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Concept: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change


We assess the relationship between temperature and global sea-level (GSL) variability over the Common Era through a statistical metaanalysis of proxy relative sea-level reconstructions and tide-gauge data. GSL rose at 0.1 ± 0.1 mm/y (2σ) over 0-700 CE. A GSL fall of 0.2 ± 0.2 mm/y over 1000-1400 CE is associated with ∼0.2 °C global mean cooling. A significant GSL acceleration began in the 19th century and yielded a 20th century rise that is extremely likely (probability [Formula: see text]) faster than during any of the previous 27 centuries. A semiempirical model calibrated against the GSL reconstruction indicates that, in the absence of anthropogenic climate change, it is extremely likely ([Formula: see text]) that 20th century GSL would have risen by less than 51% of the observed [Formula: see text] cm. The new semiempirical model largely reconciles previous differences between semiempirical 21st century GSL projections and the process model-based projections summarized in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report.

Concepts: Statistics, Climate change, 20th century, 21st century, Centuries, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Global warming, 19th century


Sea level has been steadily rising over the past century, predominantly due to anthropogenic climate change. The rate of sea level rise will keep increasing with continued global warming, and, even if temperatures are stabilized through the phasing out of greenhouse gas emissions, sea level is still expected to rise for centuries. This will affect coastal areas worldwide, and robust projections are needed to assess mitigation options and guide adaptation measures. Here we combine the equilibrium response of the main sea level rise contributions with their last century’s observed contribution to constrain projections of future sea level rise. Our model is calibrated to a set of observations for each contribution, and the observational and climate uncertainties are combined to produce uncertainty ranges for 21st century sea level rise. We project anthropogenic sea level rise of 28-56 cm, 37-77 cm, and 57-131 cm in 2100 for the greenhouse gas concentration scenarios RCP26, RCP45, and RCP85, respectively. Our uncertainty ranges for total sea level rise overlap with the process-based estimates of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The “constrained extrapolation” approach generalizes earlier global semiempirical models and may therefore lead to a better understanding of the discrepancies with process-based projections.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Climate change, Ocean, 21st century, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Greenhouse gas, Global warming, Attribution of recent climate change


The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Report widened the equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) range from 2° to 4.5°C to an updated range of 1.5° to 4.5°C in order to account for the lack of consensus between estimates based on models and historical observations. The historical ECS estimates range from 1.5° to 3°C and are derived assuming a linear radiative response to warming. A Bayesian methodology applied to 24 models, however, documents curvature in the radiative response to warming from an evolving contribution of interannual to centennial modes of radiative response. Centennial modes display stronger amplifying feedbacks and ultimately contribute 28 to 68% (90% credible interval) of equilibrium warming, yet they comprise only 1 to 7% of current warming. Accounting for these unresolved centennial contributions brings historical records into agreement with model-derived ECS estimates.

Concepts: Scientific method, Mode, Ecology, Climate change, History, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Contributions, Gregorian chant


Climate models provide the principal means of projecting global warming over the remainder of the twenty-first century but modelled estimates of warming vary by a factor of approximately two even under the same radiative forcing scenarios. Across-model relationships between currently observable attributes of the climate system and the simulated magnitude of future warming have the potential to inform projections. Here we show that robust across-model relationships exist between the global spatial patterns of several fundamental attributes of Earth’s top-of-atmosphere energy budget and the magnitude of projected global warming. When we constrain the model projections with observations, we obtain greater means and narrower ranges of future global warming across the major radiative forcing scenarios, in general. In particular, we find that the observationally informed warming projection for the end of the twenty-first century for the steepest radiative forcing scenario is about 15 per cent warmer (+0.5 degrees Celsius) with a reduction of about a third in the two-standard-deviation spread (-1.2 degrees Celsius) relative to the raw model projections reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Our results suggest that achieving any given global temperature stabilization target will require steeper greenhouse gas emissions reductions than previously calculated.

Concepts: Earth, Precipitation, Climate, Climate change, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Greenhouse gas, Global warming, Projection


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


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an authoritative and influential source of reports on climate change. The lead authors of IPCC reports include scientists from around the world, but questions have been raised about the dominance of specific disciplines in the report and the disproportionate number of scholars from the Global North. In this paper, we analyze the as-yet-unexamined issue of gender and IPCC authorship, looking at changes in gender balance over time and analyzing women’s views about their experience and barriers to full participation, not only as women but also at the intersection of nationality, race, command of English, and discipline. Over time, we show that the proportion of female IPCC authors has seen a modest increase from less than 5% in 1990 to more than 20% in the most recent assessment reports. Based on responses from over 100 women IPCC authors, we find that many women report a positive experience in the way in which they are treated and in their ability to influence the report, although others report that some women were poorly represented and heard. We suggest that an intersectional lens is important: not all women experience the same obstacles: they face multiple and diverse barriers associated with social identifiers such as race, nationality, command of English, and disciplinary affiliation. The scientific community benefits from including all scientists, including women and those from the Global South. This paper documents barriers to participation and identifies opportunities to diversify climate science.

Concepts: Scientific method, Female, Science, Climate change, Meteorology, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Discipline, Women in science


Antarctic terrestrial biodiversity occurs almost exclusively in ice-free areas that cover less than 1% of the continent. Climate change will alter the extent and configuration of ice-free areas, yet the distribution and severity of these effects remain unclear. Here we quantify the impact of twenty-first century climate change on ice-free areas under two Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate forcing scenarios using temperature-index melt modelling. Under the strongest forcing scenario, ice-free areas could expand by over 17,000 km(2) by the end of the century, close to a 25% increase. Most of this expansion will occur in the Antarctic Peninsula, where a threefold increase in ice-free area could drastically change the availability and connectivity of biodiversity habitat. Isolated ice-free areas will coalesce, and while the effects on biodiversity are uncertain, we hypothesize that they could eventually lead to increasing regional-scale biotic homogenization, the extinction of less-competitive species and the spread of invasive species.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Ecology, Ecosystem, Extinction, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Antarctica, Invasive species, Global warming


Atmospheric black carbon has long been recognized as a public health and environmental concern. More recently, black carbon has been identified as a major, ongoing contributor to anthropogenic climate change, thus making historical emission inventories of black carbon an essential tool for assessing past climate sensitivity and modeling future climate scenarios. Current estimates of black carbon emissions for the early industrial era have high uncertainty, however, because direct environmental sampling is sparse before the mid-1950s. Using photometric reflectance data of >1,300 bird specimens drawn from natural history collections, we track relative ambient concentrations of atmospheric black carbon between 1880 and 2015 within the US Manufacturing Belt, a region historically reliant on coal and dense with industry. Our data show that black carbon levels within the region peaked during the first decade of the 20th century. Following this peak, black carbon levels were positively correlated with coal consumption through midcentury, after which they decoupled, with black carbon concentrations declining as consumption continued to rise. The precipitous drop in atmospheric black carbon at midcentury reflects policies promoting burning efficiency and fuel transitions rather than regulating emissions alone. Our findings suggest that current emission inventories based on predictive modeling underestimate levels of atmospheric black carbon for the early industrial era, suggesting that the contribution of black carbon to past climate forcing may also be underestimated. These findings build toward a spatially dynamic emission inventory of black carbon based on direct environmental sampling.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Climate, Climate change, Methane, Fossil fuel, Coal, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Global warming


Equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) remains one of the most important unknowns in climate change science. ECS is defined as the global mean warming that would occur if the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration were instantly doubled and the climate were then brought to equilibrium with that new level of CO2. Despite its rather idealized definition, ECS has continuing relevance for international climate change agreements, which are often framed in terms of stabilization of global warming relative to the pre-industrial climate. However, the ‘likely’ range of ECS as stated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has remained at 1.5-4.5 degrees Celsius for more than 25 years. The possibility of a value of ECS towards the upper end of this range reduces the feasibility of avoiding 2 degrees Celsius of global warming, as required by the Paris Agreement. Here we present a new emergent constraint on ECS that yields a central estimate of 2.8 degrees Celsius with 66 per cent confidence limits (equivalent to the IPCC ‘likely’ range) of 2.2-3.4 degrees Celsius. Our approach is to focus on the variability of temperature about long-term historical warming, rather than on the warming trend itself. We use an ensemble of climate models to define an emergent relationship between ECS and a theoretically informed metric of global temperature variability. This metric of variability can also be calculated from observational records of global warming, which enables tighter constraints to be placed on ECS, reducing the probability of ECS being less than 1.5 degrees Celsius to less than 3 per cent, and the probability of ECS exceeding 4.5 degrees Celsius to less than 1 per cent.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Climate, Definition, Temperature, Climate change, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Solar variation, Global warming


Significant climate risks are associated with a positive carbon-temperature feedback in northern latitude carbon-rich ecosystems, making an accurate analysis of human impacts on the net greenhouse gas balance of wetlands a priority. Here, we provide a coherent assessment of the climate footprint of a network of wetland sites based on simultaneous and quasi-continuous ecosystem observations of CO2 and CH4 fluxes. Experimental areas are located both in natural and in managed wetlands and cover a wide range of climatic regions, ecosystem types, and management practices. Based on direct observations we predict that sustained CH4 emissions in natural ecosystems are in the long term (i.e., several centuries) typically offset by CO2 uptake, although with large spatiotemporal variability. Using a space-for-time analogy across ecological and climatic gradients, we represent the chronosequence from natural to managed conditions to quantify the “cost” of CH4 emissions for the benefit of net carbon sequestration. With a sustained pulse-response radiative forcing model, we found a significant increase in atmospheric forcing due to land management, in particular for wetland converted to cropland. Our results quantify the role of human activities on the climate footprint of northern wetlands and call for development of active mitigation strategies for managed wetlands and new guidelines of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) accounting for both sustained CH4 emissions and cumulative CO2 exchange.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Climate, Ecosystem, Climate change, Methane, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Biome, Greenhouse gas