Articles

Detecting Climatic Change Signals: Are There Any "Fingerprints"?

Science  21 Jan 1994:
Vol. 263, Issue 5145, pp. 341-347
DOI: 10.1126/science.263.5145.341

Abstract

Projected changes in the Earth's climate can be driven from a combined set of forcing factors consisting of regionally heterogeneous anthropogenic and natural aerosols and land use changes, as well as global-scale influences from solar variability and transient increases in human-produced greenhouse gases. Thus, validation of climate model projections that are driven only by increases in greenhouse gases can be inconsistent when one attempts the validation by looking for a regional or time-evolving "fingerprint" of such projected changes in real climatic data. Until climate models are driven by time-evolving, combined, multiple, and heterogeneous forcing factors, the best global climatic change "fingerprint" will probably remain a many-decades average of hemi-spheric- to global-scale trends in surface air temperatures. Century-long global warming (or cooling) trends of 0.5°C appear to have occurred infrequently over the past several thousand years—perhaps only once or twice a millennium, as proxy records suggest. This implies an 80 to 90 percent heuristic likelihood that the 20th-century 0.5 ± 0.2°C warming trend is not a wholly natural climatic fluctuation.