Climate Change Detection and Attribution

Authored by: Dorit Hammerling , Matthias Katzfuss , Richard Smith

Handbook of Environmental and Ecological Statistics

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  January  2019

Print ISBN: 9781498752022
eBook ISBN: 9781315152509
Adobe ISBN:


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Climate-change detection and attribution is an important area in the climate sciences, specifically in the study of climate change. Statements such as “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century” are frequently found in the Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). These types of statements are largely based on to the synthesis of results from detection and attribution studies [6]. Broadly speaking, the goal of climate-change detection and attribution methods is to differentiate if observed changes in variables quantifying weather (e.g., temperature or rainfall amounts) are consistent with processes internal to the climate system or are evidence for a change in climate due to so-called external forcings [24]. External forcings are often categorized into natural and anthropogenic (human-caused) forcings, where solar and volcanic activity are examples of natural forcings and increased greenhouse gas emissions and land use change are examples of anthropogenic forcings. Figure 34.1 shows a typical example of a detection and attribution study for long-term temperature change. In this example, natural forcings alone can not explain the observed temperature-change, but a combination of human-caused and natural forcings can. Figure 34.1 Example of a detection and attribution study, reproduced from FAQ 10.1, <a href="#fig34_1">Figure 34.1</a> IPCC 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Time series of global and annual-averaged surface temperature change from 1860 to 2010. The top left panel shows results from two ensemble of climate models driven with just natural forcings, shown as thin blue and yellow lines; ensemble average temperature changes are thick blue and red lines. Three different observed estimates are shown as black lines. The lower left panel shows simulations by the same models, but driven with both natural forcing and human-induced changes in greenhouse gases and aerosols. (Right) Spatial patterns of local surface temperature trends from 1951 to 2010. The upper panel shows the pattern of trends from a large ensemble of Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) simulations driven with just natural forcings. The bottom panel shows trends from a corresponding ensemble of simulations driven with natural + human forcings. The middle panel shows the pattern of observed trends from the Hadley Centre/Climatic Research Unit gridded surface temperature data set 4 (HadCRUT4) during this period.

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