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

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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Figure 1: Simulated and observed 1913–2012 temperature trends over the Arctic.
Figure 2: Simulated and observed Arctic temperature anomalies.
Figure 3: Scaling factors by which the simulated Arctic temperature response to GHG, OANT and NAT should be multiplied to best match observations and corresponding attributable temperature trends.

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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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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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mohammad Reza Najafi.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Najafi, M., Zwiers, F. & Gillett, N. Attribution of Arctic temperature change to greenhouse-gas and aerosol influences. Nature Clim Change 5, 246–249 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2524

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