Synthesis Report - Question 2

Climate Change 2001: Synthesis Report

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An increasing body of observations gives a collective picture of a warming world and other changes in the climate system (see Table 2-1).



The global average surface temperature has increased from the 1860s to the year 2000, the period of instrumental record. Over the 20th century this increase was 0.6°C with a very likely (see Box 2-1) confidence range of 0.4-0.8°C (see Figure 2-3).It is very likely that the 1990s was the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year, of the instrumental record. Extending the instrumental record with proxy data for the Northern Hemisphere indicates that over the past 1,000 years the 20th century increase in temperature is likely to have been the largest of any century, and the 1990s was likely the warmest decade (see Figure 2-3). Insufficient data are available in the Southern Hemisphere prior to the year 1860 to compare the recent warming with changes over the last 1,000 years. Since the year 1950, the increase in sea surface temperature is about half that of the mean land surface air temperature. During this period the nighttime daily minimum temperatures over land have increased on average by about 0.2°C per decade, about twice the corresponding rate of increase in daytime maximum air temperatures. These climate changes have lengthened the frost-free season in many mid- and high-latitude regions.

WGI TAR SPM & WGI TAR Sections 2.2.2, 2.3.2, & 2.7.2
Figure 2-1: Records of past changes in atmospheric composition over the last millennium demonstrate the rapid rise in greenhouse gases and sulfate aerosols that is attributable primarily to industrial growth since 1750. The top three panels show increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) over the past 1,000 years. Early sporadic data taken from air trapped in ice (symbols) matches up with continuous atmospheric observations from recent decades (solid lines). These gases are well mixed in the atmosphere, and their concentrations reflect emissions from sources throughout the globe. The estimated positive radiative forcing from these gases is indicated on the righthand scale. The lowest panel shows the concentration of sulfate in ice cores from Greenland (shown by lines for three different cores) from which the episodic effects of volcanic eruptions have been removed. Sulfate aerosols form from sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions, deposit readily at the surface, and are not well mixed in the atmosphere. Specifically, the increase in sulfate deposited at Greenland is attributed to SO2 emissions from the U.S. and Europe (shown as symbols), and both show a decline in recent decades. Sulfate aerosols produce negative radiative forcing.

WGI TAR Figures SPM 2, 3-2b, 4-1a, 4-1b, 4-2, & 5 4a
Figure 2-2: The influence of external factors on climate can be broadly compared using the concept of radiative forcing. These radiative forcings arise from changes in the atmospheric composition, alteration of surface reflectance by land use, and variation in the output of the sun. Except for solar variation, some form of human activity is linked to each. The rectangular bars represent estimates of the contributions of these forcings, some of which yield warming and some cooling. Forcing due to episodic volcanic events, which lead to a negative forcing lasting only for a few years, is not shown. The indirect effect of aerosols shown is their effect on the size and number of cloud droplets. A second indirect effect of aerosols on clouds, namely their effect on cloud lifetime, which would also lead to a negative forcing, is not shown. Effects of aviation on greenhouse gases are included in the individual bars. The vertical line about the rectangular bars indicates a range of estimates, guided by the spread in the published values of the forcings and physical understanding. Some of the forcings possess a much greater degree of certainty than others. A vertical line without a rectangular bar denotes a forcing for which no best estimate can be given owing to large uncertainties. The overall level of scientific understanding for each forcing varies considerably, as noted. Some of the radiative forcing agents are well mixed over the globe, such as CO2, thereby perturbing the global heat balance. Others represent perturbations with stronger regional signatures because of their spatial distribution, such as aerosols. Radiative forcing continues to be a useful tool to estimate, to a first order, the relative climate impacts such as the relative global mean surface temperature response due to radiatively induced perturbations, but these global mean forcing estimates are not necessarily indicators of the detailed aspects of the potential climate responses (e.g., regional climate change).
WGI TAR SPM, WGI TAR Chapter 6 ES, & WGI TAR Figures SPM-3 & 6-6

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