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Human and Natural Influences on Global Temperature
Figure 2.1Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison, U.S. Global Change Research Program
Gavin A. Schmidt, Kate Marvel, Alexa Jay, Christopher W. Avery, David R. Reidmiller
This figure appears in chapter 2 of the Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: The Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II report.
Both human and natural factors influence Earth’s climate, but the long-term global warming trend observed over the past century can only be explained by the effect that human activities have had on the climate.
Sophisticated computer models of Earth’s climate system allow scientists to explore the effects of both natural and human factors. In this figure, the black line shows the observed annual average global surface temperature for 1880–2017 as a difference from the average value for 1880–1910. The other lines show the contributions from individual natural and human factors, all natural factors, all human factors, and the combined effects of both natural and human drivers. Details on these factors are provided below (panel references and colors refer to the static version of the figure, available via the “View static image” link above):
The top panel (a) shows the temperature changes simulated by a climate model when only natural factors (yellow line) are considered. The other lines show the individual contributions to the overall effect from observed changes in Earth’s orbit (brown line), the amount of incoming energy from the sun (purple line), and changes in emissions from volcanic eruptions (green line). Note that no long-term trend in globally averaged surface temperature over this time period would be expected from natural factors alone.666daffe-2c3b-4e2d-9157-16b989860618
The middle panel (b) shows the simulated changes in global temperature when considering only human influences (dark red line), including the contributions from emissions of greenhouse gases (purple line) and small particles (referred to as aerosols, brown line) as well as changes in ozone levels (orange line) and changes in land cover, including deforestation (green line). Changes in aerosols and land cover have had a net cooling effect in recent decades, while changes in near-surface ozone levels have had a small warming effect.0615b4ff-d185-4e14-9d4d-5bea1ce6ca51 These smaller effects are dominated by the large warming influence of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. Note that the net effect of human factors (dark red line) explains most of the long-term warming trend.
The bottom panel \(c) shows the temperature change (orange line) simulated by a climate model when both human and natural influences are included. The result matches the observed temperature record closely, particularly since 1950, making the dominant role of human drivers plainly visible.
Researchers do not expect climate models to exactly reproduce the specific timing of actual weather events or short-term climate variations, but they do expect the models to capture how the whole climate system behaves over long periods of time. The simulated temperature lines represent the average values from a large number of simulation runs. The orange hatching represents uncertainty bands based on those simulations. For any given year, 95% of the simulations will lie inside the orange bands. Source: NASA GISS.
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This figure was created on July 20, 2017.
This figure was submitted on December 03, 2018.
Related NASA GCMD keywords
- chapter climate-science-special-report chapter 2 : Physical Drivers of Climate Change (0615b4ff)
- chapter climate-science-special-report chapter 1 : Our Globally Changing Climate (666daffe)
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