Letter | Published:

Attribution of Arctic temperature change to greenhouse-gas and aerosol influences

Nature Climate Change volume 5, pages 246249 (2015) | Download Citation

Abstract

The Arctic has warmed significantly more than global mean surface air temperature over recent decades1, as expected from amplification mechanisms2,3. Previous studies have attributed the observed Arctic warming to the combined effect of greenhouse gases and other anthropogenic influences4. However, given the sensitivity of the Arctic to external forcing and the intense interest in the effects of aerosols on its climate5,6, it is important to examine and quantify the effects of individual groups of anthropogenic forcing agents. Here we quantify the separate contributions to observed Arctic land temperature change from greenhouse gases, other anthropogenic forcing agents (which are dominated by aerosols) and natural forcing agents. We show that although increases in greenhouse-gas concentrations have driven the observed warming over the past century, approximately 60% of the greenhouse-gas-induced warming has been offset by the combined response to other anthropogenic forcings, which is substantially greater than the fraction of global greenhouse-gas-induced warming that has been offset by these forcings7,8. The climate models considered on average simulate the amplitude of response to anthropogenic forcings well, increasing confidence in their projections of profound future Arctic climate change.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison and the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling for their roles in making the WCRP CMIP5 multi-model data sets available. This work is supported by the NSERC Canadian Sea Ice and Snow Evolution (CanSISE) Network.

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Affiliations

  1. Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium, University House 1, University of Victoria, PO Box 1700 STN CSC, Victoria, British Columbia V8W 2Y2, Canada

    • Mohammad Reza Najafi
    •  & Francis W. Zwiers
  2. Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis, Environment Canada, PO Box 1700 STN CSC, Victoria, British Columbia V8W 2Y2, Canada

    • Nathan P. Gillett

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Contributions

M.R.N., F.W.Z. and N.P.G. designed analysis. M.R.N. conducted the analysis and wrote the initial draft. F.W.Z. and N.P.G. helped with the analysis and edited the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mohammad Reza Najafi.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2524

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