Recent record high temperatures and drought conditions in many regions of the United States have prompted heightened concern about whether these are early manifestations of the global greenhouse warming projected by the major climate models. An improved global climate monitoring and reporting capability is urgently needed in order to ensure that interpretation of climate trends and comparison with model projections are based on the most complete and accurate datasets available. Priority should be placed on identifying those key variables for which data are already being collected, and then integrating these quality controlled datasets into one consolidated climate monitoring report that would be issued at regular intervals. Quality control is essential in order to avoid errors in the datasets that lead to misleading interpretations that further confound the identification of an anthropogenic climate change “signal” against the background of natural climate variability.

Data on several key variables indicate that the pattern or fingerprint of climate change during the 1980s has both significant similarities and differences when compared with the pattern projected by the major climate models for an equilibrium response to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Overall, the present state of the global climate appears to be at a critical juncture, with improved monitoring an important prerequisite for reliably tracking climate change over the next few years.

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Footnotes

* The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), Technology Assessment Board, or the United States Congress. This paper is based on independent research by the author.