Climate: A Very Short Introduction

maslinRating: ★★★★☆

Mark Maslin. 2013. Climate – A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978 0 19 964113 0.

This is one of a very large series of brief guides to specific topics covering most areas of learning. As such, they have considerable potential to engage students who might need a shorter overview of a topic than the conventional textbook.  Here, Maslin (who has also written a short introduction to global warming) outlines the key aspects of climate needed to understand how it works and how it relates to some of the key climate issues e.g. climate change.

We start with a look, not at global climate, but at basic human comfort and how that relates to temperature and humidity. It shows how people need certain conditions within which to live. This introduction continues looking at the basics of solar radiation and the Earth’s relative positions.  From here the text moves to consider the atmosphere: physical and chemical, and the key forces driving global atmospheric circulation. The second part turns to look at the closely linked ocean circulation patterns. These two chapters can be seen as the most important, basic elements of meteorology. Chapter three distinguishes between climate and weather but goes rapidly into chaos theory, decadal variations and El Nino with the aim of highlighting the issues of predicting the weather but dealing with the consequences.

This early part is largely set up to give the reader sufficient detail to tackle the remaining topics. The perspective taken is not the conventional one of atmospheric theory but of theories and ideas grouped into topics of current  interest. Thus, chapter four looks at extreme climate events such as hurricanes and tornadoes. To an extent, this theme is continued with the next chapter looking at the place of tectonics in climate. Crustal movement, both horizontal and vertical can have a considerable influence on climate and weather. Since tectonics is more than just movements, this chapter includes the impact of volcanoes and the controversial ideas of ‘snowball Earth’. all of these features can cause a change in global temperature and so subsequent work covers both global warning and global cooling as well as the more localised impact of the Ice Ages.

The concluding chapters consider how to react to or even deal with climate change (assuming the change is too large and fast to adapt to) and the ultimate fate of the Earth as the Sun expands. A small but very useful bibliography completes the text.

This book packs a great deal of complex information into a very small space. Just because the word limit applies, it does not mean that the topics are simplified. There are complex explanations of some of the key atmospheric phenomena. Inevitably, there must be some losses and the main one is that this is global climate and not localised weather systems. This should not be taken to suggest that this is  a loss for the reader. The topics chosen provide a very good overview of the global system which, after all, is usually the first stop on any learning path about meteorology. The choice of topics is extremely good with no obvious omissions in the topics chosen. The clever mixture of brevity, strong attention to key details and interesting topic construction makes this a very useful and engaging text for the beginner.

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