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The contribution of greenhouse gases to the recent slowdown in global-mean temperature trends

, , and . Environmental Research Letters 11 (9): 094018 (September 2016)

Abstract

The recent slowdown in the rate of increase in global-mean surface temperature (GMST) has generated extensive discussion, but little attention has been given to the contribution of time-varying trends in greenhouse gas concentrations. We use a simple model approach to quantify this contribution. Between 1985 and 2003, greenhouse gases (including well-mixed greenhouse gases, tropospheric and stratospheric ozone, and stratospheric water vapour from methane oxidation) caused a reduction in GMST trend of around 0.03–0.05 K decade−1 which is around 18%–25% of the observed trend over that period. The main contributors to this reduction are the rapid change in the growth rates of ozone-depleting gases (with this contribution slightly opposed by stratospheric ozone depletion itself) and the weakening in growth rates of methane and tropospheric ozone radiative forcing. Although CO2 is the dominant greenhouse gas contributor to GMST trends, the continued increase in CO2 concentrations offsets only about 30% of the simulated trend reduction due to these other contributors. These results emphasize that trends in non-CO2 greenhouse gas concentrations can make significant positive and negative contributions to changes in the rate of warming, and that they need to be considered more closely in analyses of the causes of such variations.

Description

The recent slowdown in the rate of increase in global-mean surface temperature (GMST) has generated extensive discussion, but little attention has been given to the contribution of time-varying trends in greenhouse gas concentrations. We use a simple model approach to quantify this contribution. Between 1985 and 2003, greenhouse gases (including well-mixed greenhouse gases, tropospheric and stratospheric ozone, and stratospheric water vapour from methane oxidation) caused a reduction in GMST trend of around 0.03–0.05 K decade−1 which is around 18%–25% of the observed trend over that period. The main contributors to this reduction are the rapid change in the growth rates of ozone-depleting gases (with this contribution slightly opposed by stratospheric ozone depletion itself) and the weakening in growth rates of methane and tropospheric ozone radiative forcing. Although CO2 is the dominant greenhouse gas contributor to GMST trends, the continued increase in CO2 concentrations offsets only about 30% of the simulated trend reduction due to these other contributors. These results emphasize that trends in non-CO2 greenhouse gas concentrations can make significant positive and negative contributions to changes in the rate of warming, and that they need to be considered more closely in analyses of the causes of such variations.

Links and resources

DOI:
10.1088/1748-9326/11/9/094018
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BibTeX key:
checagarcia2016contribution
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