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Statistically derived contributions of diverse human influences to twentieth-century temperature changes

Nature Geoscience volume 6, pages 10501055 (2013) | Download Citation

Abstract

The warming of the climate system is unequivocal as evidenced by an increase in global temperatures by 0.8 °C over the past century. However, the attribution of the observed warming to human activities remains less clear, particularly because of the apparent slow-down in warming since the late 1990s. Here we analyse radiative forcing and temperature time series with state-of-the-art statistical methods to address this question without climate model simulations. We show that long-term trends in total radiative forcing and temperatures have largely been determined by atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, and modulated by other radiative factors. We identify a pronounced increase in the growth rates of both temperatures and radiative forcing around 1960, which marks the onset of sustained global warming. Our analyses also reveal a contribution of human interventions to two periods when global warming slowed down. Our statistical analysis suggests that the reduction in the emissions of ozone-depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol, as well as a reduction in methane emissions, contributed to the lower rate of warming since the 1990s. Furthermore, we identify a contribution from the two world wars and the Great Depression to the documented cooling in the mid-twentieth century, through lower carbon dioxide emissions. We conclude that reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are effective in slowing the rate of warming in the short term.

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Acknowledgements

F.E. acknowledges financial support from the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologı´a (http://www.conacyt.gob.mx) under grant CONACYT-310026, as well as from PASPA DGAPA of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

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Affiliations

  1. Centro de Ciencias de la Atmósfera, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Circuito Exterior, 04510 Mexico, DF, Mexico

    • Francisco Estrada
    •  & Benjamín Martínez-López
  2. Institute for Environmental Studies, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, Netherlands

    • Francisco Estrada
  3. Department of Economics, Boston University, 270 Bay State Rd. Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA

    • Pierre Perron

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Contributions

F.E. and P.P. contributed equally to the conceptual design, the data analysis and the writing of this manuscript. B.M.L. contributed to the conceptual design and data analysis.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Francisco Estrada.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1999