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Statistically derived contributions of diverse human influences to twentieth-century temperature changes


The warming of the climate system is unequivocal as evidenced by an increase in global temperatures by 0.8 °C over the past century. However, the attribution of the observed warming to human activities remains less clear, particularly because of the apparent slow-down in warming since the late 1990s. Here we analyse radiative forcing and temperature time series with state-of-the-art statistical methods to address this question without climate model simulations. We show that long-term trends in total radiative forcing and temperatures have largely been determined by atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, and modulated by other radiative factors. We identify a pronounced increase in the growth rates of both temperatures and radiative forcing around 1960, which marks the onset of sustained global warming. Our analyses also reveal a contribution of human interventions to two periods when global warming slowed down. Our statistical analysis suggests that the reduction in the emissions of ozone-depleting substances under the Montreal Protocol, as well as a reduction in methane emissions, contributed to the lower rate of warming since the 1990s. Furthermore, we identify a contribution from the two world wars and the Great Depression to the documented cooling in the mid-twentieth century, through lower carbon dioxide emissions. We conclude that reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are effective in slowing the rate of warming in the short term.

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Figure 1: Filtered and unfiltered temperature series.
Figure 2: Aggregated radiative forcing series.
Figure 3: GDP and CO2 emissions yearly changes.
Figure 4: Trends of CFC11, CFC12, CH4, CO2 and AIE.
Figure 5: The effects of the slow-down in RFGHG and the increase in AIE over TRF.

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F.E. acknowledges financial support from the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologı´a ( under grant CONACYT-310026, as well as from PASPA DGAPA of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

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F.E. and P.P. contributed equally to the conceptual design, the data analysis and the writing of this manuscript. B.M.L. contributed to the conceptual design and data analysis.

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Correspondence to Francisco Estrada.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Estrada, F., Perron, P. & Martínez-López, B. Statistically derived contributions of diverse human influences to twentieth-century temperature changes. Nature Geosci 6, 1050–1055 (2013).

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