Identifying signatures of natural climate variability in time series of global-mean surface temperature: Methodology and insights

David W. J. Thompson, John M. Wallace, Phil D. Jones, John J. Kennedy

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141 Citations (Scopus)


Global-mean surface temperature is affected by both natural variability and anthropogenic forcing. This study is concerned with identifying and removing from global-mean temperatures the signatures of natural climate variability over the period January 1900-March 2009. A series of simple, physically based methodologies are developed and applied to isolate the climate impacts of three known sources of natural variability: the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), variations in the advection of marine air masses over the highlatitude continents during winter, and aerosols injected into the stratosphere by explosive volcanic eruptions. After the effects of ENSO and high-latitude temperature advection are removed from the global-mean temperature record, the signatures of volcanic eruptions and changes in instrumentation become more clearly apparent. After the volcanic eruptions are subsequently filtered from the record, the residual time series reveals a nearly monotonic global warming pattern since~1950. The results also reveal coupling between the land and ocean areas on the interannual time scale that transcends the effects of ENSO and volcanic eruptions. Globally averaged land and ocean temperatures are most strongly correlated when ocean leads land ~2-3 months. These coupled fluctuations exhibit a complicated spatial signature with largest-amplitude sea surface temperature perturbations over the Atlantic Ocean.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6120-6141
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 15 Nov 2009

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