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Giuliana Pallotta and Benjamin D. Santer

Abstract

Studies seeking to identify a human-caused global warming signal generally rely on climate model estimates of the “noise” of intrinsic natural variability. Assessing the reliability of these noise estimates is of critical importance. We evaluate here the statistical significance of differences between climate model and observational natural variability spectra for global-mean mid- to upper-tropospheric temperature (TMT). We use TMT information from satellites and large multimodel ensembles of forced and unforced simulations. Our main goal is to explore the sensitivity of model-versus-data spectral comparisons to a wide range of subjective decisions. These include the choice of satellite and climate model TMT datasets, the method for separating signal and noise, the frequency range considered, and the statistical model used to represent observed natural variability. Of particular interest is the amplitude of the interdecadal noise against which an anthropogenic tropospheric warming signal must be detected. We find that on time scales of 5–20 years, observed TMT variability is (on average) overestimated by the last two generations of climate models participating in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project. This result is relatively insensitive to different plausible analyst choices, enhancing confidence in previous claims of detectable anthropogenic warming of the troposphere and indicating that these claims may be conservative. A further key finding is that two commonly used statistical models of short-term and long-term memory have deficiencies in their ability to capture the complex shape of observed TMT spectra.

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Richard L. Smith, Tom M. L. Wigley, and Benjamin D. Santer

Abstract

A bivariate time series regression approach is used to model observed variations in hemispheric mean temperature over the period 1900–96. The regression equations include deterministic predictor variables and lagged values of the two predictands, and two different forms of this basic structure are employed. The deterministic predictors considered are simple linear trends, various climate model–generated time series based on different combinations of greenhouse gas, sulfate aerosol, and solar forcing, and the Southern Oscillation index (SOI). With linear trends as the only predictors, the best model is a fourth-order bivariate autoregressive model including lagged Southern Hemisphere (SH) to Northern Hemisphere (NH) dependence, as in previous work by Kaufmann and Stern. The estimated NH and SH trends are both +0.67°C century−1, and both are highly statistically significant. If SOI is included as an additional predictor, however, a first-order time series model, with no SH to NH dependence, is an adequate fit to the data. This shows that SOI may be an important covariate in this kind of analysis. Further analysis uses climate model–generated forcing terms representing greenhouses gases, sulfate aerosols, and solar effects, as well as SOI. The statistical analysis makes extensive use of Bayes factors as a device for discriminating among a wide spectrum of possible models. The best fits to the data are obtained when all three forcing terms are included. Total sulfate aerosol forcing of −1.1 W m−2 (with a corresponding climate sensitivity of ΔT = 4.2°C) is preferred to −0.7 W m−2 (with sensitivity of 2.3°C), but the Bayes factor discrimination between these cases is weak.

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Gerald A. Meehl, Aixue Hu, and Benjamin D. Santer

Abstract

A significant shift from cooler to warmer tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures (SSTs), part of a pattern of basinwide SST anomalies involved with a transition to the positive phase of the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO), occurred in the mid-1970s with effects that extended globally. One view is that this change was entirely natural and was a product of internally generated decadal variability of the Pacific climate system. However, during the mid-1970s there was also a significant increase of global temperature and changes to a number of other quantities that have been associated with changes in external forcings, particularly increases of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels. Analysis of observations, an unforced control run from a global coupled climate model, and twentieth-century simulations with changes in external forcings show that the observed 1970s climate shift had a contribution from changes in external forcing superimposed on what was likely an inherent decadal fluctuation of the Pacific climate system. Thus, this inherent decadal variability associated with the IPO delayed until the 1970s what likely would have been a forced climate shift in the 1960s from a negative to positive phase of the IPO.

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Gabriele C. Hegerl, Hans von Storch, Klaus Hasselmann, Benjamin D. Santer, Ulrich Cubasch, and Philip D. Jones

Abstract

A strategy using statistically optimal fingerprints to detect anthropogenic climate change is outlined and applied to near-surface temperature trends. The components of this strategy include observations, information about natural climate variability, and a “guess pattern” representing the expected time–space pattern of anthropogenic climate change. The expected anthropogenic climate change is identified through projection of the observations onto an appropriate optimal fingerprint, yielding a scalar-detection variable. The statistically optimal fingerprint is obtained by weighting the components of the guess pattern (truncated to some small-dimensional space) toward low-noise directions. The null hypothesis that the observed climate change is part of natural climate variability is then tested.

This strategy is applied to detecting a greenhouse-gas-induced climate change in the spatial pattern of near-surface temperature trends defined for time intervals of 15–30 years. The expected pattern of climate change is derived from a transient simulation with a coupled ocean-atmosphere general circulation model. Global gridded near-surface temperature observations are used to represent the observed climate change. Information on the natural variability needed to establish the statistics of the detection variable is extracted from long control simulations of coupled ocean-atmosphere models and, additionally, from the observations themselves (from which an estimated greenhouse warming signal has been removed). While the model control simulations contain only variability caused by the internal dynamics of the atmosphere-ocean system, the observations additionally contain the response to various external forcings (e.g., volcanic eruptions, changes in solar radiation, and residual anthropogenic forcing). The resulting estimate of climate noise has large uncertainties but is qualitatively the best the authors can presently offer.

The null hypothesis that the latest observed 20-yr and 30-yr trend of near-surface temperature (ending in 1994) is part of natural variability is rejected with a risk of less than 2.5% to 5% (the 5% level is derived from the variability of one model control simulation dominated by a questionable extreme event). In other words, the probability that the warming is due to our estimated natural variability is less than 2.5% to 5%. The increase in the signal-to-noise ratio by optimization of the fingerprint is of the order of 10%–30% in most cases.

The predicted signals are dominated by the global mean component; the pattern correlation excluding the global mean is positive but not very high. Both the evolution of the detection variable and also the pattern correlation results are consistent with the model prediction for greenhouse-gas-induced climate change. However, in order to attribute the observed warming uniquely to anthropogenic greenhouse gas forcing, more information on the climate's response to other forcing mechanisms (e.g., changes in solar radiation, volcanic, or anthropogenic sulfate aerosols) and their interaction is needed.

It is concluded that a statistically significant externally induced warming has been observed, but our caveat that the estimate of the internal climate variability is still uncertain is emphasized.

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Justin Bandoro, Susan Solomon, Aaron Donohoe, David W. J. Thompson, and Benjamin D. Santer

Abstract

Over the past three decades, Antarctic surface climate has undergone pronounced changes. Many of these changes have been linked to stratospheric ozone depletion. Here linkages between Antarctic ozone loss, the accompanying circulation changes, and summertime Southern Hemisphere (SH) midlatitude surface temperatures are explored. Long-term surface climate changes associated with ozone-driven changes in the southern annular mode (SAM) at SH midlatitudes in summer are not annular in appearance owing to differences in regional circulation and precipitation impacts. Both station and reanalysis data indicate a trend toward cooler summer temperatures over southeast and south-central Australia and inland areas of the southern tip of Africa. It is also found that since the onset of the ozone hole, there have been significant shifts in the distributions of both the seasonal mean and daily maximum summertime temperatures in the SH midlatitude regions between high and low ozone years. Unusually hot summer extremes are associated with anomalously high ozone in the previous November, including the recent very hot austral summer of 2012/13. If the relationship found in the past three decades continues to hold, the level of late springtime ozone over Antarctica has the potential to be part of a useful predictor set for the following summer’s conditions. The results herein suggest that skillful predictions may be feasible for both the mean seasonal temperature and the frequency of extreme hot events in some SH midlatitude regions of Australia, Africa, and South America.

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Stephen Po-Chedley, Kyle C. Armour, Cecilia M. Bitz, Mark D. Zelinka, Benjamin D. Santer, and Qiang Fu

Abstract

Sources of intermodel differences in the global lapse rate (LR) and water vapor (WV) feedbacks are assessed using CO2 forcing simulations from 28 general circulation models. Tropical surface warming leads to significant warming and moistening in the tropical and extratropical upper troposphere, signifying a nonlocal, tropical influence on extratropical radiation and feedbacks. Model spread in the locally defined LR and WV feedbacks is pronounced in the Southern Ocean because of large-scale ocean upwelling, which reduces surface warming and decouples the surface from the tropospheric response. The magnitude of local extratropical feedbacks across models and over time is well characterized using the ratio of tropical to extratropical surface warming. It is shown that model differences in locally defined LR and WV feedbacks, particularly over the southern extratropics, drive model variability in the global feedbacks. The cross-model correlation between the global LR and WV feedbacks therefore does not arise from their covariation in the tropics, but rather from the pattern of warming exerting a common control on extratropical feedback responses. Because local feedbacks over the Southern Hemisphere are an important contributor to the global feedback, the partitioning of surface warming between the tropics and the southern extratropics is a key determinant of the spread in the global LR and WV feedbacks. It is also shown that model Antarctic sea ice climatology influences sea ice area changes and southern extratropical surface warming. As a result, model discrepancies in climatological Antarctic sea ice area have a significant impact on the intermodel spread of the global LR and WV feedbacks.

Open access
Céline Bonfils, Gemma Anderson, Benjamin D. Santer, Thomas J. Phillips, Karl E. Taylor, Matthias Cuntz, Mark D. Zelinka, Kate Marvel, Benjamin I. Cook, Ivana Cvijanovic, and Paul J. Durack

Abstract

The 2011–16 California drought illustrates that drought-prone areas do not always experience relief once a favorable phase of El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) returns. In the twenty-first century, such an expectation is unrealistic in regions where global warming induces an increase in terrestrial aridity larger than the changes in aridity driven by ENSO variability. This premise is also flawed in areas where precipitation supply cannot offset the global warming–induced increase in evaporative demand. Here, atmosphere-only experiments are analyzed to identify land regions where aridity is currently sensitive to ENSO and where projected future changes in mean aridity exceed the range caused by ENSO variability. Insights into the drivers of these changes in aridity are obtained using simulations with the incremental addition of three different factors to the current climate: ocean warming, vegetation response to elevated CO2 levels, and intensified CO2 radiative forcing. The effect of ocean warming overwhelms the range of ENSO-driven temperature variability worldwide, increasing potential evapotranspiration (PET) in most ENSO-sensitive regions. Additionally, about 39% of the regions currently sensitive to ENSO will likely receive less precipitation in the future, independent of the ENSO phase. Consequently aridity increases in 67%–72% of the ENSO-sensitive area. When both radiative and physiological effects are considered, the area affected by arid conditions rises to 75%–79% when using PET-derived measures of aridity, but declines to 41% when an aridity indicator for total soil moisture is employed. This reduction mainly occurs because plant stomatal resistance increases under enhanced CO2 concentrations, resulting in improved plant water-use efficiency, and hence reduced evapotranspiration and soil desiccation. Imposing CO2-invariant stomatal resistance may overestimate future drying in PET-derived indices.

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Michael Wehner, David R. Easterling, Jay H. Lawrimore, Richard R. Heim Jr., Russell S. Vose, and Benjamin D. Santer

Abstract

Using the Palmer drought severity index, the ability of 19 state-of-the-art climate models to reproduce observed statistics of drought over North America is examined. It is found that correction of substantial biases in the models’ surface air temperature and precipitation fields is necessary. However, even after a bias correction, there are significant differences in the models’ ability to reproduce observations. Using metrics based on the ability to reproduce observed temporal and spatial patterns of drought, the relationship between model performance in simulating present-day drought characteristics and their differences in projections of future drought changes is investigated. It is found that all models project increases in future drought frequency and severity. However, using the metrics presented here to increase confidence in the multimodel projection is complicated by a correlation between models’ drought metric skill and climate sensitivity. The effect of this sampling error can be removed by changing how the projection is presented, from a projection based on a specific time interval to a projection based on a specified temperature change. This modified class of projections has reduced intermodel uncertainty and could be suitable for a wide range of climate change impacts projections.

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Céline J. W. Bonfils, Benjamin D. Santer, Thomas J. Phillips, Kate Marvel, L. Ruby Leung, Charles Doutriaux, and Antonietta Capotondi

Abstract

El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is an important driver of regional hydroclimate variability through far-reaching teleconnections. This study uses simulations performed with coupled general circulation models (CGCMs) to investigate how regional precipitation in the twenty-first century may be affected by changes in both ENSO-driven precipitation variability and slowly evolving mean rainfall. First, a dominant, time-invariant pattern of canonical ENSO variability (cENSO) is identified in observed SST data. Next, the fidelity with which 33 state-of-the-art CGCMs represent the spatial structure and temporal variability of this pattern (as well as its associated precipitation responses) is evaluated in simulations of twentieth-century climate change. Possible changes in both the temporal variability of this pattern and its associated precipitation teleconnections are investigated in twenty-first-century climate projections. Models with better representation of the observed structure of the cENSO pattern produce winter rainfall teleconnection patterns that are in better accord with twentieth-century observations and more stationary during the twenty-first century. Finally, the model-predicted twenty-first-century rainfall response to cENSO is decomposed into the sum of three terms: 1) the twenty-first-century change in the mean state of precipitation, 2) the historical precipitation response to the cENSO pattern, and 3) a future enhancement in the rainfall response to cENSO, which amplifies rainfall extremes. By examining the three terms jointly, this conceptual framework allows the identification of regions likely to experience future rainfall anomalies that are without precedent in the current climate.

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Kate Marvel, Mark Zelinka, Stephen A. Klein, Céline Bonfils, Peter Caldwell, Charles Doutriaux, Benjamin D. Santer, and Karl E. Taylor

Abstract

Understanding the cloud response to external forcing is a major challenge for climate science. This crucial goal is complicated by intermodel differences in simulating present and future cloud cover and by observational uncertainty. This is the first formal detection and attribution study of cloud changes over the satellite era. Presented herein are CMIP5 model-derived fingerprints of externally forced changes to three cloud properties: the latitudes at which the zonally averaged total cloud fraction (CLT) is maximized or minimized, the zonal average CLT at these latitudes, and the height of high clouds at these latitudes. By considering simultaneous changes in all three properties, the authors define a coherent multivariate fingerprint of cloud response to external forcing and use models from phase 5 of CMIP (CMIP5) to calculate the average time to detect these changes. It is found that given perfect satellite cloud observations beginning in 1983, the models indicate that a detectable multivariate signal should have already emerged. A search is then made for signals of external forcing in two observational datasets: ISCCP and PATMOS-x. The datasets are both found to show a poleward migration of the zonal CLT pattern that is incompatible with forced CMIP5 models. Nevertheless, a detectable multivariate signal is predicted by models over the PATMOS-x time period and is indeed present in the dataset. Despite persistent observational uncertainties, these results present a strong case for continued efforts to improve these existing satellite observations, in addition to planning for new missions.

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