, Volume 40, Issue 5-6, pp 1087-1102
Date: 08 Nov 2012

A probabilistic quantification of the anthropogenic component of twentieth century global warming

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Abstract

This paper examines in detail the statement in the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report that “Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-twentieth century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations”. We use a quantitative probabilistic analysis to evaluate this IPCC statement, and discuss the value of the statement in the policy context. For forcing by greenhouse gases (GHGs) only, we show that there is a greater than 90 % probability that the expected warming over 1950–2005 is larger than the total amount (not just “most”) of the observed warming. This is because, following current best estimates, negative aerosol forcing has substantially offset the GHG-induced warming. We also consider the expected warming from all anthropogenic forcings using the same probabilistic framework. This requires a re-assessment of the range of possible values for aerosol forcing. We provide evidence that the IPCC estimate for the upper bound of indirect aerosol forcing is almost certainly too high. Our results show that the expected warming due to all human influences since 1950 (including aerosol effects) is very similar to the observed warming. Including the effects of natural external forcing factors has a relatively small impact on our 1950–2005 results, but improves the correspondence between model and observations over 1900–2005. Over the longer period, however, externally forced changes are insufficient to explain the early twentieth century warming. We suggest that changes in the formation rate of North Atlantic Deep Water may have been a significant contributing factor.