it: Warnings about climate change can sound like an environmentalist scare tactic, meant to force us out of our cars and cramp our lifestyles.

Comforting thoughts, perhaps. But turn to "GeoSigns," the first chapter in our report on the changing planet. The Earth has some unsettling news.

From Alaska to the snowy peaks of the Andes the world is heating up right now, and fast. Globally, the temperature is up 1°F (.5°C) over the past century, but some of the coldest, most remote spots have warmed much more. The results aren't pretty. Ice is melting, rivers are running dry, and coasts are eroding, threatening communities. Flora and fauna are feeling the heat too, as you'll read in "EcoSigns." These aren't projections; they are facts on the ground.

The changes are happening largely out of sight. But they shouldn't be out of mind, because they are omens of what's in store for the rest of the planet.

Wait a minute, some doubters say. Climate is notoriously fickle. A thousand years ago Europe was balmy and wine grapes grew in England; by 400 years ago the climate had turned chilly and the Thames froze repeatedly. Maybe the current warming is another natural vagary, just a passing thing?

Don't bet on it, say climate experts. Sure, the natural rhythms of climate might explain a few of the warming signs you'll read about in the following pages. But something else is driving the planet-wide fever.

For centuries we've been clearing forests and burning coal, oil, and gas, pouring carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere faster than plants and oceans can soak them up (see "The Case of the Missing Carbon," February 2004). The atmosphere's level of carbon dioxide now is higher than it has been for hundreds of thousands of years. "We're now geological agents, capable of affecting the processes that determine climate," says George Philander, a climate expert at Princeton University. In effect, we're piling extra blankets on our planet.

Human activity almost certainly drove most of the past century's warming, a landmark report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared in 2001. Global temperatures are shooting up faster than at any other time in the past thousand years. And climate models show that natural forces, such as volcanic eruptions and the slow flickers of the sun, can't explain all that warming.

As carbon dioxide continues to rise, so will the mercury—another 3°F to 10°F (1.6°C to 5.5°C) by the end of the century, the IPCC projects. But the warming may not be gradual. The records of ancient climate described in "TimeSigns" suggest that the planet has a sticky thermostat. Some experts fear today's temperature rise could accelerate into a devastating climate lurch. Continuing to fiddle with the global thermostat, says Philander, "is just not a wise thing to do."

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

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Climate change has upset the natural rhythms and reactions of our planet. What's happening to Earth's climate, and what are the implications for our future? What signs of climate change have you noticed in the flora and fauna around you?
Are you willing to change your lifestyle to curb global warming?
Yes      No
Interactive Quiz
What do tree rings, pack rats, and stalagmites have in common? Put your climate IQ to the test.

More to Explore

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Related Links
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
The IPCC is the most authoritative source for statistics and figures on climate change. Visit this site to view the latest assessment reports, press releases, and graphics.

U.S. Global Change Research Program
This site brings together information about federally funded research on global warming, changing ecosystems, the carbon cycle, the water cycle, and much more. It contains links to hundreds of U.S. and international science organizations.

Global Warming
The United States Environmental Protection Agency's global warming site is a great place to begin investigating how your area will be affected by climate change. Included are sections on sea-level rise, the impacts of warming on health, and things you can do to help reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

Pew Center on Global Climate Change
This nonprofit organization is "dedicated to providing credible information, straight answers, and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change." It provides information on the science behind climate change, the potential consequences of it, a glossary of relevant terms, and other valuable material.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Log on here to get a synopsis of the 2001 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and read scientists' replies to questions that are commonly asked of climate experts.

Watch video footage of Adélie penguins on the western Antarctic Peninsula and follow a narrated slide show of scientist Bill Fraser as he explains how climate change has affected their populations.

Coral Reefs
How is climate change affecting the world's oceans, and what is coral bleaching? Visit the Australian Institute of Marine Science website to find out.

At this National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website you can learn about past abrupt climate change and global warming. The site contains a long list of links and includes some material in Spanish.
National Snow and Ice Data Center
Want to learn how the cryosphere—the world of ice and snow—is sending signals of a changing climate? This site provides information on mountain glacier fluctuations, permafrost conditions, ice-shelf changes, and sea-ice decreases.


Alley, Richard B. The Two-Mile Time Machine: Ice Cores, Abrupt Climate Change, and Our Future. Princeton University Press, 2000.

Burroughs, William, ed. Climate: Into the 21st Century. Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna. Arctic Flora and Fauna: Status and Conservation. Edita, 2001.

Davis, Lloyd Spencer. Penguin: A Season in the Life of the Adélie Penguin. Harcourt, 1994.

Douglas, Bruce C., Michael S. Kearney, and Stephen P. Leatherman, eds. Sea Level Rise: History and Consequences. Academic Press, 2000.

Drake, Frances. Global Warming: The Science of Climate Change. Arnold, 2000.

Hall, Myrna, H. P. Hall, and Daniel B. Fagre. "Modeled Climate-Induced Glacier Change in Glacier National Park, 1850-2100." BioScience (February 2003),131-40.

Johansen, Bruce E. The Global Warming Desk Reference. Greenwood Press, 2002.

Kerr, Richard A. "Whither Arctic Ice? Less of It, for Sure." Science (August 30, 2002). Available online at

Meier, Mark F., and John M. Wahr. "Sea level is rising: Do we know why?" Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences (May 14, 2002), 6524-26.

Ross, Robin M., Eileen E. Hofman, and Langdon B. Quetin. Foundations for Ecological Research West of the Antarctic Peninsula. American Geophysical Union, 1996.

Stirling, Ian. Polar Bears. University of Michigan Press, 1988.

Ward, Bud, ed. Reporting on Climate Change: Understanding the Science. Environmental Law Institute, 2003. Available online at

Weart, Spencer R. The Discovery of Global Warming. Harvard University Press, 2003.


NGS Resources
Tourtellot, Jonathan B. "Beachside Brazil." National Geographic Traveler (April 2004), 34.

Gordon, David George. "Global Warming: Sweating the Small Stuff." National Geographic Kids (April 2003), 34-5.

Klesius, Michael. "The State of the Planet: A Global Report Card." National Geographic (September 2002), 102-15.

Suplee, Curt. "Unlocking the Climate Puzzle." National Geographic (May 1998), 38-71.

Glantz, Michael H. "Climatic Shifts: Omens of Global Warming." Restless Earth. National Geographic Books, 1997.

Matthews, Samuel W. "Under the Sun—Is Our World Warming?" National Geographic (October 1990), 66-99.


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