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Near-term acceleration in the rate of temperature change


Anthropogenically driven climate changes, which are expected to impact human and natural systems, are often expressed in terms of global-mean temperature1. The rate of climate change over multi-decadal scales is also important, with faster rates of change resulting in less time for human and natural systems to adapt2. We find that present trends in greenhouse-gas and aerosol emissions are now moving the Earth system into a regime in terms of multi-decadal rates of change that are unprecedented for at least the past 1,000 years. The rate of global-mean temperature increase in the CMIP5 (ref. 3) archive over 40-year periods increases to 0.25 ± 0.05 °C (1σ) per decade by 2020, an average greater than peak rates of change during the previous one to two millennia. Regional rates of change in Europe, North America and the Arctic are higher than the global average. Research on the impacts of such near-term rates of change is urgently needed.

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Figure 1: Rates of temperature change over 40-year periods for a number of climate reconstructions that cover various Northern Hemisphere areas.
Figure 2: 40-year rates of change from the PAGES 2k reconstructions up to 1900 and the CMIP5 climate model archive for the period 1850–1930.
Figure 3: Past and future regional rates of change from CMIP5.
Figure 4: Decomposition of global rates of temperature change from the MAGICC model.


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The authors are grateful for research support provided by the Integrated Assessment Research Program in the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy and the PNNL Global Technology Strategy Program. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is operated for DOE by Battelle Memorial Institute under contract DE-AC05-76RL01830. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modeling and the climate modelling groups (Supplementary Table 2) for producing and making available their model output. The US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support for CMIP. The views and opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors. The authors would like to thank J. Dooley and P. Applegate for helpful comments and J. Seibert for data analysis.

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S.J.S., J.E. and K.C. designed research. S.J.S., C.A.H. and A.M. conducted research. All authors wrote paper.

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Correspondence to Steven J. Smith.

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Smith, S., Edmonds, J., Hartin, C. et al. Near-term acceleration in the rate of temperature change. Nature Clim Change 5, 333–336 (2015).

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