The Warming from the So-Far-Unavoidable Burning


The Warming from the So-Far-Unavoidable Burning

Short version: The Earth is warming, as shown by an interconnected web of evidence. The pattern of this warming, in space and time, matches that expected from the human-caused rise of greenhouse gases together with the other, less-important causes of climate change.

Friendlier, but longer version: We will follow the presentation of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) here. The IPCC is the world’s effort to assess the available science. Researchers act for the public good, in the public eye, without being paid to do so, to tell policymakers and other people what is scientifically solid, speculative, or just silly by summarizing and assessing the relevant science.

If for some reason you don’t like the IPCC, you could check out other authoritative assessments, such as those done by the US National Academy of Sciences or the US Climate Change Science Program, or resources from the British Royal Society and others. But, for the world, the IPCC is an outstanding starting point. Dr. Alley did almost nothing for the Fifth Assessment Report or the IPCC released in 2013, but worked extensively on the Fourth Assessment Report in 2007, and contributed to the Third (2001) and Second (1995) Assessment Reports. The IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize after the Fourth Assessment Report.

Video: IPCC SPM1 (1:45)

History of the Most Important Greenhouse Gases (launch image in a new window)

Click here for a video transcript of "History of the Most Important Greenhouse Gases".

PRESENTER: This fascinating figure comes from the IPCC. It shows 10,000 years of history-- 10,000 years ago on your left, up to today in the big panels and then just since 1750 in the little panels in each case. And it shows it for carbon dioxide on the top, for methane in the middle, and for nitrous oxide on the bottom. These are the main greenhouse gases.

They're shown on the left in concentrations. This would be parts per million for CO2 and parts per billion for the methane and the nitrous oxide. And over on the other side, it shows radiative forcing. So this is a measure of how much the sun would have to get brighter to have as much warming affect as the greenhouse gases having. And you'll find that the radiative forcing is biggest for the CO2. That's a one up there-- one watt per square meter versus 240 from the sun-- smaller values for the other two.

These plots show ice core data from many different ice cores measured in different places by different labs and drilled in different places and so on, and then overlapping with the measurements that had been made in the atmosphere by modern instruments. You'll see, because there's so much agreement among the different cores and different labs and so much agreement with the instrumental record these are highly reliable. And what they show with very, very high confidence is that the greenhouse gas forcing, the greenhouse gases are rising. Other information shows that that rises very clearly from us.&

The vertical scales on the left are concentration in the atmosphere, in either parts per billion (ppb) or parts per million (ppm). The vertical scales on the right show “radiative forcing”—you can think of this as how much brighter the sun would need to get to give as much warming as provided by the greenhouse gas.

Official IPCC Caption: IPCC Figure SPM.1 Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide over the last 10,000 years (large panels) and since 1750 (inset panels). Measurements are shown from ice cores (symbols with different colours for different studies) and atmospheric samples (red lines). The corresponding radiative forcings are shown on the right hand axes of the large panels.

Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2007: Summary for Policy Makers. In Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group 1 to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, and H.L. Manning (eds.].