Evidence that global evapotranspiration makes a substantial contribution to the global atmospheric temperature slowdown

Abstract

The difference between the time series trend for temperature expected from the increasing level of atmospheric CO2 and that for the (more slowly rising) observed temperature has been termed the global surface temperature slowdown. In this paper, we characterise the single time series made from the subtraction of these two time series as the ‘global surface temperature gap’. We also develop an analogous atmospheric CO2 gap series from the difference between the level of CO2 and first-difference CO2 (that is, the change in CO2 from one period to the next). This paper provides three further pieces of evidence concerning the global surface temperature slowdown. First, we find that the present size of both the global surface temperature gap and the CO2 gap is unprecedented over a period starting at least as far back as the 1860s. Second, ARDL and Granger causality analyses involving the global surface temperature gap against the major candidate physical drivers of the ocean heat sink and biosphere evapotranspiration are conducted. In each case where ocean heat data was available, it was significant in the models: however, evapotranspiration, or its argued surrogate precipitation, also remained significant in the models alongside ocean heat. In terms of relative scale, the standardised regression coefficient for evapotranspiration was repeatedly of the same order of magnitude as—typically as much as half that for—ocean heat. The foregoing is evidence that, alongside the ocean heat sink, evapotranspiration is also likely to be making a substantial contribution to the global atmospheric temperature outcome. Third, there is evidence that both the ocean heat sink and the evapotranspiration process might be able to continue into the future to keep the temperature lower than the level-of-CO2 models would suggest. It is shown that this means there can be benefit in using the first-difference CO2 to temperature relationship shown in Leggett and Ball (Atmos Chem Phys 15(20):11571–11592, 2015) to forecast future global surface temperature.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge with appreciation the support and advice of J. Gordon and C. Dawson and the helpful and constructive comments of an anonymous referee of the paper.

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Correspondence to L. Mark W. Leggett.

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Leggett, L.M.W., Ball, D.A. Evidence that global evapotranspiration makes a substantial contribution to the global atmospheric temperature slowdown. Theor Appl Climatol 135, 649–675 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00704-018-2387-7

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