climate change

a study dealing with variations in climate on many different time scales from decades to millions of years, and the possible causes of such variations; (1) in the most general sense, the term climate change encompasses all forms of climatic inconstancy (that is, any differences between long-term statistics of the meteorological elements calculated for different periods but relating to the same area) regardless of their statistical nature or physical causes; climate change may result from such factors as changes in solar activity, long-period changes in the earth's orbital elements (eccentricity, obliquity of the ecliptic, precession of equinoxes), natural internal processes of the climate system, or anthropogenic forcing (for example, increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases) (2) the term climate change is often used in a more restricted sense, to denote a significant change (such as a change having important economic, environmental and social effects) in the mean values of a meteorological element (in particular temperature or amount of precipitation) in the course of a certain period of time, where the means are taken over periods of the order of a decade or longer.