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All IPCC definitions taken from Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Working Group I Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Annex I, Glossary, pp. 941-954. Cambridge University Press.

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Evidence for global warming

What the science says...

Select a level... Basic Intermediate

There are many lines of evidence indicating global warming is unequivocal.

Climate Myth...

It's not happening
"...these global warming studies that now we're seeing (are) a bunch of snake oil science." (Sarah Palin)

The 2009 State of the Climate report of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), released in mid-2010, brings together many different series of data “from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the ocean”. The conclusion? All of these independent lines of evidence tell us unequivocally that the Earth is warming.

The very accessible 10-page summary examines the trends for 10 key climate indicators using a total of 47 different sets of data. All of the indicators expected to increase in a warming world, are in fact increasing, and all that are expected to decrease, are decreasing:

Warming indicators

The 10 indicators are:

  1. Land surface air temperature as measured by weather stations. You know all those skeptic arguments about how the temperature record is biased by the urban heat island effect, badly-sited weather stations, dropped stations, and so on? This is the only indicator which suffers from all those problems. So if you’re arguing with somebody who tries to frame the discussion as being about land surface air temperature, just remind them about the other nine indicators.
  2. Sea surface temperature. As with land temperatures, the longest record goes back to 1850 and the last decade is warmest.
  3. Air temperature over the oceans.
  4. Lower troposphere temperature as measured by satellites for around 50 years. By any of these measures, the 2000s was the warmest decade and each of the last three decades has been much warmer than the previous one.
  5. Ocean heat content, for which records go back over half a century. More than 90% of the extra heat from global warming is going into the oceans – contributing to a rise in…
  6. Sea level. Tide gauge records go back to 1870, and sea level has risen at an accelerating rate.
  7. Specific humidity, which has risen in tandem with temperatures.
  8. Glaciers. 2009 was the 19th consecutive year in which there was a net loss of ice from glaciers worldwide.
  9. Northern Hemisphere snow cover, which has also decreased in recent decades.
  10. Perhaps the most dramatic change of all has been in Arctic sea ice. Satellite measurements are available back to 1979 and reliable shipping records back to 1953. September sea ice extent has shrunk by 35% since 1979.

Science isn’t like a house of cards, in that removing one line of evidence (eg. land surface air temperature) wouldn’t cause the whole edifice of anthropogenic global warming to collapse. Rather, “land surface warming” is one of more than ten bricks supporting “global warming”; and with global warming established, there is a whole other set of bricks supporting “anthropogenic global warming”. To undermine these conclusions, you’d need to remove most or all of the bricks supporting them – but as the evidence continues to pile up, that is becoming less and less likely.

Last updated on 6 September 2010 by James Wight.

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Comments

Comments 1 to 7:

  1. A valuable resource!
    Thanks!
  2. Have you thought of adding to this list the decline in lizard populations, and the warming of Lake Tanganyika?
    Response: I hadn't but I have now :-) Thanks for the suggestion. I've also added both to the positives and negatives of global warming.
  3. The green tab for this post needs fixing.
  4. Let's get cracking on updating this article!
  5. On the comment stream at Alex Knapp's Forbes blog:

    Daniel Fisher (Forbes staff): "I am not sure the debate is over whether the climate is warming – obviously it has been getting warmer since the last Ice Age, which was a very short time ago. The question is whether that increase is accelerating in a non-random way, and the acceleration is caused by the measured increase in atmospheric CO2. Does this new method help unravel that?"

    Bob Tisdale: "That would be difficult to show for a couple of reasons. First, the hypothesis of manmade global warming is only supported by general circulation models, which are known to be imperfect representations of the Earth’s climate systems. Second, that hypothesis is not supported by NOAA’s satellite-era sea surface temperature data or by NOAA’s ocean heat content data since 1955."

    Is Tisdale paid? 

  6. I think this answer ought to be updated with the more detailed graphic over here:
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g=8

  7. Buffalo residents would be justifiable skeptical about climate warming!!

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