WG I The Scientific Basis - Technical Summary

Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis

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E.6 A Wider Range of Detection Techniques


Evidence of a human influence on climate is obtained over a substantially wider range of detection techniques. A major advance since the SAR is the increase in the range of techniques used and the evaluation of the degree to which the results are independent of the assumptions made in applying those techniques. There have been studies using pattern correlations, optimal detection studies using one or more fixed patterns and time-varying patterns, and a number of other techniques. The increase in the number of studies, breadth of techniques, increased rigour in the assessment of the role of anthropogenic forcing in climate, and the robustness of results to the assumptions made using those techniques, has increased the confidence in these aspects of detection and attribution.

Results are sensitive to the range of temporal and spatial scales that are considered. Several decades of data are necessary to separate forced signals from internal variability. Idealised studies have demonstrated that surface temperature changes are detectable only on scales in the order of 5,000 km. Such studies show that the level of agreement found between simulations and observations in pattern correlation studies is close to what one would expect in theory.

Most attribution studies find that, over the last 50 years, the estimated rate and magnitude of global warming due to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases alone are comparable with or larger than the observed warming. Attribution studies address the question of "whether the magnitude of the simulated response to a particular forcing agent is consistent with observations". The use of multi-signal techniques has enabled studies that discriminate between the effects of different factors on climate. The inclusion of the time dependence of signals has helped to distinguish between natural and anthropogenic forcings. As more response patterns are included, the problem of degeneracy (different combinations of patterns yielding near identical fits to the observations) inevitably arises. Nevertheless, even with all the major responses that have been included in the analysis, a distinct greenhouse gas signal remains detectable. Furthermore, most model estimates that take into account both greenhouse gases and sulphate aerosols are consistent with observations over this period. The best agreement between model simulations and observations over the last 140 years is found when both anthropogenic and natural factors are included (see Figure 15). These results show that the forcings included are sufficient to explain the observed changes, but do not exclude the possibility that other forcings have also contributed. Overall, the magnitude of the temperature response to increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases is found to be consistent with observations on the scales considered (see Figure 16), but there remain discrepies between modelled and observed response to other natural and anthropogenic factors.

Figure 16: (a) Estimates of the "scaling factors" by which the amplitude of several model-simulated signals must be multiplied to reproduce the corresponding changes in the observed record. The vertical bars indicate the 5 to 95% uncertainty range due to internal variability. A range encompassing unity implies that this combination of forcing amplitude and model-simulated response is consistent with the corresponding observed change, while a range encompassing zero implies that this model-simulated signal is not detectable. Signals are defined as the ensemble mean response to external forcing expressed in large-scale (>5,000 km) near-surface temperatures over the 1946 to 1996 period relative to the 1896 to 1996 mean. The first entry (G) shows the scaling factor and 5 to 95% confidence interval obtained with the assumption that the observations consist only of a response to greenhouse gases plus internal variability. The range is significantly less than one (consistent with results from other models), meaning that models forced with greenhouse gases alone significantly over predict the observed warming signal. The next eight entries show scaling factors for model-simulated responses to greenhouse and sulphate forcing (GS), with two cases including indirect sulphate and tropospheric ozone forcing, one of these also including stratospheric ozone depletion (GSI and GSIO, respectively). All but one (CGCM1) of these ranges is consistent with unity. Hence there is little evidence that models are systematically over- or under predicting the amplitude of the observed response under the assumption that model-simulated GS signals and internal variability are an adequate representation (i.e., that natural forcing has had little net impact on this diagnostic). Observed residual variability is consistent with this assumption in all but one case (ECHAM3, indicated by the asterisk). One is obliged to make this assumption to include models for which only a simulation of the anthropogenic response is available, but uncertainty estimates in these single signal cases are incomplete since they do not account for uncertainty in the naturally forced response. These ranges indicate, however, the high level of confidence with which internal variability, as simulated by these various models, can be rejected as an explanation of recent near-surface temperature change. A more complete uncertainty analysis is provided by the next three entries, which show corresponding scaling factors on individual greenhouse (G), sulphate (S), solar-plus-volcanic (N), solar-only (So) and volcanic-only (V) signals for those cases in which the relevant simulations have been performed. In these cases, multiple factors are estimated simultaneously to account for uncertainty in the amplitude of the naturally forced response. The uncertainties increase but the greenhouse signal remains consistently detectable. In one case (ECHAM3) the model appears to be overestimating the greenhouse response (scaling range in the G signal inconsistent with unity), but this result is sensitive to which component of the control is used to define the detection space. It is also not known how it would respond to the inclusion of a volcanic signal. In cases where both solar and volcanic forcing is included (HadCM2 and HadCM3), G and S signals remain detectable and consistent with unity independent of whether natural signals are estimated jointly or separately (allowing for different errors in S and V responses).

(b) Estimated contributions to global mean warming over the 20th century, based on the results shown in (a), with 5 to 95% confidence intervals. Although the estimates vary depending on which model's signal and what forcing is assumed, and are less certain if more than one signal is estimated, all show a significant contribution from anthropogenic climate change to 20th century warming. [Based on Figure 12.12]

Uncertainties in other forcings that have been included do not prevent identification of the effect of anthropogenic greenhouse gases over the last 50 years. The sulphate forcing, while uncertain, is negative over this period. Changes in natural forcing during most of this period are also estimated to be negative. Detection of the influence of anthropogenic greenhouse gases therefore cannot be eliminated either by the uncertainty in sulphate aerosol forcing or because natural forcing has not been included in all model simulations. Studies that distinguish the separate responses to greenhouse gas, sulphate aerosol and natural forcing produce uncertain estimates of the amplitude of the sulphate aerosol and natural signals, but almost all studies are nevertheless able to detect the presence of the anthropogenic greenhouse gas signal in the recent climate record.

The detection and attribution methods used should not be sensitive to errors in the amplitude of the global mean response to individual forcings. In the signal-estimation methods used in this report, the amplitude of the signal is estimated from the observations and not the amplitude of the simulated response. Hence the estimates are independent of those factors determining the simulated amplitude of the response, such as the climate sensitivity of the model used. In addition, if the signal due to a given forcing is estimated individually, the amplitude is largely independent of the magnitude of the forcing used to derive the response. Uncertainty in the amplitude of the solar and indirect sulphate aerosol forcing should not affect the magnitude of the estimated signal.

Sea level

It is very likely that the 20th century warming has contributed significantly to the observed sea level rise, through thermal expansion of sea water and widespread loss of land ice. Within present uncertainties, observations and models are both consistent with a lack of significant acceleration of sea level rise during the 20th century.

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