IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis

TS.4.3 Attribution of Changes in Circulation, Precipitation and Other Climate Variables

Trends in the Northern and Southern Annular Modes over recent decades, which correspond to sea level pressure reductions over the poles and related changes in atmospheric circulation, are likely related in part to human activity (see Figure TS.24). Models reproduce the sign of the NAM trend, but the simulated response is smaller than observed. Models including both greenhouse gas and stratospheric ozone changes simulate a realistic trend in the SAM, leading to a detectable human influence on global sea level pressure that is also consistent with the observed cooling trend in surface climate over parts of Antarctica. These changes in hemispheric circulation and their attribution to human activity imply that anthropogenic effects have likely contributed to changes in mid- and high-latitude patterns of circulation and temperature, as well as changes in winds and storm tracks. However, quantitative effects are uncertain because simulated responses to 20th century forcing change for the NH agree only qualitatively and not quantitatively with observations of these variables. {3.6, 9.5, 10.3}

December - February Sea Level Pressure Trends

Figure TS.24

Figure TS.24. December through February sea level pressure trends based on decadal means for the period 1955 to 2005. (Top) Trends estimated from an observational data set and displayed in regions where there is observational coverage. (Bottom) Mean trends simulated in response to natural and anthropogenic forcing changes in eight coupled models. The model-simulated trends are displayed only where observationally based trends are displayed. Streamlines, which are not masked, indicate the direction of the trends in the geostrophic wind derived from the trends in sea level pressure, and the shading of the streamlines indicates the magnitude of the change, with darker streamlines corresponding to larger changes in geostrophic wind. Data sources and models are described in Chapter 9 and its supplementary material, and Table 8.1 provides model details. {Figure 9.16}

There is some evidence of the impact of external influences on the hydrological cycle. The observed large-scale pattern of changes in land precipitation over the 20th century is qualitatively consistent with simulations, suggestive of a human influence. An observed global trend towards increases in drought in the second half of the 20th century has been reproduced with a model by taking anthropogenic and natural forcing into account. A number of studies have now demonstrated that changes in land use, due for example to overgrazing and conversion of woodland to agriculture, are unlikely to have been the primary cause of Sahelian and Australian droughts. Comparisons between observations and models suggest that changes in monsoons, storm intensities and Sahelian rainfall are related at least in part to changes in observed SSTs. Changes in global SSTs are expected to be affected by anthropogenic forcing, but an association of regional SST changes with forcing has not been established. Changes in rainfall depend not just upon SSTs but also upon changes in the spatial and temporal SST patterns and regional changes in atmospheric circulation, making attribution to human influences difficult. {3.3, 9.5, 10.3, 11.2}