Global mean surface temperature anomaly relative to 1961–1990
Mean surface temperature anomalies during the period 1995 to 2004 with respect to the average temperatures from 1940 to 1980. Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of the Earth's near-surface air and oceans since the mid-20th century and its projected continuation.
Global surface temperature increased 0.74 - 0.18 oC (1.33 - 0.32 oF) during the 100 years ending in 2005. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that most of the temperature increase since the mid-twentieth century is "very likely" due to the increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. Natural phenomena such as solar variation and volcanoes probably had a small warming effect from pre-industrial times to 1950 and a small cooling effect from 1950 onward. These basic conclusions have been endorsed by at least 30 scientific societies and academies of science, including all of the national academies of science of the major industrialized countries. While a small minority have voiced disagreement with these findings, the overwhelming majority of scientists working on climate change agree with the IPCC's main conclusions.
Climate model projections indicate that global surface temperature will likely rise a further 1.1 to 6.4 oC (2.0 to 11.5 oF) during the twenty-first century. The uncertainty in this estimate arises from use of differing estimates of future greenhouse gas emissions and from use of models with differing climate sensitivity. Some other uncertainties include how warming and related changes will vary from region to region around the globe.
Most studies focus on the period up to 2100. However changes due to warming could be expected to continue for more than a thousand years , even if greenhouse gas levels are stabilized unless geoengineering is used. This results from the large heat capacity of the oceans, the lifespan of CO2 in the atmosphere, and lasting alterations to ice caps, ocean currents and weather patterns caused by warming.
Increasing global temperature will cause sea levels to rise and will change the amount and pattern of precipitation, likely including an expanse of the subtropical desert regions. Other likely effects include Arctic shrinkage and resulting Arctic methane release, increases in the intensity of extreme weather events, changes in agricultural yields, modifications of trade routes, glacier retreat, species extinctions and changes in the ranges of disease vectors.
Political and public debate continues regarding what, if any, responses to global warming are made. The available options are: Mitigation to reduce further emissions; Adaptation to reduce the damage caused by warming; and Geoengineering to reverse global warming. Most national governments have signed and ratified the Kyoto Protocol aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The causes of the recent warming are an active field of research. The scientific consensus is that the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases due to human activity has caused most of the warming observed since the start of the industrial era, and the observed warming cannot be satisfactorily explained by natural causes alone. This attribution is clearest for the most recent 50 years, which is the period when most of the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations took place and for which the most complete measurements exist.
The greenhouse effect was discovered by Joseph Fourier in 1824 and first investigated quantitatively by Svante Arrhenius in 1896. It is the process by which absorption and emission of infrared radiation by atmospheric gases warm a planet's lower atmosphere and surface. Existence of the greenhouse effect as such is not disputed. The question is instead how the strength of the greenhouse effect changes when human activity increases the atmospheric concentrations of particular greenhouse gases.
Recent increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). The monthly CO2 measurements display small seasonal oscillations in an overall yearly uptrend; each year's maximum is reached during the Northern Hemisphere's late spring, and declines during the Northern Hemisphere growing season as plants remove some CO2 from the atmosphere.Naturally occurring greenhouse gases have a mean warming effect of about 33 oC (59 oF), without which Earth would be uninhabitable. On Earth the major greenhouse gases are water vapor, which causes about 36–70 percent of the greenhouse effect (not including clouds); carbon dioxide (CO2), which causes 9–26 percent; methane (CH4), which causes 4–9 percent; and ozone, which causes 3–7 percent.
Human activity since the industrial revolution has increased the atmospheric concentration of various greenhouse gases, leading to increased radiative forcing from CO2, methane, tropospheric ozone, CFCs and nitrous oxide. The atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and methane have increased by 36% and 148% respectively since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the mid-1700s. These levels are considerably higher than at any time during the last 650,000 years, the period for which reliable data has been extracted from ice cores. From less direct geological evidence it is believed that CO2 values this high were last seen approximately 20 million years ago. Fossil fuel burning has produced approximately three-quarters of the increase in CO2 from human activity over the past 20 years. Most of the rest is due to land-use change, in particular deforestation.
CO2 concentrations are expected to continue to rise due to ongoing burning of fossil fuels and land-use change. The rate of rise will depend on uncertain economic, sociological, technological, and natural developments. The IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios gives a wide range of future CO2 scenarios, ranging from 541 to 970 ppm by the year 2100. Fossil fuel reserves are sufficient to reach this level and continue emissions past 2100 if coal, tar sands or methane clathrates are extensively exploited.
Solar variation over the last thirty years.Some other hypotheses departing from the consensus view have been suggested to explain most of the temperature increase. One such hypothesis proposes that warming may be the result of variations in solar activity.
A paper by Peter Stott and colleagues suggests that climate models overestimate the relative effect of greenhouse gases compared to solar forcing; they also suggest that the cooling effects of volcanic dust and sulfate aerosols have been underestimated. They nevertheless conclude that even with an enhanced climate sensitivity to solar forcing, most of the warming since the mid-20th century is likely attributable to the increases in greenhouse gases. Another paper suggests that the Sun may have contributed about 45–50 percent of the increase in the average global surface temperature over the period 1900–2000, and about 25–35 percent between 1980 and 2000.
A different hypothesis is that variations in solar output, possibly amplified by cloud seeding via galactic cosmic rays, may have contributed to recent warming. It suggests magnetic activity of the sun is a crucial factor which deflects cosmic rays that may influence the generation of cloud condensation nuclei and thereby affect the climate.
One predicted effect of an increase in solar activity would be a warming of most of the stratosphere, whereas an increase in greenhouse gases should produce cooling there. The observed trend since at least 1960 has been a cooling of the lower stratosphere. Reduction of stratospheric ozone also has a cooling influence, but substantial ozone depletion did not occur until the late 1970s. Solar variation combined with changes in volcanic activity probably did have a warming effect from pre-industrial times to 1950, but a cooling effect since. In 2006, Peter Foukal and colleagues found no net increase of solar brightness over the last 1,000 years. Solar cycles led to a small increase of 0.07 percent in brightness over the last 30 years. This effect is too small to contribute significantly to global warming. One paper by Mike Lockwood and Claus Fröhlich found no relation between global warming and solar radiation since 1985, whether through variations in solar output or variations in cosmic rays. Henrik Svensmark and Eigil Friis-Christensen, the main proponents of cloud seeding by galactic cosmic rays, disputed this criticism of their hypothesis. A 2007 paper found that in the last 20 years there has been no significant link between changes in cosmic rays coming to Earth and cloudiness and temperature.
Forcing and feedback
Components of the current radiative forcing as estimated by the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.None of the effects of forcing are instantaneous. The thermal inertia of the Earth's oceans and slow responses of other indirect effects mean that the Earth's current climate is not in equilibrium with the forcing imposed. Climate commitment studies indicate that even if greenhouse gases were stabilized at 2000 levels, a further warming of about 0.5 oC (0.9 oF) would still occur.
The Earth's climate changes in response to external forcing, including greenhouse gases, variations in its orbit around the Sun (orbital forcing), changes in solar luminosity, and volcanic eruptions; all examples of the Earth's own variation in temperatures, for which the UNFCCC uses the term climate variability.
When a warming trend results in effects that induce further warming, the process is referred to as a positive feedback; when the effects induce cooling, the process is referred to as a negative feedback. The primary positive feedback involves water vapor. The primary negative feedback is the effect of temperature on emission of infrared radiation: as the temperature of a body increases, the emitted radiation increases with the fourth power of its absolute temperature. This provides a powerful negative feedback which stabilizes the climate system over time.
One of the most pronounced positive feedback effects relates to the evaporation of water. If the atmosphere is warmed, the saturation vapour pressure increases, and the quantity of water vapor in the atmosphere will tend to increase. Since water vapor is a greenhouse gas, the increase in water vapor content makes the atmosphere warm further; this warming causes the atmosphere to hold still more water vapor (a positive feedback), and so on until other processes stop the feedback loop. The result is a much larger greenhouse effect than that due to CO2 alone. Although this feedback process causes an increase in the absolute moisture content of the air, the relative humidity stays nearly constant or even decreases slightly because the air is warmer. This feedback effect can only be reversed slowly as CO2 has a long average atmospheric lifetime.
Feedback effects due to clouds are an area of ongoing research. Seen from below, clouds emit infrared radiation back to the surface, and so exert a warming effect; seen from above, clouds reflect sunlight and emit infrared radiation to space, and so exert a cooling effect. Whether the net effect is warming or cooling depends on details such as the type and altitude of the cloud. These details are difficult to represent in climate models, in part because clouds are much smaller than the spacing between points on the computational grids of climate models.
Northern Hemisphere ice trends
Southern Hemisphere ice trends.A subtler feedback process relates to changes in the lapse rate as the atmosphere warms. The atmosphere's temperature decreases with height in the troposphere. Since emission of infrared radiation varies with the fourth power of temperature, longwave radiation emitted from the upper atmosphere is less than that emitted from the lower atmosphere. Most of the radiation emitted from the upper atmosphere escapes to space, while most of the radiation emitted from the lower atmosphere is re-absorbed by the surface or the atmosphere. Thus, the strength of the greenhouse effect depends on the atmosphere's rate of temperature decrease with height: if the rate of temperature decrease is greater the greenhouse effect will be stronger, and if the rate of temperature decrease is smaller then the greenhouse effect will be weaker. Both theory and climate models indicate that with increased greenhouse gas content the rate of temperature decrease with height will be reduced, producing a negative lapse rate feedback that weakens the greenhouse effect. Measurements of the rate of temperature change with height are very sensitive to small errors in observations, making it difficult to establish whether the models agree with observations.
Another important feedback process is ice-albedo feedback. When global temperatures increase, ice near the poles melts at an increasing rate. As the ice melts, land or open water takes its place. Both land and open water are on average less reflective than ice, and thus absorb more solar radiation. This causes more warming, which in turn causes more melting, and this cycle continues.
Warming is also the triggering variable for the release of methane from sources both on land and on the deep ocean floor, making both of these possible feedback effects. Thawing permafrost, such as the frozen peat bogs in Siberia, creates a positive feedback due to release of CO2 and CH4. Methane discharge from permafrost is presently under intensive study. Warmer deep ocean temperatures, likewise, could release the greenhouse gas methane from the 'frozen' state of the vast deep ocean deposits of methane clathrate/methane hydrate, according to the Clathrate Gun Hypothesis, Ocean ecosystems' ability to sequester carbon are expected to decline as it warms. This is because the resulting low nutrient levels of the mesopelagic zone (about 200 to 1000 m depth) limits the growth of diatoms in favor of smaller phytoplankton that are poorer biological pumps of carbon.
Recent two millennia of mean surface temperatures according to different reconstructions, each smoothed on a decadal scale. The unsmoothed, annual value for 2004 is also plotted for reference.Global temperatures have increased by 0.75 oC (1.35 oF) relative to the period 1860–1900, according to the instrumental temperature record. This measured temperature increase is not significantly affected by the urban heat island effect. Since 1979, land temperatures have increased about twice as fast as ocean temperatures (0.25 oC per decade against 0.13 oC per decade). Temperatures in the lower troposphere have increased between 0.12 and 0.22 oC (0.22 and 0.4 oF) per decade since 1979, according to satellite temperature measurements. Temperature is believed to have been relatively stable over the one or two thousand years before 1850, with possibly regional fluctuations such as the Medieval Warm Period or the Little Ice Age.
Sea temperatures increase more slowly than those on land both because of the larger effective heat capacity of the oceans and because the ocean can lose heat by evaporation more readily than the land. The Northern Hemisphere has more land than the Southern Hemisphere, so it warms faster. The Northern Hemisphere also has extensive areas of seasonal snow and sea-ice cover subject to the ice-albedo feedback. More greenhouse gases are emitted in the Northern than Southern Hemisphere, but this does not contribute to the difference in warming because the major greenhouse gases persist long enough to mix between hemispheres.
Based on estimates by NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, 2005 was the warmest year since reliable, widespread instrumental measurements became available in the late 1800s, exceeding the previous record set in 1998 by a few hundredths of a degree. Estimates prepared by the World Meteorological Organization and the Climatic Research Unit concluded that 2005 was the second warmest year, behind 1998. Temperatures in 1998 were unusually warm because the strongest El Niño-Southern Oscillation in the past century occurred during that year.
Anthropogenic emissions of other pollutants—notably sulfate aerosols—can exert a cooling effect by increasing the reflection of incoming sunlight. This partially accounts for the cooling seen in the temperature record in the middle of the twentieth century, though the cooling may also be due in part to natural variability. James Hansen and colleagues have proposed that the effects of the products of fossil fuel combustion—CO2 and aerosols—have, for the short term, largely offset one another, so that net warming in recent decades has been driven mainly by non-CO2 greenhouse gases.
Paleoclimatologist William Ruddiman has argued that human influence on the global climate began around 8,000 years ago with the start of forest clearing to provide land for agriculture and 5,000 years ago with the start of Asian rice irrigation. Ruddiman's interpretation of the historical record, with respect to the methane data, has been disputed.
Pre-human climate variations
Curves of reconstructed temperature at two locations in Antarctica and a global record of variations in glacial ice volume. Today's date is on the left side of the graph.Earth has experienced warming and cooling many times in the past. The recent Antarctic EPICA ice core spans 800,000 years, including eight glacial cycles timed by orbital variations with interglacial warm periods comparable to present temperatures.
A rapid buildup of greenhouse gases amplified warming in the early Jurassic period (about 180 million years ago), with average temperatures rising by 5 oC (9 oF). Research by the Open University indicates that the warming caused the rate of rock weathering to increase by 400%. As such weathering locks away carbon in calcite and dolomite, CO2 levels dropped back to normal over roughly the next 150,000 years.
Sudden releases of methane from clathrate compounds (the clathrate gun hypothesis) have been hypothesized as both a cause for and an effect of other warming events in the distant past, including the Permian–Triassic extinction event (about 251 million years ago) and the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum (about 55 million years ago).
Calculations of global warming prepared in or before 2001 from a range of climate models under the SRES A2 emissions scenario, which assumes no action is taken to reduce emissions.
The geographic distribution of surface warming during the 21st century calculated by the HadCM3 climate model if a business as usual scenario is assumed for economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions. In this figure, the globally averaged warming corresponds to 3.0 oC (5.4 oF).Scientists have studied global warming with computer models of the climate. These models are based on physical principles of fluid dynamics, radiative transfer, and other processes, with simplifications being necessary because of limitations in computer power and the complexity of the climate system. All modern climate models include an atmospheric model that is coupled to an ocean model and models for ice cover on land and sea. Some models also include treatments of chemical and biological processes. These models project a warmer climate due to increasing levels of greenhouse gases. However, even when the same assumptions of future greenhouse gas levels are used, there still remains a considerable range of climate sensitivity.
Including uncertainties in future greenhouse gas concentrations and climate modeling, the IPCC anticipates a warming of 1.1 oC to 6.4 oC (2.0 oF to 11.5 oF) by the end of the 21st century, relative to 1980–1999. Models have also been used to help investigate the causes of recent climate change by comparing the observed changes to those that the models project from various natural and human-derived causes.
Current climate models produce a good match to observations of global temperature changes over the last century, but do not simulate all aspects of climate. These models do not unambiguously attribute the warming that occurred from approximately 1910 to 1945 to either natural variation or human effects; however, they suggest that the warming since 1975 is dominated by man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
Global climate model projections of future climate are forced by imposed greenhouse gas emission scenarios, most often from the IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES). Less commonly, models may also include a simulation of the carbon cycle; this generally shows a positive feedback, though this response is uncertain. Some observational studies also show a positive feedback. A recent paper has suggested that "global surface temperature may not increase over the next decade, as natural climate variations in the North Atlantic and tropical Pacific temporarily offset the projected anthropogenic warming", based on the inclusion of ocean temperature observations.
The representation of clouds is one of the main sources of uncertainty in present-generation models, though progress is being made on this problem.
A minor issue in climate modeling is the perceived mismatch between actual conditions and those projected by the models. A 2007 study by David Douglass and colleagues compared the composite output of 22 leading global climate models with actual climate data and found that the models did not accurately project observed changes to the temperature profile in the tropical troposphere. The authors note that their conclusions contrast strongly with those of recent publications based on essentially the same data. A 2008 paper published by a 17-member team led by Ben Santer of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory noted serious mathematical errors and incorrect assumptions in the Douglass study, and found instead that deviations between the models and observations were statistically insignificant.
Attributed and expected effects
Sparse records indicate that glaciers have been retreating since the early 1800s. In the 1950s measurements began that allow the monitoring of glacial mass balance, reported to the WGMS and the NSIDC.Although it is difficult to connect specific weather events to global warming, an increase in global temperatures may in turn cause broader changes, including glacial retreat, Arctic shrinkage, and worldwide sea level rise. Changes in the amount and pattern of precipitation may result in flooding and drought. There may also be changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Other effects may include changes in agricultural yields, addition of new trade routes, reduced summer streamflows, species extinctions, and increases in the range of disease vectors.
Some effects on both the natural environment and human life are, at least in part, already being attributed to global warming. A 2001 report by the IPCC suggests that glacier retreat, ice shelf disruption such as that of the Larsen Ice Shelf, sea level rise, changes in rainfall patterns, and increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events are attributable in part to global warming. Other expected effects include water scarcity in some regions and increased precipitation in others, changes in mountain snowpack, and adverse health effects from warmer temperatures.
Social and economic effects of global warming may be exacerbated by growing population densities in affected areas. Temperate regions are projected to experience some benefits, such as fewer deaths due to cold exposure. A summary of probable effects and recent understanding can be found in the report made for the IPCC Third Assessment Report by Working Group II. The newer IPCC Fourth Assessment Report summary reports that there is observational evidence for an increase in intense tropical cyclone activity in the North Atlantic Ocean since about 1970, in correlation with the increase in sea surface temperature (see Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation), but that the detection of long-term trends is complicated by the quality of records prior to routine satellite observations. The summary also states that there is no clear trend in the annual worldwide number of tropical cyclones.
Additional anticipated effects include sea level rise of 0.18 to 0.59 meters (0.59 to 1.9 ft) in 2090-2100 relative to 1980-1999, repercussions to agriculture, possible slowing of the thermohaline circulation, reductions in the ozone layer, increasingly intense (but less frequent) hurricanes and extreme weather events, lowering of ocean pH, oxygen depletion in the oceans, and the spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, as well as Lyme disease, hantavirus infections, dengue fever, bubonic plague, and cholera. One study predicts 18% to 35% of a sample of 1,103 animal and plant species would be extinct by 2050, based on future climate projections. However, few mechanistic studies have documented extinctions due to recent climate change and one study suggests that projected rates of extinction are uncertain.
The projected temperature increase for a range of stabilization scenarios (the colored bands). The black line in middle of the shaded area indicates 'best estimates'; the red and the blue lines the likely limits. From the work of IPCC AR4.Some economists have tried to estimate the aggregate net economic costs of damages from climate change across the globe. Such estimates have so far yielded no conclusive findings; in a survey of 100 estimates, the values ran from US$-10 per tonne of carbon (tC) (US$-3 per tonne of carbon dioxide) up to US$350/tC (US$95 per tonne of carbon dioxide), with a mean of US$43 per tonne of carbon (US$12 per tonne of carbon dioxide).
One widely publicized report on potential economic impact is the Stern Review. It suggests that extreme weather might reduce global gross domestic product by up to one percent, and that in a worst-case scenario global per capita consumption could fall 20 percent. The report's methodology, advocacy and conclusions have been criticized by many economists, primarily around the Review's assumptions of discounting and its choices of scenarios. Others have supported the general attempt to quantify economic risk, even if not the specific numbers.
Preliminary studies suggest that costs and benefits of mitigating global warming are broadly comparable in magnitude.
According to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), economic sectors likely to face difficulties related to climate change include banks, agriculture, transport and others. Developing countries dependent upon agriculture will be particularly harmed by global warming.
Adaptation and mitigation
The broad agreement among climate scientists that global temperatures will continue to increase has led some nations, states, corporations and individuals to implement responses. These responses to global warming divide broadly between adapting to the effects of global warming and reducing or even reversing global warming itself. The latter is referred to as mitigation and includes both emission reduction and geoengineering.
The slow pace of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have led some scientists, such as Ken Caldeira and the Nobel Prize winning Paul Crutzen to suggest geoengineering techniques, which can be employed to change the climate deliberately and thus control some of the effects of global warming.
Fears of runaway climate change, which are partially based on observations of Arctic shrinkage, have been a major cause of recent interest in geoengineering.
Suggested techniques include:
Solar radiation management - changing the Earth's albedo to alter the amount of sunlight that's reflected back into space. Techniques such as space sunshade, creating stratospheric sulfur aerosols and cool roof technology all fall into this category.
Greenhouse gas remediation - techniques such as biomass energy with carbon capture and storage, using lasers to break up CFCs in the atmosphere and iron fertilisation of oceans to stimulate phytoplankton growth.
Arctic geoengineering - typically seeking to preserve sea ice or adjust thermohaline circulation by using methods such as diverting rivers to keep warm water away from sea ice, or tethering icebergs to prevent them drifting into warmer waters and melting.
Related climatic issues
A variety of issues are often raised in relation to global warming. One is ocean acidification. Increased atmospheric CO2 increases the amount of CO2 dissolved in the oceans. CO2 dissolved in the ocean reacts with water to form carbonic acid, resulting in acidification. Ocean surface pH is estimated to have decreased from 8.25 near the beginning of the industrial era to 8.14 by 2004, and is projected to decrease by a further 0.14 to 0.5 units by 2100 as the ocean absorbs more CO2. Since organisms and ecosystems are adapted to a narrow range of pH, this raises extinction concerns, directly driven by increased atmospheric CO2, that could disrupt food webs and impact human societies that depend on marine ecosystem services.
Global dimming, the gradual reduction in the amount of global direct irradiance at the Earth's surface, may have partially mitigated global warming in the late 20th century. From 1960 to 1990 human-caused aerosols likely precipitated this effect. Scientists have stated with 66–90% confidence that the effects of human-caused aerosols, along with volcanic activity, have offset some of the global warming, and that greenhouse gases would have resulted in more warming than observed if not for these dimming agents.
Ozone depletion, the steady decline in the total amount of ozone in Earth's stratosphere, is frequently cited in relation to global warming. Although there are areas of linkage, the relationship between the two is not strong.
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