Global warming

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Global warming is the observed increase in the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere and oceans in recent decades.

The Earth's average near-surface atmospheric temperature rose 0.6 ± 0.2 °Celsius (1.1 ± 0.4 °Fahrenheit) in the 20th century. The prevailing scientific opinion on climate change is that "most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities".

The increased amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) are the primary causes of the human-induced component of warming. They are released by the burning of fossil fuels, land clearing and agriculture, etc. and lead to an increase in the greenhouse effect.

The measure of the response to increased GHGs, and other anthropogenic and natural climate forcings is climate sensitivity. It is found by observational and model studies. This sensitivity is usually expressed in terms of the temperature response expected from a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere. The current literature estimates sensitivity in the range 1.5-4.5 °C (2.7-8.1 °F). Models referenced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predict that global temperatures may increase by between 1.4 and 5.8 °C (2.5 to 10.5 °F) between 1990 and 2100. The uncertainty in this range results from both the difficulty of predicting the volume of future greenhouse gas emissions and uncertainty about climate sensitivity.

An increase in global temperatures can in turn cause other changes, including a rising sea level and changes in the amount and pattern of precipitation. These changes may increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, heat waves, hurricanes, and tornados. Other consequences include higher or lower agricultural yields, glacier retreat, reduced summer streamflows, species extinctions and increases in the ranges of disease vectors. Warming is expected to affect the number and magnitude of these events; however, it is difficult to connect particular events to global warming. Although most studies focus on the period up to 2100, warming (and sea level rise due to thermal expansion) is expected to continue past then, since CO2 has a long average atmospheric lifetime.

Only a small minority of climate scientists discount the role that humanity's actions have played in recent warming. However, the uncertainty is more significant regarding how much climate change should be expected in the future, and there is a hotly contested political and public debate over what, if anything, should be done to reduce or reverse future warming, and how to deal with the predicted consequences.

The term 'global warming' is a specific case of the more general term 'climate change' (which can also refer to 'global cooling', such as occurs during ice ages). In principle, 'global warming' is neutral as to the causes, but in common usage, 'global warming' generally implies a human influence. However, the UNFCCC uses 'climate change' for human-caused change, and 'climate variability' for other changes. Some organizations use the term 'anthropogenic climate change' for human-induced changes.

There is no doubt that climate change, whatever its cause, will have a negative impact on the length of snow seasons and the viability of resorts. Snowmaking will extend the viability of winter sports.