Article | Published:

Forcing, feedback and internal variability in global temperature trends

Nature volume 517, pages 565570 (29 January 2015) | Download Citation

Abstract

Most present-generation climate models simulate an increase in global-mean surface temperature (GMST) since 1998, whereas observations suggest a warming hiatus. It is unclear to what extent this mismatch is caused by incorrect model forcing, by incorrect model response to forcing or by random factors. Here we analyse simulations and observations of GMST from 1900 to 2012, and show that the distribution of simulated 15-year trends shows no systematic bias against the observations. Using a multiple regression approach that is physically motivated by surface energy balance, we isolate the impact of radiative forcing, climate feedback and ocean heat uptake on GMST—with the regression residual interpreted as internal variability—and assess all possible 15- and 62-year trends. The differences between simulated and observed trends are dominated by random internal variability over the shorter timescale and by variations in the radiative forcings used to drive models over the longer timescale. For either trend length, spread in simulated climate feedback leaves no traceable imprint on GMST trends or, consequently, on the difference between simulations and observations. The claim that climate models systematically overestimate the response to radiative forcing from increasing greenhouse gas concentrations therefore seems to be unfounded.

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Acknowledgements

We are indebted to J. Fyfe for making his CMIP5 GMST data set available to us, and to D. Notz, J. Risbey and B. Santer for comments on the manuscript. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups (names of models listed in Extended Data Table 1) for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. This work was supported by the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science (J.M.) and by a Royal Society Wolfson Merit Award and EPSRC grant EP/1014721/1 (P.M.F.).

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Affiliations

  1. Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Bundesstrasse 53, 20146 Hamburg, Germany

    • Jochem Marotzke
  2. School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

    • Piers M. Forster

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Contributions

The authors jointly designed the study. J.M. analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. Both authors discussed the results and the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jochem Marotzke.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature14117

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