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Reconciling controversies about the ‘global warming hiatus’

Abstract

Between about 1998 and 2012, a time that coincided with political negotiations for preventing climate change, the surface of Earth seemed hardly to warm. This phenomenon, often termed the ‘global warming hiatus’, caused doubt in the public mind about how well anthropogenic climate change and natural variability are understood. Here we show that apparently contradictory conclusions stem from different definitions of ‘hiatus’ and from different datasets. A combination of changes in forcing, uptake of heat by the oceans, natural variability and incomplete observational coverage reconciles models and data. Combined with stronger recent warming trends in newer datasets, we are now more confident than ever that human influence is dominant in long-term warming.

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Figure 1: Magnitude of and interest in the hiatus.
Figure 2: Hiatus definitions and representation in different datasets.
Figure 3: Surface temperature trends for the period 1998–2012.
Figure 4: Climate indices and global temperature.
Figure 5: Reconciling observed and modelled temperatures.

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Acknowledgements

We thank K. Cowtan for providing the HadCRUT3 datasets, M. Huber for providing the modelled forcing responses, and A. Jokimäki for help in collecting the relevant hiatus literature. 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 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 the development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals.

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I.M. led the writing with contributions from all authors. I.M. produced all figures except Fig. 5, which was produced by M.B.S.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Global-mean temperature trends from observations.

af, Linear temperature trends for the duration given on the y axis calculated from BEST (a), GISTEMP (b), HadCRUT4 (c), NOAA (d), Cowtan & Way (e) and HadCRUT3 (f). The starting year of the trend is indicated on the x axis. Dots indicate a trend in the individual datasets that is smaller than the long-term trend for the period 1951–2012.

Extended Data Figure 2 Global-mean temperature trends.

a, b, Global surface temperature trends of different durations from 42 CMIP5 models using all years in the piControl simulation (a) and of the observations starting in any year after 1880 using 5 observational datasets (b). The lines indicate, from bottom to top, the 5th, 25th, 50th, 75th and 95th percentiles. c, The 95th percentile of the individual CMIP5 models.

Extended Data Figure 3 Energy imbalance and ocean heat uptake.

a, Top of atmosphere (TOA) energy imbalance estimates based on satellite measurements (red shading), observations constrained by climate models (blue) and a sum of energy storage in different components of the climate system (green) for various sub-periods of the hiatus. The values are taken from refs 85, 177, 214 and 233, 234, 235. b, Ocean heat uptake (OHU) estimates for sub-periods of the hiatus for the depth range 0–700 m (yellow), 0–2,000 m (blue), >4,000 m (grey) and for the full depth range (red). The estimates are taken from refs 27, 47, 53, 85, 92, 209, 213, 214 and 217, 218, 219, 220, 221, with updated values from ref. 54. Zero imbalance is shown as the dashed black line. All values are given in W m−2 when adjusted for the total surface of Earth.

Extended Data Figure 4 Fraction of missing data in the HadCRUT4 dataset.

The colour scale shows the fraction of months for which there is missing surface temperature data in the HadCRUT4 dataset for the period 1998–2012.

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Medhaug, I., Stolpe, M., Fischer, E. et al. Reconciling controversies about the ‘global warming hiatus’. Nature 545, 41–47 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature22315

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