Observations of the Earth's near-surface temperature show a global-mean temperature increase of approximately 0.6 K since 1900 (ref. 1), occurring from 1910 to 1940 and from 1970 to the present. The temperature change over the past 30–50 years is unlikely to be entirely due to internal climate variability2,3,4 and has been attributed to changes in the concentrations of greenhouse gases and sulphate aerosols5 due to human activity. Attribution of the warming early in the century has proved more elusive. Here we present a quantification of the possible contributions throughout the century from the four components most likely to be responsible for the large-scale temperature changes, of which two vary naturally (solar irradiance and stratospheric volcanic aerosols) and two have changed decisively due to anthropogenic influence (greenhouse gases and sulphate aerosols). The patterns of time/space changes in near-surface temperature due to the separate forcing components are simulated with a coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation model, and a linear combination of these is fitted to observations. Thus our analysis is insensitive to errors in the simulated amplitude of these responses. We find that solar forcing may have contributed to the temperature changes early in the century, but anthropogenic causes combined with natural variability would also present a possible explanation. For the warming from 1946 to 1996 regardless of any possible amplification of solar or volcanic influence, we exclude purely natural forcing, and attribute it largely to the anthropogenic components.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Parker, D. E., Jones, P. D., Folland, C. K. & Bevan, A. Interdecadal changes of surface temperature since the late nineteenth century. J. Geophys. Res. 99, 14373–14399 (1994).
Stouffer, R. J., Manabe, S. & Vinnikov, K. Y. Model assessment of the role of natural variability in recent global warming. Nature 367, 634–636 (1994).
Santer, B. D. et al. Asearch for human influences on the thermal structure of the atmosphere. Nature 382, 39–45 (1996).
Tett, S. F. B., Mitchell, J. F. B., Parker, D. E. & Allen, M. R. Human influence on the atmospheric vertical temperature structure: Detection and observations. Science 247, 1170–1173 (1996).
Hegerl, G. C. et al. Multi-fingerprint detection and attribution analysis of greenhouse gas, greenhouse gas-plus-aerosol and solar forced climate change. Clim. Dyn. 13, 613–634 (1997).
Johns, T. C. et al. The second Hadley Centre coupled ocean-atmosphere GCM: Model description, spinup and validation. Clim. Dyn. 13, 103–134 (1997).
Tett, S. F. B., Johns, T. C. & Mitchell, J. F. B. Global and regional variability in a coupled AOGCM. Clim. Dyn. 13, 303–323 (1997).
Shine, K. P., Fouquart, Y., Ramaswamy, V., Solomon, S. & Srinivasan, J. in Climate Change 1995: the Science of Climate Change(eds Houghton, J. T. et al.) 108–118 (Cambridge Univ. Press, (1996).
Mitchell, J. F. B., Johns, T. C., Gregory, J. M. & Tett, S. F. B. Climate response to increasing levels of greenhouse gases and sulphate aerosols. Nature 376, 501–504 (1995).
Mitchell, J. F. B. & Johns, T. C. On modification of global warming by sulfate aerosols. J. Clim. 10, 245–267 (1997).
Mitchell, J. F. B., Davis, R. A., Ingram, W. J. & Senior, C. A. On surface temperature, greenhouse gases, and aerosols: Models and observations. J. Clim. 10, 2364–2386 (1995).
Langner, J. & Rodhe, H. Aglobal three-dimensional model of the tropospheric sulfur cycle. J. Atmos. Chem. 13, 225–263 (1991).
Twomey, S. A. Pollution and the planetary albedo. Atmos. Environ. 8, 1251–1256 (1974).
Albrecht, B. A. Aerosols, cloud microphysics and fractional cloudiness. Science 245, 1227–1230 (1989).
Sato, M., Hansen, J. E., McCormick, M. P. & Pollack, J. B. Stratospheric aerosol optical depths (1850–1990). J. Geophys. Res. 98, 22987–22994 (1993).
Hoyt, D. V. & Schatten, K. H. Adiscussion of plausible solar irradiance variations, 1700–1992. J. Geophys. Res. 98, 18895–18906 (1993).
Willson, R. C. Total solar irradiance trend during solar cycles 21 and 22. Science 277, 1963–1965 (1997).
Stott, P. A. & Tett, S. F. B. Scale-dependent detection of climate change. J. Clim. 11, 3282–3294 (1998).
Haywood, J., Stouffer, R., Wetherald, R., Manabe, S. & Ramaswamy, V. Transient response of a coupled model to estimated changes in greenhouse gas and sulfate concentrations. Geophys. Res. Lett. 24, 1335–1338 (1997).
Ramaswamy, V. & Chen, C.-T. Linear additivity of climate response for combined albedo and greenhouse perturbations. Geophys. Res. Lett. 24, 567–570 (1997).
Hasselmann, K. Optimal fingerprints for the detection of time-dependent climate change. J. Clim. 6, 1957–1971 (1993).
Hasselmann, K. Multi-pattern fingerprint method for detection and attribution of climate change. Clim. Dyn. 13, 601–611 (1997).
North, G. R., Kim, K.-K., Shen, S. S. P. & Hardin, J. W. Detection of forced climate signals. Part I: filter theory. J. Clim. 8, 401–408 (1995).
Allen, M. R. & Tett, S. F. B. Checking for model consistency in optimal fingerprinting. Clim. Dyn.(in the press).
Mardia, K. V., Kent, J. T. & Bibby, J. M. Multivariate Analysis(Academic, London, (1979).
Lean, J., Beer, J. & Bradley, R. Reconstruction of solar irradiance since 1610: implications for climate change. Geophys. Res. Lett. 22, 3195–3198 (1995).
Haigh, J. D. Impact of solar variability on climate. Science 272, 981–984 (1996).
Haigh, J. D. The role of stratospheric ozone in modulating the solar radiative forcing of climate. Nature 370, 544–546 (1994).
S.F.B.T., P.A.S. and computer time were funded by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. W.J.I. and J.F.B.M. were supported by the UK Public Meteorological Service Research and Development programme. M.R.A. was supported by a research fellowship from the UK Natural Environment Research Council. Supplementary support was provided by the European Commission.
About this article
Cite this article
Tett, S., Stott, P., Allen, M. et al. Causes of twentieth-century temperature change near the Earth's surface. Nature 399, 569–572 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1038/21164
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2020)
Science Bulletin (2020)
Estimation and Spatio-temporal Patterns of Carbon Emissions from Grassland Fires in Inner Mongolia, China
Chinese Geographical Science (2020)
"Apples and Oranges": On comparing simulated historic near‐surface temperature changes with observations
Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society (2020)
Environmental Research Letters (2020)