PerspectiveClimate Change

The Tropical Pacific Ocean—Back in the Driver's Seat?

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Science  28 Feb 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6174, pp. 976-978
DOI: 10.1126/science.1248115

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Average temperatures at Earth's surface are now higher than they were in the mid-19th century, but the rate of warming has not been steady. A pause in surface warming in the mid-20th century coincided with increases in the atmospheric concentrations of sulfate aerosols, which are generally understood to cool the planet. Surface warming resumed in the 1970s, when strong pollution controls were implemented in developed countries. Thus, a balance of warming by greenhouse gases and cooling by aerosols may explain the variable rates of surface warming in the past century. A pause in global warming since 2000—a global warming “hiatus”—has opened up new questions about natural and human activity-driven (anthropogenic) effects on global mean trends in surface temperature. Recent studies point to the importance of the tropical Pacific in driving these changes.