Science (courtesy of Protect Our Winters)

Climate Change: the Basics
Greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are now recognized as a significant contributing factor to current warming trends in global surface temperatures. The presence of these gases in the atmosphere increases the heat retained in the lower atmosphere through the greenhouse effect.
Radiation from the sun is either absorbed or reflected from the Earth. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb infrared radiation that would otherwise be lost to space. When greenhouse gas levels increase, more radiation (or heat) is absorbed. This radiation is then emitted in all directions, some back towards the Earth’s surface. The natural greenhouse effect is what makes the Earth a warm, liveable planet. However, with the dawn of the industrial revolution, human activities began to increase atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases mostly through the combustion of fossil fuels. The greenhouse effect is amplified as a result.
There are many parameters that affect climate, from the Earth’s orbit to aerosol emissions. On top of this, there is much uncertainty in climate science and even more in predicting impacts of climate change. As a result, there has been considerable scientific debate over the causes of climate change. However, it is now known that anthropogenic emissions do contribute to the greenhouse effect. As stated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s scientific authority on climate change, “concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases and their radiative forcing have continued to increase as a result of human activities”
We must recognize that there are substantial risks that may substantially impact the way we live and the activities we enjoy, especially in the mountains of North America. In turn, we may very well limit the potential for our children to pursue the same activities we have taken for granted, like snowboarding, skiing, and snowshoeing.
Impacts to the Winter Sports Community
The most substantial risk to the winter sports community is created by warmer temperatures. The IPCC has projected that warming will cause decreased snowpack in the western mountains of North America. Trends have shown that there has already been a significant decrease in the Northern Hemisphere’s snowpack (see IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, Summary for Policymakers, p. 2).
So what could this mean for us? Shorter winter seasons and less snow. It is true that climate change is projected to increase precipitation in some regions, which may result in more powder. Unfortunately, there can only be snow as long as the temperatures are cool enough. Warmer mountains are currently the most at risk.
Are we too late? No. There is still much that can be done. In 2005, the science academies of 11 nations signed the ‘Joint science academies’ statement: Global Response to Climate Change,” where they stated:
“Action taken now to reduce significantly the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will lessen the magnitude and rate of climate change”.
We can make a difference. The winter sports community can contribute as a collective through our actions to reduce climate change.
Contributing Writer: Sarah Jordaan, PhD student, University of Calgary
Additional information:
- The scientific authority on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases reports on the leading science of climate change. Their new report has a very readable summary for policy-makers: click
- Many national science academies have signed the following statement, which also gives a great overview of climate change science and policy: click
- For an overview of climate change and risk, watch this very accessible video: click
- An interesting article on Northern hemisphere glaciers: click