Articles | Volume 5, issue 1
Research article
25 Mar 2014
Research article |  | 25 Mar 2014

A lower and more constrained estimate of climate sensitivity using updated observations and detailed radiative forcing time series

R. B. Skeie, T. Berntsen, M. Aldrin, M. Holden, and G. Myhre

Abstract. Equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) is constrained based on observed near-surface temperature change, changes in ocean heat content (OHC) and detailed radiative forcing (RF) time series from pre-industrial times to 2010 for all main anthropogenic and natural forcing mechanism. The RF time series are linked to the observations of OHC and temperature change through an energy balance model (EBM) and a stochastic model, using a Bayesian approach to estimate the ECS and other unknown parameters from the data. For the net anthropogenic RF the posterior mean in 2010 is 2.0 Wm−2, with a 90% credible interval (C.I.) of 1.3 to 2.8 Wm−2, excluding present-day total aerosol effects (direct + indirect) stronger than −1.7 Wm−2. The posterior mean of the ECS is 1.8 °C, with 90% C.I. ranging from 0.9 to 3.2 °C, which is tighter than most previously published estimates. We find that using three OHC data sets simultaneously and data for global mean temperature and OHC up to 2010 substantially narrows the range in ECS compared to using less updated data and only one OHC data set. Using only one OHC set and data up to 2000 can produce comparable results as previously published estimates using observations in the 20th century, including the heavy tail in the probability function. The analyses show a significant contribution of internal variability on a multi-decadal scale to the global mean temperature change. If we do not explicitly account for long-term internal variability, the 90% C.I. is 40% narrower than in the main analysis and the mean ECS becomes slightly lower, which demonstrates that the uncertainty in ECS may be severely underestimated if the method is too simple. In addition to the uncertainties represented through the estimated probability density functions, there may be uncertainties due to limitations in the treatment of the temporal development in RF and structural uncertainties in the EBM.

Final-revised paper