Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: April 2011

1 - Identifying, monitoring and predicting change in the climate system


‘Without the willow, how to know the beauty of the wind’

Weather directly impacts our lives on a minute-to-minute basis. Radio and television channels are devoted to keeping us up to date on current and future weather conditions. These include temperature, barometric pressure, precipitation, severe storms, humidity, wind and more. When we refer to ‘climate’, we mean average patterns in weather. Thus, climate change is a deviation from the weather patterns that have prevailed over a given period. Taken together, the weather we experience and the weather patterns across the globe are the product of processes occurring in the Earth's ‘climate system’, which is composed of interactions between the atmosphere, the hydrosphere (including the oceans), the cryosphere (ice and snow), the land surface and the biosphere. Ultimately, this system is controlled by the amount of energy stored as heat at the Earth's surface and the redistribution of this heat energy. Because we humans live in the atmosphere at the surface of the Earth, we (wrongly) assume that changes in air temperature are the only and best indicator of climate change. In fact, relatively little (<5%) of the change in the amount of heat energy stored at the Earth's surface that has taken place in recent decades has occurred in the atmosphere (IPCC, 2007a).

To understand changes in the climate system, the changes in the heat energy content of compartments other than the atmosphere also need to be considered.

Allen, M. R. and Stainforth, D. A. (2002). Towards objective probabalistic climate forecasting. Nature, 419, 228.
Arrhenius, S. (1896). On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the Earth ground, London. Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science (fifth series), 41, 237–75.
Barker, P. M., Dunn, J. R., Wijffels, S. E. and Domingues, C. M. (in revision). Correcting pressure sensor drifts in Argo's APEX floats and evaluating their impact on estimates of ocean temperature, salinity, and thermosteric sea level. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology.
Berger, A. and Loutre, M. F. (2002). An exceptionally long interglacial ahead?Science, 297, 1287–88.
Betts, R. A., Falloon, P. D., Goldewijk, K. K. and Ramankutty, N. (2007). Biogeophysical effects of land use on climate: Model simulations of radiative forcing and large-scale temperature change. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 142, 216–23.
Bindoff, N., Willebrand, J., Artale, al. (2007). Observations: Oceanic climate change and sea level. In Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, eds. Solomon, S., Qin, D., Manning, M., Marquis, M., Averyt, K., Tignor, M. M. B., Miller, H. L. and Chen, Z.. Cambridge, UK and New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, pp. 385–432.
Canadell, J. G., Quéré, C., Raupach, M. al. (2007). Contributions to accelerating atmospheric CO2 growth from economic activity, carbon intensity, and efficiency of natural sinks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), 104, 18866–70.
,CCSP (2008). Climate Projections Based on Emissions Scenarios for Long-Lived and Short-Lived Radiatively Active Gases and Aerosols. Report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research, eds. Levy, H., Shindell, D., Gilliland, A., Horowitz, L. W. and Schwarzkopf, M. D.. Department of Commerce, NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, Washington, D.C.
Chao, B. F., Wu, Y. H. and Li, Y. S. (2008). Impact of artificial reservoir water impoundment on global sea level. Science, 320, 212–14.
Church, J. A. and White, N. J. (2006). A 20th century acceleration in global sea-level rise. Geophysical Research Letters, 33, L01602.
Cogley, J. G. (2009). Geodetic and direct mass-balance measurements: Comparison and joint analysis. Annals of Glaciology, 50, 96–100.
Domingues, C. M., Church, J. A., White, N. al. (2008). Improved estimates of upper-ocean warming and multi-decadal sea-level rise. Nature, 453, 1090–93.
Dowsett, H. J., Barron, J. A., Poore, R. al. (1999). Middle Pliocene Paleoenvironmental Reconstruction: PRISM2. U.S. Geological Survey Open File Report, 99–535,–535/.
Dowsett, H. J., Robinson, M. M. and Foley, K. M. (2009). Pliocene three-dimensional global ocean temperature reconstruction. Climate of the Past Discussions, 5, 769–83.
,EPICA community members (2004). Eight glacial cycles from an Antarctic ice core. Nature, 429, 623–28.
Friedlingstein, P., Cox, P., Betts, al. (2006). Climate–carbon cycle feedback analysis: Results from the C4MIP model intercomparison. Journal of Climate, 19, 3337–53.
Fukasawa, M., Freeland, H., Perkin, al. (2004). Bottom water warming in the North Pacific Ocean. Nature, 427, 825–27.
Gordon, L. J., Steffen, W., Jönsson, B. al. (2005). Human modification of global water vapor flows from the land surface. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), 102, 7612–17.
Gould, J. and ,The Argo Science Team (2004). Argo profiling floats bring new era of in situ ocean observations. Eos, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union, 85.
Gouretski, V. and Koltermann, K. P. (2007). How much is the ocean really warming?Geophysical Research Letters, 34, L01610.
Hansen, J., Sato, M., Ruedy, al. (2005). Efficacy of climate forcings. Journal of Geophysical Research, 110, D18104.
Hansen, J., Sato, M., Kharecha, al. (2008). Target atmospheric CO2: Where should humanity aim?The Open Atmospheric Science Journal, 2, 217–31.
Ingleby, B. and Huddleston, M. (2007). Quality control of ocean temperature and salinity profiles – Historical and real-time data. Journal of Marine Systems, 65, 158–75.
,IPCC (2007a). Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, eds. Core Writing Team, Pachauri, R. K. and Reisinger, A.. Geneva, Switzerland: IPCC.
,IPCC (2007b). Summary for policymakers. In Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, eds. Solomon, S., Qin, D., Manning, M., Chen, Z., Marquis, M., Averyt, K. B., Tignor, M. and Miller, H. L.. Cambridge, UK and New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Ishii, M. and Kimoto, M. (2009). Reevaluation of historical ocean heat content variations with time-varying XBT and MBT depth bias corrections. Journal of Oceanography, 65, 287–99.
Johnsen, S. J., Clausen, H. B., Dansgaard, al. (1992). Irregular glacial interstadials recorded in a new Greenland ice core. Nature, 359, 311–13.
Johnson, G. C. and Doney, S. C. (2006). Recent western South Atlantic bottom water warming. Geophysical Research Letters, 33, L14614.
Johnson, G. C., Mecking, S., Sloyan, B. M. and Wijffels, S. E. (2007). Recent bottom water warming in the Pacific Ocean. Journal of Climate, 20, 5365–75.
Johnson, G. C., Purkey, S. G. and Bullister, J. L. (2008). Warming and freshening in the abyssal southeastern Indian Ocean. Journal of Climate, 21, 5351–63.
Kaplan, A., Kushnir, Y. and Cane, M. A. (2000). Reduced space optimal interpolation of historical marine sea level pressure: 1854–1992. Journal of Climate, 13, 2987–3002.
Kiehl, J. T. and Trenberth, K. E. (1997). Earth's annual global mean energy budget. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 78, 197–208.
Quéré, C., Rodenbeck, C., Buitenhuis, al. (2007) Saturation of the Southern Ocean CO2 sink due to recent climate change. Science, 316, 1735–38.
Quéré, C., Raupach, M. R., Canadell, J. al. (2009). Trends in the sources and sinks of carbon dioxide. Nature Geoscience, 2, 831–36.
Levitus, S., Antonov, J. I., Boyer, T. al. (2009). Global ocean heat content 1955–2008 in light of recently revealed instrumentation problems. Geophysical Research Letters, 36, L07608.
LevyII, H., Schwarzkopf, M. D., Horowitz, L., Ramaswamy, V. and Findell, K. L. (2008). Strong sensitivity of late 21st century climate to projected changes in short-lived air pollutants. Journal of Geophysical Research, 113, D06102.
Lorenz, E. N. (1963). Deterministic nonperiodic flow. Journal of Atmospheric Sciences, 20, 130–41.
Lorenz, E. N. (1984). Irregularity: A fundamental property of the atmosphere. Tellus Series A-Dynamic Meteorology and Oceanography, 36, 98–110.
Lowe, J. A., Huntingford, C., Raper, S. C. al. (2009). How difficult is it to recover from dangerous levels of global warming?Environmental Research Letters, 4, 014012.
Lunt, D. J., Haywood, A. M, Schmidt, G. al. (2010). Earth system sensitivity inferred from Pliocene modelling and data. Nature Geoscience, 3, 60–64.
Meehl, G. A., Covey, C., Delworth, al. (2007). The WCRP CMIP3 multimodel dataset – A new era in climate change research. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 88, 1383–94.
Meinshausen, M., Meinshausen, N., Hare, al. (2009). Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2 °C. Nature 458, 1158–62.
Murphy, J. M., Booth, B. B. B., Collins, al. (2007). A methodology for probabilistic predictions of regional climate change from perturbed physics ensembles. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A – Mathematical, Physical & Engineering Sciences, 365, 1993–2028.
Murphy, J. M., Sexton, D. M. H., Barnett, D. al. (2004). Quantification of modelling uncertainties in a large ensemble of climate change simulations. Nature, 430, 768–72.
Nakicenovic, N. and Swart, R. (eds.) (2000). IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios. IPCC.
New, M., Liverman, D. and Anderson, K. (2009). Mind the gap. Nature Reports Climate Change, 143–44.
Noone, K. J., Ostrom, E., Ferek, R. al. (2000). A case study of ships forming and not forming tracks in moderately polluted clouds. Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, 57, 2729–47.
Oppenheimer, S. (2004). Out of Eden: Peopling the World. London: Constable and Robinson.
Oreskes, N., Shraderfrechette, K. and Belitz, K. (1994).Verification, validation, and confirmation of numerical models in the earth sciences. Science, 263, 641–46.
Petit, J. R., Jouzel, J., Raynaud, al. (1999). Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica. Nature, 399, 429–36.
Prentice, I. C., Farquhar, G. D., Fasham, M. J. al. (2001). The carbon cycle and atmospheric carbon dioxide content. In Contribution of Working Group I to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, eds. Houghton, J. T., Ding, Y., Griggs, D. J., Noguer, M., Linden, P. J. and Xiaosu, D.. Cambridge, UK and New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, pp. 184–238.
Ramanathan, V. and Carmichael, G. (2008). Global and regional climate changes due to black carbon. Nature Geoscience, 1, 221–27.
Ramanathan, V. and Feng, Y. (2008). On avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system: Formidable challenges ahead. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), 105, 14245–50.
Raymo, M. E., Grant, B., Horowitz, M. and Rau, G. H. (1996). Mid-Pliocene warmth: Stronger greenhouse and stronger conveyor. Marine Micropaleontology, 27, 313–26.
Rignot, E., Box, J. E., Burgess, E. and Hanna, E. (2008). Mass balance of the Greenland ice sheet from 1958 to 2007. Geophysical Research Letters, 35, L20502.
Shindell, D., LevyII, H., Schwarzkopf, M. al. (2008). Multimodel projections of climate change from short-lived emissions due to human activities. Journal of Geophysical Research, 113, D11109.
Siegenthaler, U., Stocker, T. F., Monnin, al. (2005). Stable carbon cycle-–climate relationship during the late Pleistocene. Science, 310, 1313–17.
Sime, L. C., Wolff, E. W., Oliver, K. I. C. and Tindall, J. C. (2009). Evidence for warmer interglacials in East Antarctic ice cores. Nature, 462, 342–45.
Solomon, S., Qin, D., Manning, al. (eds.) (2007). Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK and New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Stainforth, D. A., Aina, T., Christensen, al. (2005). Uncertainty in predictions of the climate response to rising levels of greenhouse gases. Nature, 433, 403–06.
Stainforth, D. A., Allen, M. R., Tredger, E. R. and Smith, L. A. (2007a). Confidence, uncertainty and decision-support relevance in climate predictions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A – Mathematical, Physical & Engineering Sciences, 365, 2145–61.
Stainforth, D. A., Downing, T. E., Washington, R., Lopez, A. and New, M. (2007b). Issues in the interpretation of climate model ensembles to inform decisions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A – Mathematical, Physical & Engineering Sciences, 365, 2163–77.
Leeuw, S. E. (2008). Climate and society: lessons from the past 10,000 years. Ambio, 1437, 476–82.
Wahba, M. and Hope, C. (2006). The marginal impact of carbon dioxide under two scenarios of future emissions. Energy Policy, 34, 3305–16.
Wijffels, S. E., Willis, J., Domingues, C. al. (2008). Changing expendable bathythermograph fall rates and their impact on estimates of thermosteric sea level rise. Journal of Climate, 21, 5657–72.
Willis, J. K., Lyman, J. M., Johnson, G. C. and Gilson, J. (2009). In situ data biases and recent ocean heat content variability. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology, 26, 846–52.