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Earth System Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2018. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Research article 30 Nov 2018

Research article | 30 Nov 2018

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Earth System Dynamics (ESD).

Current rapid global temperature rise linked to falling SO2 emissions

Nick E. B. Cowern Nick E. B. Cowern
  • School of Engineering, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU, UK

Abstract. It is widely held that global temperature variations on time scales of a decade or less are primarily caused by internal climate variability, with smaller contributions from changes in external climate forcing such as solar irradiance. This paper shows that observed variations in global mean surface temperature, TGS, and ocean heat content (OHC) during the last 1–2 decades imply major changes in climate forcing during this period. In a first step, two independent methods are used to evaluate global temperature corrected for ocean–atmosphere heat exchange. El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) corrected TGS (written as TGS) is shown to agree closely with a novel temperature metric θ that combines uncorrected TGS with scaled OHC. This agreement rules out a substantial 21st-century contribution to TGS from ocean-atmosphere heat exchange. In contrast to TGS, the time series TGS (t) provides a clear fingerprint of transient global cooling associated with major volcanic eruptions, enabling a more accurate empirical estimate of the climate response of the global mean surface. This allows more accurate estimation of the net climate forcing by stratospheric aerosols and solar irradiance, which is then subtracted from TGS (t) to determine the underlying signal of anthropogenic global warming. Key features of this signal are a slowdown from the late 1990s to 2011 – corresponding to the well known climate hiatus – and a subsequent sharp upturn indicating a steep increase in anthropogenic climate forcing. It is argued that the only plausible cause for this increase is a large fractional decrease in tropospheric aerosol cooling. This attribution is supported by satellite-based observations of a >50% decrease in SO2 emissions from large sources during the last six years. It suggests that current clean-air policies and replacement of coal by natural gas are driving a significant human made climatic event, 2–4 times faster than greenhouse driven warming alone. If confirmed, this implies a considerably shortened timescale to meet the IPCC 1.5°C objective, with major implications for near-term carbon emission policies.

Nick E. B. Cowern
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Status: open (until 16 Jan 2019)
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Nick E. B. Cowern
Nick E. B. Cowern
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
This paper shows that recent accelerated global warming is the beginning of an approximately 0.5 °C warming transition, resulting – ironically – from policy measures that have sharply reduced global pollution linked to sulfur dioxide emissions. The transition is superimposed on the steady warming trend from rising greenhouse gases, and could bring forward the time when global warming reaches 1.5 °C to the late 2020s, significantly sooner than estimated in the recent IPCC climate change report.
This paper shows that recent accelerated global warming is the beginning of an approximately...