Detection of human influences on temperature seasonality from the nineteenth century


It has been widely reported that anthropogenic warming is detectable with high confidence after the 1950s. However, current palaeoclimate records suggest an earlier onset of industrial-era warming. Here, we combine observational data, multiproxy palaeo records and climate model simulations for a formal detection and attribution study. Instead of the traditional approach to the annual mean temperature change, we focus on changes in temperature seasonality (that is, the summer-minus-winter temperature difference) from the regional to whole Northern Hemisphere scales. We show that the detectable weakening of temperature seasonality, which started synchronously over the northern mid–high latitudes since the late nineteenth century, can be attributed to anthropogenic forcing. Increased greenhouse gas concentrations are the main contributors over northern high latitudes, while sulfate aerosols are the major contributors over northern mid-latitudes. A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution is expected to mitigate the weakening of temperature seasonality and its potential ecological effects.

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Fig. 1: Surface temperature seasonality for 1851–2005.
Fig. 2: Regional ATCs and concentrations of CO2 and SO4.
Fig. 3: Simulated ATC magnitude driven by separate forcings for 1851–2005.
Fig. 4: Results of the detection and attribution analyses applied to the magnitude of the ATC in seven regions.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.


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This research was supported by the National Key R&D Program of China (2016YFA0600404) and National Natural Science Foundation of China (41875113 and 41471035). P.W. was supported by the UK–China Research and Innovation Partnership Fund through the Met Office Climate Science for Service Partnership China as part of the Newton Fund. J.L. is supported by the Belmont Forum and JPI Climate Collaborative Research Action ‘INTEGRATE, an integrated data-model study of interactions between tropical monsoons and extratropical climate variability and extremes’. A.S. and G.H. were supported by the ERC-funded project TITAN (EC-320691), and NERC under the Belmont forum grant PacMedy (NE/P006752/1). J.D. acknowledges support from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. We are very grateful to K. Duan and H. Fischer for making their ice-core sulfate concentrations data available. We also thank A. Ribes for comments on the early manuscript.

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J.D. designed the study and performed the analyses, with support from Z.M., L.L., P.W., J.L. and E.X. J.D. drafted and revised the manuscript with input from P.W., J.L., A.S., G.H., D.G. and E.X. Y.D. and L.C. improved the figures. All authors contributed to interpreting the results and discussions.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jianping Duan.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–12, Supplementary Tables 1–2

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Duan, J., Ma, Z., Wu, P. et al. Detection of human influences on temperature seasonality from the nineteenth century. Nat Sustain 2, 484–490 (2019).

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