Author(s): Keller CF
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Abstract In the four years since my original review (Keller; hereafter referred to as CFK03), research has clarified and strengthened our understanding of how humans are warming the planet. So many of the details highlighted in the IPCC's Third Assessment Report and in CFK03 have been resolved that I expect many to be a bit overwhelmed, and I hope that, by treating just the most significant aspects of the research, this update may provide a road map through the expected maze of new information. In particular, while most of CFK03 remains current, there are important items that have changed: Most notable is the resolution of the conundrum that mid-tropospheric warming did not seem to match surface warming. Both satellite and radiosonde (balloon-borne sensors) data reduction showed little warming in the middle troposphere (4-8 km altitude). In the CFK03 I discussed potential solutions to this problem, but at that time there was no clear resolution. This problem has now been solved, and the middle troposphere is seen to be warming apace with the surface. There have also been advances in determinations of temperatures over the past 1,000 years showing a cooler Little Ice Age (LIA) but essentially the same warming during medieval times (not as large as recent warming). The recent uproar over the so-called "hockey stick" temperature determination is much overblown since at least seven other groups have made relatively independent determinations of northern hemisphere temperatures over the same time period and derived essentially the same results. They differ on how cold the LIA was but essentially agree with the Mann's hockey stick result that the Medieval Warm Period was not as warm as the last 25 years. The question of the sun's influence on climate continues to generate controversy. It appears there is a growing consensus that, while the sun was a major factor in earlier temperature variations, it is incapable of having caused observed warming in the past quarter century or so. However, this conclusion is being challenged by differing interpretations of satellite observations of Total Solar Insolation (TSI). Different satellites give different estimates of TSI during the 1996-7 solar activity minimum. A recent study using the larger TSI satellite interpretation indicates a stronger role for the sun, and until there is agreement on TSI at solar minimum, we caution completely disregarding the sun as a significant factor in recent warming. Computer models continue to improve and, while they still do not do a satisfactory job of predicting regional changes, their simulations of global aspects of climate change and of individual forcings are increasingly reliable. In addition to these four areas, the past five years have seen advances in our understanding of many other aspects of climate change--from albedo changes due to land use to the dynamics of glacier movement. However, these more are of second order importance and will only be treated very briefly. The big news since CFK03 is the first of these, the collapse of the climate critics' last real bastion, namely that satellites and radiosondes show no significant warming in the past quarter century. Figuratively speaking, this was the center pole that held up the critics' entire "tent." Their argument was that, if there had been little warming in the past 25 years or so, then what warming was observed would have been within the range of natural variations with solar forcing as the major player. Further, the models would have been shown to be unreliable since they were predicting warming that was not happening. But now both satellite and in-situ radiosonde observations have been shown to corroborate both the surface observations of warming and the model predictions. Thus, while uncertainties still remain, we are now seeing a coherent picture in which past climate variations, solar and other forcings, model predictions and other indicators such as glacier recession all point to a human-induced warming that needs to be considered carefully. A final topic touched on briefly here is the new understanding of the phenomenon called "global dimming." Several sets of observations of the sun's total radiation at the surface have shown that there has been a reduction in sunlight reaching it. This has been related to the scattering of sunlight by aerosols and has led to a better quantification of the possibility that cleaning up our atmospheric pollution will lead to greater global warming. Adding all these advances together, there is a growing consensus that the 21st century will indeed see some 2 degrees C (3.5 degrees F) or more in additional warming. This is corroborated in the new IPCC Assessment, an early release of which is touched on very briefly here.
This article was published in ScientificWorldJournal
and referenced in Journal of Climatology & Weather Forecasting