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Attributing physical and biological impacts to anthropogenic climate change

Abstract

Significant changes in physical and biological systems are occurring on all continents and in most oceans, with a concentration of available data in Europe and North America. Most of these changes are in the direction expected with warming temperature. Here we show that these changes in natural systems since at least 1970 are occurring in regions of observed temperature increases, and that these temperature increases at continental scales cannot be explained by natural climate variations alone. Given the conclusions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-twentieth century is very likely to be due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations, and furthermore that it is likely that there has been significant anthropogenic warming over the past 50 years averaged over each continent except Antarctica, we conclude that anthropogenic climate change is having a significant impact on physical and biological systems globally and in some continents.

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Figure 1: Data series of observed changes in physical and biological systems.
Figure 2: Location and consistency of observed changes with warming.
Figure 3: Distribution of cells with temperature changes and significant observed changes.

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Acknowledgements

We thank J. Palutikof, D. Rind and A. Watkinson for their feedback, and J. Mendoza for work on the graphics. The Goddard Institute for Space Studies authors acknowledge the support of the Earth Science Division, NASA Science Mission Directorate. D.K. is supported by the Australian Research Council as a Federation Fellow. Q.W. is supported by a Gary Comer Science and Education Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship and by the National Science Foundation grant ATM-0555326. We acknowledge the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) and the WCRP’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling (WGCM) for their roles in making available the multi-model data set. Support of this data set is provided by the Office of Science, US Department of Energy.

Author Contributions C.R., D.K., G.C., A.M., T.L.R., B.S., P.N. and M.V. conceived the analytical framework; P.N., M.V., A.M. and N.E. constructed the database; M.V., D.K. and Q.W. performed the statistical analyses; G.C., A.M., T.L.R., P.T., B.S., C.L. and S.R. provided expertise in observed changes in physical and biological systems; and P.N., A.M., C.R. and A.I. analysed other driving forces.

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Correspondence to Cynthia Rosenzweig.

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Rosenzweig, C., Karoly, D., Vicarelli, M. et al. Attributing physical and biological impacts to anthropogenic climate change. Nature 453, 353–357 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature06937

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