Letter | Published:

Contribution of urbanization to warming in China

Nature Climate Change volume 6, pages 706709 (2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

China has warmed rapidly over the past half century1 and has experienced widespread concomitant impacts on water availability, agriculture and ecosystems2. Although urban areas occupy less than 1% of China’s land mass, the majority of China’s observing stations are situated in proximity to urban areas, and thus some of the recorded warming is undoubtedly the consequence of rapid urban development, particularly since the late 1970s3,4,5. Here, we quantify the separate contributions of urbanization and other external forcings to the observed warming. We estimate that China’s temperature increased by 1.44 °C (90% confidence interval 1.22–1.66 °C) over the period 1961–2013 and that urban warming influences account for about a third of this observed warming, 0.49 °C (0.12–0.86 °C). Anthropogenic and natural external forcings combined explain most of the rest of the observed warming, contributing 0.93 °C (0.61–1.24 °C). This is close to the warming of 1.09 °C (0.86–1.31 °C) observed in global mean land temperatures over the period 1951–2010, which, in contrast to China’s recorded temperature change, is only weakly affected by urban warming influences6. Clearly the effects of urbanization have considerably exacerbated the warming experienced by the large majority of the Chinese population in comparison with the warming that they would have experienced as a result of external forcing alone.

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Acknowledgements

We thank G. Flato, A. Cannon and K. Anderson for their comments. Y.S., T.H. and G.R. are supported by China funding agencies through multiple grants: 2012CB955900, GYHY201406020, 2012CB417205, GYHY201206012. 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 CMIP multi-model data sets available.

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Affiliations

  1. National Climate Center, Laboratory for Climate Studies, China Meteorological Administration, Beijing 100081, China

    • Ying Sun
    • , Guoyu Ren
    •  & Ting Hu
  2. Joint Center for Global Change Studies, Beijing 100875, China

    • Ying Sun
    •  & Guoyu Ren
  3. Climate Research Division, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Toronto, Ontario M3H 5T4, Canada

    • Xuebin Zhang
  4. Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia V8W 2Y2, Canada

    • Francis W. Zwiers

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Contributions

X.Z., Y.S. and F.W.Z. designed the analysis. Y.S., X.Z. and T.H. conducted the analysis. Y.S., X.Z. and F.W.Z. wrote the paper. G.R. identified the rural stations for the estimation of the urbanization effect in temperature and helped in the analysis and the interpretation of the urbanization effect.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Xuebin Zhang.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2956

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