Our changing climate

Climate change can no longer be considered a problem of the future. It is happening now. Our actions today determine tomorrow’s climate and its consequences.

Heat Waves

Record-breaking temperatures and increasing demand for cooling

Carbon Dioxide

parts per million

Levels are at their highest in over 800,000 years.

Water-logged

Changing rainfall patterns and heavier downpours

Global Temperature

°F
Since 1880

Eighteen of the 19 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001.

Stressed Environments

Increasing demand for diminishing physical and biological resources

Arctic Sea Ice

%
per decade

The Arctic ice cap is smaller, thinner than at any time in modern history.

Human influence

Using basic physics, observational data and computational models, scientists have determined that recent climate change is the result of human activity.  Human activity—especially the burning of fossil fuels—has increased atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide. This intensifies the Earth’s naturally warming greenhouse effect.

PCCRC Chart | amCharts

Global temperatures are influenced by natural forces and human activities. Data show that temperature trends since about 1960 have been highly influenced by humans. Graphic adapted from from Bloomberg’s What’s Really Warming the World.

What does the evidence look like?

Extra heat in the atmosphere is changing our climate, and the evidence is compelling. The planet’s average surface temperature is rising; oceans are warming and becoming more acidic; Arctic sea ice is declining; sea level is rising; and extreme events such as record high temperatures and intense rainfall are happening more frequently in all regions of the world. Furthermore, present levels of atmospheric CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are unprecedented in the past million years, and the speed of the current climate change is also faster than past changes.

Credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio/Cindy Starr.

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Decades of research have provided a good understanding of the basic links between human activities, greenhouse gas emissions, changes in the atmosphere, the response of the physical climate system and the impacts on human and natural systems.

More detailed aspects of the problem remain active research areas at Purdue, such as climate sensitivity, impact projections as well as how individuals, cities and the international community are responding to climate change.

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Scientific papers
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Student affiliates
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Projects
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Faculty affiliates

Understanding Earth’s climate over time

Past climate information gives context to our present climate and future change. Analyzing ice cores, tree rings, deep ocean sediments and more helps scientists better understand physical mechanisms of climate change.

Climate reconstruction at Purdue includes:

  • The Miocene through the Pliocene (2 million to 23 million years ago) to better understand the mechanisms for widespread warming
  • Glacial histories in Greenland and Antarctica (11,700 to 2 million years ago) to determine recent periods of ice-free land masses that would improve current models
  • More recent atmospheric histories (from 100 to 100,000 years ago) using ice cores and tree rings to gauge atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations

Improving projections of climate change impacts

Communities worldwide have seen observable impacts on water resources, agriculture, ecosystems, economies and infrastructure. Clarifying these impacts regionally improves decision-making and strengthens our responses.

Examples of key efforts at Purdue include:

  • Climate change patterns’ effect on species composition of plant and soil microbes, water quality, and soil erosion in natural and agricultural systems
  • A framework to estimate climate sensitivity of end-use energy demand and integrate it with existing energy-economy models
  • Dynamic downscaling to gauge climate change’s effect on the frequency and intensity of tornadoes, hail, flash floods and damaging winds

Responding to change

Purdue researchers are studying various ways to adapt to adverse effects of existing climate change while preparing for future impacts. Our work includes understanding beneficial opportunities, such as longer growing seasons and distribution across regions.

Current projects at Purdue aim to:

  • Establish on-farm water storage options to stem water and nutrient loss amid changing climates
  • Explore how cultural and social norms shape individual or group behavior about climate change
  • Develop storm-surge flooding decision support tools for coastal-community policy-makers to evaluate tradeoffs and allocate funding for mitigation
  • Understand heat-stress tolerance at the physiological and genetic levels to create superior plant hybrids that thrive under elevated temperatures

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