Climate Dynamics

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 3–34 | Cite as

The impact of natural and anthropogenic forcings on climate and hydrology since 1550

  • Simon F. B. TettEmail author
  • Richard Betts
  • Thomas J. Crowley
  • Jonathan Gregory
  • Timothy C. Johns
  • Andy Jones
  • Timothy J. Osborn
  • Elisabeth Öström
  • David L. Roberts
  • Margaret J. Woodage


A climate simulation of an ocean/atmosphere general circulation model driven with natural forcings alone (constant “pre-industrial” land-cover and well-mixed greenhouse gases, changing orbital, solar and volcanic forcing) has been carried out from 1492 to 2000. Another simulation driven with natural and anthropogenic forcings (changes in greenhouse gases, ozone, the direct and first indirect effect of anthropogenic sulphate aerosol and land-cover) from 1750 to 2000 has also been carried out. These simulations suggest that since 1550, in the absence of anthropogenic forcings, climate would have warmed by about 0.1 K. Simulated response is not in equilibrium with the external forcings suggesting that both climate sensitivity and the rate at which the ocean takes up heat determine the magnitude of the response to forcings since 1550. In the simulation with natural forcings climate sensitivity is similar to other simulations of HadCM3 driven with CO2 alone. Climate sensitivity increases when anthropogenic forcings are included. The natural forcing used in our experiment increases decadal–centennial time-scale and large spatial scale climate variability, relative to internal variability, as diagnosed from a control simulation. Mean conditions in the natural simulation are cooler than in our control simulation reflecting the reduction in forcing. However, over certain regions there is significant warming, relative to control, due to an increase in forest cover. Comparing the simulation driven by anthropogenic and natural forcings with the natural-only simulation suggests that anthropogenic forcings have had a significant impact on, particularly tropical, climate since the early nineteenth century. Thus the entire instrumental temperature record may be “contaminated” by anthropogenic influences. Both the hydrological cycle and cryosphere are also affected by anthropogenic forcings. Changes in tree-cover appear to be responsible for some of the local and hydrological changes as well as an increase in northern hemisphere spring snow cover.


Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation Climate Sensitivity Southern Oscillation Index South Pacific Convergence Zone Anthropogenic Forcings 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



ST was funded by the Government Met. Research (GMR) contract and SO&P (EVK2-CT-2002-00160). Computer time for the two forced simulations was funded by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under the Climate Prediction Program Contract PECD 7/12/37 as were RB, JG, AJ, DR and MW. TJ was funded by GMR and EO was funded by the National Met. Program. SO&P funded TO. NOAA and U.S. DOE supported TC. Helpful comments were received from Chris Folland and three anonymous referees. ST writes “This paper was largely written during the illness and subsequent death of my wife, Claire. I would like to thank my family, friends, colleagues and co-authors for their support and help in this difficult time. Claire supported and loved me throughout the entirety of my career. I miss her greatly.”


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Copyright information

© British Crown Copyright 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simon F. B. Tett
    • 1
    Email author
  • Richard Betts
    • 2
  • Thomas J. Crowley
    • 3
  • Jonathan Gregory
    • 4
    • 2
  • Timothy C. Johns
    • 2
  • Andy Jones
    • 2
  • Timothy J. Osborn
    • 5
  • Elisabeth Öström
    • 2
  • David L. Roberts
    • 2
    • 6
  • Margaret J. Woodage
    • 2
    • 7
  1. 1.Met Office, Hadley Centre (Reading Unit), Meteorology BuildingUniversity of ReadingReadingUK
  2. 2.Met OfficeHadley CentreExeterUK
  3. 3.Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth SciencesDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  4. 4.Department of MeteorologyUniversity of ReadingReadingUK
  5. 5.Climatic Research Unit, School of Environmental SciencesUniversity of East AngliaNorwichUK
  6. 6.BracknellUK
  7. 7.ESSC, University of ReadingReadingUK

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