The observed global warming record: What does it tell us?

T. M. L. Wigley, P. D. Jones, S. C. B. Raper

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Global, near-surface temperature data sets and their derivations are discussed, and differences between the Jones and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change data sets are explained. Global-mean temperature changes are then interpreted in terms of anthropogenic forcing influences and natural variability. The inclusion of aerosol forcing improves the fit between modeled and observed changes but does not improve the agreement between the implied climate sensitivity value and the standard model-based range of 1.5- 4.5°C equilibrium warming for a CO2 doubling. The implied sensitivity goes from below the model-based range of estimates to substantially above this range. The addition of a solar forcing effect further improves the fit and brings the best-fit sensitivity into the middle of the model-based range. Consistency is further improved when internally generated changes are considered. This consistency, however, hides many uncertainties that surround observed data/model comparisons. These uncertainties make it impossible currently to use observed global-scale temperature changes to narrow the uncertainty range in the climate sensitivity below that estimated directly from climate models.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8314-8320
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 1997

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