The Terms “Global Warming” And “Climate Change” – What Do They Mean?

There continues to be considerable misunderstanding of the terms “global warming” and “climate change”. I have posted in previous years about these terms; e.g. see these posts in 2005;

What is Climate Change?

Is Global Warming the Same as Climate Change?

What is Climate? Why Does it Matter How We Define Climate?
 

Is Global Warming Spatially Complex?

but there continue to be misunderstandings.

I have attempted below to succinctly define these terms below:

Global Warming is an increase in the heat (in Joules) contained within the climate system. The majority of this accumulation of heat occurs in the upper 700m of the oceans.

Global Cooling is a decrease in the heat (in Joules) contained within the climate system. The majority of this accumulation of heat occurs in the upper 700m of the oceans.

Global warming and cooling occur within each year as shown, for example, in Figure 4 in

Ellis et al. 1978: The annual variation in the global heat balance of the Earth. J. Geophys. Res., 83, 1958-1962.

Multi-decadal global warming or cooling involves a long-term imbalance between the global warming and cooling that occurs each year.

Climate Change involves any alteration in the  climate system , which is schematically illustrated  in the figure below (from NRC, 2005)

which persists for an (arbitrarily defined) long enough time period.

 Shorter term climate change is referred to as climate variability.  An example of a climate change is if a growing season 20 year average  of 100 days was reduced by 10 days in the following 20 years.  Climate change includes changes in the statistics of weather (e.g. extreme events such as droughts, land falling hurricanes, etc), but also include changes in other climate system components (e.g. alterations in the pH of the oceans, changes in the spatial distribution of malaria carrying mosquitos, etc).

The recognition that climate involves much more than global warming and cooling is a very important issue. We can have climate change (as defined in this weblog post) without any long-term global warming or cooling.  Such climate change can occur both due to natural and human causes.

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