Which country produces the most greenhouse gas?

This dubious honor used to belong to the United States. The economic boom in China, however, has led to a corresponding surge in pollution. While, per capita, Americans still cause more pollution, there are four times as many Chinese as Amer

This July 2008 image was taken by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) about NASA's Aqua spacecraft. It shows carbon dioxide distribution in parts per billion. (NASA/JPL)

This July 2008 image was taken by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) about NASA's Aqua spacecraft. It shows carbon dioxide distribution in parts per billion. (NASA/JPL)

icans. A 2007 study published by the Netherlands Environmental Agency noted that Americans produce about 20 tons (18 metric tons) of carbon dioxide emissions per capita, versus five tons for each Chinese citizen and about 10 tons (9 metric tons) for each European. Industrialized nations emitted about 16.1 tons (14.6 metric tons) of greenhouse gases per capita versus about 4.2 tons (3.8 metric tons) per capita for those living in developing countries. The study also noted that if the increase in greenhouse gases is not halted within 10 to 25 years the planet will experience a runaway greenhouse effect with average temperatures rising several degrees Celsius, causing ice caps to melt and coastal regions worldwide to become flooded.

How many people will find themselves in flooded coastal regions should global warming melt the ice caps?

Worldwide, over 150 million people would find themselves underwater by the year 2070 should scenarios about global warming play out. This includes 130 important port cities, such as New York City, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Mumbai, and Bangkok. A 2007 estimate said that this would have an economic impact of $35 trillion dollars, an amount no nation is currently equipped to surmount. Not only would such a flood destroy coastal cities, but mass migrations would occur, causing political and social unrest that many believe would inevitably lead to military conflicts, famines, and disease.

Is there a connection between global warming and geology?

Yes, there is an indirect connection between global warming and geology because changes in one part of the Earth's complex systems affect other parts. In particular, a change in the global atmosphere (and biosphere) can affect the rock cycle: A rise in sea level can change the expanse of glacial ice, change positions of deserts, and cause ocean waters to inundate coastlines—all of which would change rates and types of weathering taking place on our planet.

Another important connection involves dissolved carbon dioxide in the oceans and surface water. Undoubtedly, the gas is taken up by organisms, but it also precipitates out of the ocean and surface waters to form certain sedimentary rocks. Carbon dioxide then returns to the system from a multitude of places, including the dissolution of carbonate minerals in rocks and shells, weathering of carbonate minerals, volcanic eruptions or hot springs, reactions with the atmosphere, respiration of organisms, and through streams and groundwater. Most scientists agree that a major change in the amount of carbon dioxide in or out of the environment can affect us all. Not only would humans and other living organisms be affected, but also the natural cycles connected to the world's geology.

Still another geologic-global warming connection may be found in the weather and climate. If global warming continues, more powerful and intense weather systems may develop. Such events as superhurricanes would cause a great deal of erosion along coastlines, not to mention deluging countless rivers and creeks inland. In terms of climate change, variations in vegetation patterns could contribute to more erosion in various areas; glacial, polar, and sea ice would change drastically, altering the amount of radiation reflected back into space—thus enhancing the warming effect; and changes in the hydrologic cycle would alter stream flow and groundwater levels.

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