Capsule

A set of headline global climate indicators has been developed to support assessments of the state of the global climate.

Abstract

The World Meteorological Organization has developed a set of headline indicators for global climate monitoring. These seven indicators are a subset of the existing set of Essential Climate Variables (ECVs) established by the Global Climate Observing System and are intended to provide the most essential parameters representing the state of the climate system. These indicators include global mean surface temperature, global ocean heat content, state of ocean acidification, glacier mass balance, Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extent, global CO2 mole fraction, and global mean sea level. This paper describes how well each of these indicators are currently monitored, including the number, and quality of the underlying data sets; the health of those data sets; observation systems used to estimate each indicator; the timeliness of information; and how well recent values can be linked to pre-industrial conditions. These aspects vary widely between indicators. Whilst global mean surface temperature is available in close to real time and changes from pre-industrial levels can be determined with relatively low uncertainty, this is not the case for many other indicators. Some indicators (e.g., sea ice extent) are largely dependent on satellite data only available in the last 40 years, while some (e.g., ocean acidification) have limited underlying observational bases, and others (e.g. glacial mass balance) with data only available a year or more in arrears.

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