Global warming: a review of this mostly settled issue

  • Charles F. KellerEmail author
Original Paper


Global warming and attendant climate change have been controversial for at least a decade. This is largely because of its societal implications since the science is largely straightforward. With the recent publication of the Fourth Assessment Report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Working Group 1) there has been renewed interest and controversy about how certain the scientific community is of its conclusions: that humans are influencing the climate and that global temperatures will continue to rise rapidly in this century. This review attempts to update what is known and in particular what advances have been made in the past 5 years or so. It does not attempt to be comprehensive. Rather it focuses on the most controversial issues, which are actually few in number. They are:
  • Is the surface temperature record accurate or is it biased by heat from cities, etc.?

  • Is that record significantly different from past warmings such as the Medieval Warming Period?

  • Are human greenhouse gases changing the climate more than the sun?

  • Can we model climate and predict its future, or is it just too complex and chaotic?

  • Are there any other changes in climate other than warming, and can they be attributed to the warming?

Finally there is a very brief discussion of the societal policy response to the scientific message. Note that much of the introductory material in each section is essentially the same as that which appears in Keller 2003 (hereafter referred to as OR = original review) and its update (Keller 2007). Despite continued uncertainties, the review finds an affirmative answer to these questions. Of particular interest are advances that seem to explain why satellites do not see as much warming as surface instruments, how we are getting a good idea of recent paleo-climates, and why the twentieth century temperature record was so complex. It makes the point that in each area new information could come to light that would change our thinking on the quantitative magnitude and timing of anthropogenic warming, but it is unlikely to alter the basic conclusions.


Climate Climate change Global warming Climate modeling Atmosphere Ocean Greenhouse gases Carbon dioxide Solar activity Environment Ecosystems 



The author is indebted to The University of California’s Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics—branches at Los Alamos National Laboratory and at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, UCSD for supporting the author as a Cecil Greene Scholar during which time much of this information was brought together. He is also indebted to the following for helpful discussions and references suggested or supplied: Richard Alley, Tim Barnett, Jim Hansen, Phil Jones, David Keeling, Judith Lean, Mike MacCracken, Joel Norris, Michael Mann, Roger Pielke, V. Ramanathan, Ben Santer, Drew Schindell, Gavin Schmidt, Jeff Severinghaus, Tom Shankland, Richard Somerville, Brian Tinsley, Kevin Trenberth, Warren White, Tom Wigley, Guang Zhang, and my long suffering but thoughtful critic, Yvonne Keller. In addition there have been a rather larger number of people who have both helped and encouraged me to take on this project. To them I am also thankful.


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© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Los Alamos Branch of the University of California’s, Institute of Geophysics and Planetary PhysicsLos AlamosUSA
  2. 2.Los Alamos National LaboratoryLos AlamosUSA

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