Climatic Change

, Volume 70, Issue 1–2, pp 9–29 | Cite as

Climate Variability and Change: Past, Present and Future – An Overview

  • M. James Salinger


Prior to the 20th century Northern Hemisphere average surface air temperatures have varied in the order of 0.5 C back to AD 1000. Various climate reconstructions indicate that slow cooling took place until the beginning of the 20th century. Subsequently, global-average surface air temperature increased by about 0.6 ∘C with the 1990s being the warmest decade on record. The pattern of warming has been greatest over mid-latitude northern continents in the latter part of the century. At the same time the frequency of air frosts has decreased over many land areas, and there has been a drying in the tropics and sub-tropics. The late 20th century changes have been attributed to global warming because of increases in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations due to human activities. Underneath these trends is that of decadal scale variability in the Pacific basin at least induced by the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO), which causes decadal changes in climate averages. On interannnual timescales El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) causes much variability throughout many tropical and subtropical regions and some mid-latitude areas. The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) provides climate perturbations over Europe and northern Africa. During the course of the 21st century global-average surface temperatures are very likely to increase by 2 to 4.5 C as greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere increase. At the same time there will be changes in precipitation, and climate extremes such as hot days, heavy rainfall and drought are expected to increase in many areas. The combination of global warming, superimposed on decadal climate variability (IPO) and interannual fluctuations (ENSO, NAO) are expected lead to a century of increasing climate variability and change that will be unprecedented in the history of human settlement. Although the changes of the past and present have stressed food and fibre production at times, the 21st century changes will be extremely challenging to agriculture and forestry.


North Atlantic Oscillation Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation Decadal Climate Decadal Climate Variability Century Change 
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© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Institute of Water and Atmospheric ResearchNewmarket, AucklandNew Zealand

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