NASA Finds Direct Evidence of Human-Caused Climate Change

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

While scientists have long agreed that human activity was the biggest driver of climate change, there hasn’t yet been evidence from direct observation (the gold standard of scientific research) until now. 

NASA has completed the first study of its kind, which has calculated the recent causes of climate change by directly observing satellite data. These observations are in line with what models have been suggesting for years: that the increase in greenhouse gases and other pollution in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels has been the biggest driver of climate change. 

Why This Matters: While there has been other types of evidence to demonstrate anthropogenic climate change, this is the first time scientists have been able to track how humans are directly changing Earth’s energy balance on the global scale.

Still, climate denial has run rampant through the U.S. government. Currently, there are 139 elected officials in the U.S. Congress that refuse to accept the existence of climate change. Many climate deniers maintain that there is not enough data to link humans to climate change. This study fully discredits that premise. 

Observing Climate Change: It’s widely accepted that an increase of heat-trapping gases in the air, like CO2 and methane from burning fossil fuels, has caused the earth to heat up. Moreover, there had been observational evidence that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased over the last century, which should cause the planet to warm. But there hadn’t been observational evidence of the two factors in tandem, given the difficulties of measuring heat trapping on Earth from space. 

But NASA was able to calculate the changes in heat trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere by taking satellite observations and using a “radiative kernel” to analyze them, which allowed the researchers to understand what factors influenced the emission and trapping of heat. Before, satellite observations of heat on Earth could only find the number of total radiation changes, rather than the individual components. 

Though these results are not surprising, Brian Soden, co-author of the study and professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, summed up the importance of the study in an interview with CBS:

In reality, the observational results came in just as predicted by the theory. There is no surprise in the results, but rather it’s really more of ‘dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s’ on anthropogenic [human-caused] climate change. It closes that last link between rising CO2 levels and planetary warming.”


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