Synthesis Report - Question 2

Climate Change 2001: Synthesis Report

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Figure 2-3: The Earth's surface temperature has increased by about 0.6 o C over the record of direct temperature measurements (1860-2000, top panel) -- a rise that is unprecedented, at least based on proxy temperature data for the Northern Hemisphere, over the last millennium (bottom panel). In the top panel the global mean surfac temperature is shown year-by-year (red bars with very likely ranges as thin black whiskers) and approximately decade-by-decade (continuous red line). Analyses take into account data gaps, random instrumental errors and uncertainties, uncertainties in bias corrections in the ocean surface temperature data, and also in adjustments for urbanization over the land. The lower panel merges proxy data (year-by-year blue line with very likely ranges as grey band, 50-year-average purple line) and the direct temperature measurements (red line) for the Northern Hemisphere. The proxy data consist of tree rings, corals, ice cores, and historical records that have been calibrated against thermometer data. Insufficient data are available to assess such changes in the Southern Hemisphere.

WGI TAR Figures SPM-1, 2-7c, & 2-20
Figure 2-4: Simulating the Earth's temperature variations and comparing the results to the measured changes can provide insight into the underlying causes of the major changes. A climate model can be used to simulate the temperature changes that occur from both natural and anthropogenic causes. The simulations represented by the band in (a) were done with only natural forcings: solar variation and volcanic activity. Those encompassed by the band in (b) were done with anthropogenic forcings: greenhouse gases and an estimate of sulfate aerosols. Those encompassed by the band in (c) were done with both natural and anthropogenic forcings included. From (b), it can be seen that the inclusion of anthropogenic forcings provides a plausible explanation for a substantial part of the observed temperature changes over the past century, but the best match with observations is obtained in (c) when both natural and anthropogenic factors are included. These results show that the forcings included are sufficient to explain the observed changes, but do not exclude the possibility that other forcings may also have contributed. Similar results to those in (b) are obtained with other models with anthropogenic forcing.

WGI TAR Figure 12-7


There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.

2.10 The observed warming over the 20th century is unlikely to be entirely natural in origin. The increase in surface temperatures over the last 100 years is very unlikely to be due to internal variability alone. Reconstructions of climate data for the last 1,000 years also indicate that this 20th century warming was unusual and unlikely to be the response to natural forcing alone: That is, volcanic eruptions and variation in solar irradiance do not explain the warming in the latter half of the 20th century (see Figure 2-4a), but they may have contributed to the observed warming in the first half.

TAR Chapter 12
2.11 In the light of new evidence and taking into account the remaining uncertainties, most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. Detection and attribution studies (including greenhouse gases and sulfate aerosols as anthropogenic forcing) consistently find evidence for an anthropogenic signal in the climate record of the last 35 to 50 years, despite uncertainties in forcing due to anthropogenic sulfate aerosols and natural factors (volcanoes and solar irradiance). The sulfate and natural forcings are negative over this period and cannot explain the warming (see Figure 2-4a); whereas most of these studies find that, over the last 50 years, the estimated rate and magnitude of warming due to increasing greenhouse gases alone are comparable with, or larger than, the observed warming (Figure 2-4b). The best agreement for the 1860-2000 record is found when the above anthropogenic and natural forcing factors are combined (see Figure 2-4c). This result does not exclude the possibility that other forcings may also contribute, and some known anthopogenic factors (e.g., organic carbon, black carbon (soot), biomass aerosols, and some changes in land use) have not been used in these detection and attribution studies. Estimates of the magnitude and geographic distribution of these additional anthropogenic forcings vary considerably.

TAR Chapter 12
2.12 Changes in sea level, snow cover, ice extent, and precipitation are consistent with a warming climate near the Earth's surface (see Table 2-1). Some of these changes are regional and some may be due to internal climate variations, natural forcings, or regional human activities rather than attributed solely to global human influence.

TAR Section 4.3.11
2.13 It is very likely that the 20th century warming has contributed significantly to the observed rise in global average sea level and increase in ocean-heat content. Warming drives sea-level rise through thermal expansion of seawater and widespread loss of land ice. Based on tide gauge records, after correcting for land movements, the average annual rise was between 1 and 2 mm during the 20th century. The very few long records show that it was less during the 19th century (see Figure 2-5). Within present uncertainties, observations and models are both consistent with a lack of significant acceleration of sea-level rise during the 20th century. The observed rate of sea-level rise during the 20th century is consistent with models. Global ocean-heat content has increased since the late 1950s, the period with adequate observations of subsurface ocean temperatures.

WGI TAR Sections, 11.2, & 11.3.2
2.14 Snow cover and ice extent have decreased. It is very likely that the extent of snow cover has decreased by about 10% on average in the Northern Hemisphere since the late 1960s (mainly through springtime changes over America and Eurasia) and that the annual duration of lake- and river-ice cover in the mid- and high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere has been reduced by about 2 weeks over the 20th century. There has also been a widespread retreat of mountain glaciers in non-polar regions during the 20th century. It is likely that Northern Hemisphere spring and summer sea-ice extent has decreased by about 10 to 15% from the 1950s to the year 2000 and that Arctic sea-ice thickness has declined by about 40% during late summer and early autumn in the last 3 decades of the 20th century. While there is no change in overall Antarctic sea-ice extent from 1978 to 2000 in parallel with global mean surface temperature increase, regional warming in the Antarctic Peninsula coincided with the collapse of the Prince Gustav and parts of the Larsen ice shelves during the 1990s, but the loss of these ice shelves has had little direct impact.

WGI TAR Section 2.2.5
2.15 Precipitation has very likely increased during the 20th century by 5 to 10% over most mid- and high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere continents, but in contrast, rainfall has likely decreased by 3% on average over much of the subtropical land areas (see Figure 2-6a). Increasing global mean surface temperature is very likely to lead to changes in precipitation and atmospheric moisture because of changes in atmospheric circulation, a more active hydrologic cycle, and increases in the water-holding capacity throughout the atmosphere. There has likely been a 2 to 4% increase in the frequency of heavy precipitation events in the mid- and high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere over the latter half of the 20th century. There were relatively small long-term increases over the 20th century in land areas experiencing severe drought or severe wetness, but in many regions these changes are dominated by inter-decadal and multi-decadal climate variability with no significant trends evident over the 20th century. WGI TAR Sections 2.5,, & 2.7.3

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