Understanding Climate Science

Woman in kayak measuring the end point of a glacier

To track the rate at which glaciers are shrinking, scientists take GPS data points at the end, or terminus, of the glacier. Grinnell Glacier is one of 26 glaciers, out of a recorded 150, remaining at Glacier National Park, Montana.

USGS/Lisa McKeon

There is no doubt that climate change is a complex subject. Scientists who study Earth's climate are looking at more than just weather statistics over time. They consider many factors like atmospheric conditions, sea level, ocean temperature and evaporation rates, amount of water frozen in glaciers and icecaps and rates of melting. They examine how the climate has changed in the past by measuring relative amounts of atmospheric gasses trapped in ice cores for tens of thousands of years. Our planet has experienced many shifts in its climate over time. The Earth where dinosaurs roamed was very different from the place we know today! The biggest difference being that based on what scientists understand about past trends, the changes we are seeing today are far more rapid than anything that has occurred in our planet's history.

Some may see climate change as a dire prediction for a future over which we have no control. But just as human civilization had a role in causing the current climate change, we can use our creativity and ingenuity to find ways to respond to and overcome its challenges. Climate science helps us understand more clearly the causes of climate change and gives us the tools to work towards a more sustainable future.

Climate science encompasses atmospheric science, physical geography, oceanography, and biogeochemistry. It examines many factors to better understand current weather patterns and make future projections. Climate science looks at the big picture, meaning the sum of changes across Earth, rather than using one place to speak for all. It tells us how the climate is changing, why, and what it means for life on Earth.

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  • Fort Jefferson surrounded by ocean

    Climate change affects national parks and the treasures they protect. Scenic wonders, cultural heritage, plants and animals, and even your national park experience will be altered due to climate change. What will this transformation look like? Read more

  • Flooded road in Mount Rainier National Park.

    Climate change is real and national parks and communities across the country are already experiencing the impacts. Read more

  • Scientists measure snow to determine rate of change.

    Climate scientists are collecting data about climate trends. They have found that an increase in greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans is a primary cause of climate change. Read more