Climate change and the biosphere

© Momatiuk - Eastcott / Corbis

From corals to human disease, scientists watching the effects of global warming are convinced: It's time to act.

By F. Stuart Chapin

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1 Global warming spells danger for Earth's biomes, which in turn play an important role in climate change. On the following pages, you will read about some of the specific changes, from fruit flies to microbes, that scientists have observed.

The effects have been most dramatic at high latitudes, where multiple processes contribute to decreased surface reflectivity, thus increasing the solar radiation absorbed and the heat transferred to the atmosphere. Retreating sea ice, earlier spring snowmelt, shrinking glaciers, and expansion of shrubs and trees within tundra all amplify high-latitude warming.2 Together, these ecosystem feedbacks have caused air temperature to increase and sea ice to retreat more rapidly than previous climate models had projected.3...

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