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Concept: Anthropogenic


Increased forest fire activity across the western continental United States (US) in recent decades has likely been enabled by a number of factors, including the legacy of fire suppression and human settlement, natural climate variability, and human-caused climate change. We use modeled climate projections to estimate the contribution of anthropogenic climate change to observed increases in eight fuel aridity metrics and forest fire area across the western United States. Anthropogenic increases in temperature and vapor pressure deficit significantly enhanced fuel aridity across western US forests over the past several decades and, during 2000-2015, contributed to 75% more forested area experiencing high (>1 σ) fire-season fuel aridity and an average of nine additional days per year of high fire potential. Anthropogenic climate change accounted for ∼55% of observed increases in fuel aridity from 1979 to 2015 across western US forests, highlighting both anthropogenic climate change and natural climate variability as important contributors to increased wildfire potential in recent decades. We estimate that human-caused climate change contributed to an additional 4.2 million ha of forest fire area during 1984-2015, nearly doubling the forest fire area expected in its absence. Natural climate variability will continue to alternate between modulating and compounding anthropogenic increases in fuel aridity, but anthropogenic climate change has emerged as a driver of increased forest fire activity and should continue to do so while fuels are not limiting.

Concepts: Climate, Weather, Climate change, Vegetation, Solar variation, Global warming, Anthropogenic, Scientific opinion on climate change


Despite the continued increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, the annual-mean global temperature has not risen in the twenty-first century, challenging the prevailing view that anthropogenic forcing causes climate warming. Various mechanisms have been proposed for this hiatus in global warming, but their relative importance has not been quantified, hampering observational estimates of climate sensitivity. Here we show that accounting for recent cooling in the eastern equatorial Pacific reconciles climate simulations and observations. We present a novel method of uncovering mechanisms for global temperature change by prescribing, in addition to radiative forcing, the observed history of sea surface temperature over the central to eastern tropical Pacific in a climate model. Although the surface temperature prescription is limited to only 8.2% of the global surface, our model reproduces the annual-mean global temperature remarkably well with correlation coefficient r = 0.97 for 1970-2012 (which includes the current hiatus and a period of accelerated global warming). Moreover, our simulation captures major seasonal and regional characteristics of the hiatus, including the intensified Walker circulation, the winter cooling in northwestern North America and the prolonged drought in the southern USA. Our results show that the current hiatus is part of natural climate variability, tied specifically to a La-Niña-like decadal cooling. Although similar decadal hiatus events may occur in the future, the multi-decadal warming trend is very likely to continue with greenhouse gas increase.

Concepts: Earth, Climate, Climate change, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Solar variation, Global warming, Anthropogenic, Attribution of recent climate change


Livestock are responsible for 12% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable intensification of livestock production systems might become a key climate mitigation technology. However, livestock production systems vary substantially, making the implementation of climate mitigation policies a formidable challenge. Here, we provide results from an economic model using a detailed and high-resolution representation of livestock production systems. We project that by 2030 autonomous transitions toward more efficient systems would decrease emissions by 736 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year (MtCO2e⋅y(-1)), mainly through avoided emissions from the conversion of 162 Mha of natural land. A moderate mitigation policy targeting emissions from both the agricultural and land-use change sectors with a carbon price of US$10 per tCO2e could lead to an abatement of 3,223 MtCO2e⋅y(-1). Livestock system transitions would contribute 21% of the total abatement, intra- and interregional relocation of livestock production another 40%, and all other mechanisms would add 39%. A comparable abatement of 3,068 MtCO2e⋅y(-1) could be achieved also with a policy targeting only emissions from land-use change. Stringent climate policies might lead to reductions in food availability of up to 200 kcal per capita per day globally. We find that mitigation policies targeting emissions from land-use change are 5 to 10 times more efficient-measured in “total abatement calorie cost”-than policies targeting emissions from livestock only. Thus, fostering transitions toward more productive livestock production systems in combination with climate policies targeting the land-use change appears to be the most efficient lever to deliver desirable climate and food availability outcomes.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Climate change, Methane, Greenhouse gas, Emission standard, Global warming potential, Global warming, Anthropogenic


Changes in global (ocean and land) precipitation are among the most important and least well-understood consequences of climate change. Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations are thought to affect the zonal-mean distribution of precipitation through two basic mechanisms. First, increasing temperatures will lead to an intensification of the hydrological cycle (“thermodynamic” changes). Second, changes in atmospheric circulation patterns will lead to poleward displacement of the storm tracks and subtropical dry zones and to a widening of the tropical belt (“dynamic” changes). We demonstrate that both these changes are occurring simultaneously in global precipitation, that this behavior cannot be explained by internal variability alone, and that external influences are responsible for the observed precipitation changes. Whereas existing model experiments are not of sufficient length to differentiate between natural and anthropogenic forcing terms at the 95% confidence level, we present evidence that the observed trends result from human activities.

Concepts: Water, Earth, Precipitation, Climate, Water cycle, Climate change, Rain, Anthropogenic


The costly interactions between humans and wildfires throughout California demonstrate the need to understand the relationships between them, especially in the face of a changing climate and expanding human communities. Although a number of statistical and process-based wildfire models exist for California, there is enormous uncertainty about the location and number of future fires, with previously published estimates of increases ranging from nine to fifty-three percent by the end of the century. Our goal is to assess the role of climate and anthropogenic influences on the state’s fire regimes from 1975 to 2050. We develop an empirical model that integrates estimates of biophysical indicators relevant to plant communities and anthropogenic influences at each forecast time step. Historically, we find that anthropogenic influences account for up to fifty percent of explanatory power in the model. We also find that the total area burned is likely to increase, with burned area expected to increase by 2.2 and 5.0 percent by 2050 under climatic bookends (PCM and GFDL climate models, respectively). Our two climate models show considerable agreement, but due to potential shifts in rainfall patterns, substantial uncertainty remains for the semiarid inland deserts and coastal areas of the south. Given the strength of human-related variables in some regions, however, it is clear that comprehensive projections of future fire activity should include both anthropogenic and biophysical influences. Previous findings of substantially increased numbers of fires and burned area for California may be tied to omitted variable bias from the exclusion of human influences. The omission of anthropogenic variables in our model would overstate the importance of climatic ones by at least 24%. As such, the failure to include anthropogenic effects in many models likely overstates the response of wildfire to climatic change.

Concepts: Climate, Weather, Climate change, Steppe, Solar variation, Global warming, Thermohaline circulation, Anthropogenic


United States and Canadian governments have responded to legal requirements to reduce human-induced whale mortality via vessel strikes and entanglement in fishing gear by implementing a suite of regulatory actions. We analyzed the spatial and temporal patterns of mortality of large whales in the Northwest Atlantic (23.5°N to 48.0°N), 1970 through 2009, in the context of management changes. We used a multinomial logistic model fitted by maximum likelihood to detect trends in cause-specific mortalities with time. We compared the number of human-caused mortalities with U.S. federally established levels of potential biological removal (i.e., species-specific sustainable human-caused mortality). From 1970 through 2009, 1762 mortalities (all known) and serious injuries (likely fatal) involved 8 species of large whales. We determined cause of death for 43% of all mortalities; of those, 67% (502) resulted from human interactions. Entanglement in fishing gear was the primary cause of death across all species (n = 323), followed by natural causes (n = 248) and vessel strikes (n = 171). Established sustainable levels of mortality were consistently exceeded in 2 species by up to 650%. Probabilities of entanglement and vessel-strike mortality increased significantly from 1990 through 2009. There was no significant change in the local intensity of all or vessel-strike mortalities before and after 2003, the year after which numerous mitigation efforts were enacted. So far, regulatory efforts have not reduced the lethal effects of human activities to large whales on a population-range basis, although we do not exclude the possibility of success of targeted measures for specific local habitats that were not within the resolution of our analyses. It is unclear how shortfalls in management design or compliance relate to our findings. Analyses such as the one we conducted are crucial in critically evaluating wildlife-management decisions. The results of these analyses can provide managers with direction for modifying regulated measures and can be applied globally to mortality-driven conservation issues. Evaluación del Manejo para Mitigar Efectos Antropogénicos sobre Ballenas Mayores.

Concepts: Mortality rate, Logistic map, Regulation, Sustainability, Logistic function, Likelihood function, Whale, Anthropogenic


The ongoing global glacier retreat is affecting human societies by causing sea-level rise, changing seasonal water availability, and increasing geohazards. Melting glaciers are an icon of anthropogenic climate change. However, glacier response times are typically decades or longer, which implies that the present-day glacier retreat is a mixed response to past and current natural climate variability and current anthropogenic forcing. Here, we show that only 25 ± 35% of the global glacier mass loss during the period from 1851 to 2010 is attributable to anthropogenic causes. Nevertheless, the anthropogenic signal is detectable with high confidence in glacier mass balance observations during 1991 to 2010, and the anthropogenic fraction of global glacier mass loss during that period has increased to 69 ± 24%.

Concepts: Water, Weather, Climate change, Solar variation, Global warming, Anthropogenic, Glacier mass balance, Retreat of glaciers since 1850


Results are presented from a survey held among 1868 scientists studying various aspects of climate change, including physical climate, climate impacts and mitigation. The survey was unique in its size, broadness and level of detail. Consistent with other research, we found that, as the level of expertise in climate science grew, so too did the level of agreement on anthropogenic causation. 90% of respondents with more than 10 climate-related peer-reviewed publications (about half of all respondents), explicitly agreed with anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) being the dominant driver of recent global warming. The respondents' quantitative estimate of the GHG contribution appeared to strongly depend on the judgment or knowledge of the cooling effect of aerosols. The phrasing of the IPCC attribution statement in its fourth assessment report (AR4) - providing a lower limit for the isolated GHG contribution - may have led to an underestimation of the GHG influence on recent warming. The phrasing was improved in AR5. We also report on the respondents' views on other factors contributing to global warming; of these Land Use and Land Cover Change (LULCC) was considered the most important. Respondents who characterized human influence on climate as insignificant, reported having had the most frequent media coverage regarding their views on climate change.

Concepts: Climate change, Natural gas, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Greenhouse gas, Global warming, Anthropogenic, IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Special Report on Emissions Scenarios


Observations show that Arctic-average surface temperature increased from 1900 to 1940, decreased from 1940 to 1970, and increased from 1970 to present. Here, using new observational data and improved climate models employing observed natural and anthropogenic forcings, we demonstrate that contributions from greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions, along with explosive volcanic eruptions, explain most of this observed variation in Arctic surface temperature since 1900. In addition, climate model simulations without natural and anthropogenic forcings indicate very low probabilities that the observed trends in each of these periods were due to internal climate variability alone. Arctic climate change has important environmental and economic impacts and these results improve our understanding of past Arctic climate change and our confidence in future projections.

Concepts: Scientific method, Climate, Temperature, Observation, Climate change, Nature, Greenhouse gas, Anthropogenic


Estimates of the global economic impacts of observed climate change during the 20th century obtained by applying five impact functions of different integrated assessment models (IAMs) are separated into their main natural and anthropogenic components. The estimates of the costs that can be attributed to natural variability factors and to the anthropogenic intervention with the climate system in general tend to show that: 1) during the first half of the century, the amplitude of the impacts associated with natural variability is considerably larger than that produced by anthropogenic factors and the effects of natural variability fluctuated between being negative and positive. These non-monotonic impacts are mostly determined by the low-frequency variability and the persistence of the climate system; 2) IAMs do not agree on the sign (nor on the magnitude) of the impacts of anthropogenic forcing but indicate that they steadily grew over the first part of the century, rapidly accelerated since the mid 1970’s, and decelerated during the first decade of the 21st century. This deceleration is accentuated by the existence of interaction effects between natural variability and natural and anthropogenic forcing. The economic impacts of anthropogenic forcing range in the tenths of percentage of the world GDP by the end of the 20th century; 3) the impacts of natural forcing are about one order of magnitude lower than those associated with anthropogenic forcing and are dominated by the solar forcing; 4) the interaction effects between natural and anthropogenic factors can importantly modulate how impacts actually occur, at least for moderate increases in external forcing. Human activities became dominant drivers of the estimated economic impacts at the end of the 20th century, producing larger impacts than those of low-frequency natural variability. Some of the uses and limitations of IAMs are discussed.

Concepts: Climate, Weather, Climate change, 21st century, Solar variation, Global warming, Anthropogenic, Solar cycle