The Weekend Wonk: What You Should Know about Earth’s Orbit
January 15, 2016
Astounding, mesmerizing, essential.
There are no passengers on spaceship earth – we are all crew.
Here, Basic Orientation for newbies.
Climate science is complicated business, and understanding the extent to which climate change is man-made also requires an understanding of Earth’s powerful natural cycles. One of those natural cycles involves Earth’s orbit and its complicated dance with the sun.
The first thing you need to know about Earth’s orbit and its effect on climate change is that orbital phases occur over tens of thousands of years, so the only climate trends that orbital patterns might help explain are long-term ones.
Even so, looking at Earth’s orbital cycles can still offer some invaluable perspective on what is happening in the short term. Most notably, you might be surprised to learn that Earth’s current warming trend is happening in spite of a relatively cool orbital phase. It’s therefore possible to better appreciate the high degree that anthropogenic warming must be taking place in contrast.
Not as simple as you might think
Many people might be surprised to learn that Earth’s orbit around the sun is much more complicated than the simple diagrams studied in childhood science classrooms. For instance, there are at least three major ways that Earth’s orbit varies over the course of millennia: its eccentricity, its obliquity and its precession. Where the Earth is within each of these cycles has a significant effect on the amount of solar radiation — and thus, warmth — that the planet gets exposed to.