Articles | Volume 7, issue 3
Earth Syst. Dynam., 7, 717–734, 2016
Earth Syst. Dynam., 7, 717–734, 2016

Research article 30 Aug 2016

Research article | 30 Aug 2016

Coherence among the Northern Hemisphere land, cryosphere, and ocean responses to natural variability and anthropogenic forcing during the satellite era

Alemu Gonsamo1, Jing M. Chen1, Drew T. Shindell2, and Gregory P. Asner3 Alemu Gonsamo et al.
  • 1Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • 2Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA
  • 3Department of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford, California, USA

Abstract. A lack of long-term measurements across Earth's biological and physical systems has made observation-based detection and attribution of climate change impacts to anthropogenic forcing and natural variability difficult. Here we explore coherence among land, cryosphere and ocean responses to recent climate change using 3 decades (1980–2012) of observational satellite and field data throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Our results show coherent interannual variability among snow cover, spring phenology, solar radiation, Scandinavian Pattern, and North Atlantic Oscillation. The interannual variability of the atmospheric peak-to-trough CO2 amplitude is mostly impacted by temperature-mediated effects of El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and Pacific/North American Pattern (PNA), whereas CO2 concentration is affected by Polar Pattern control on sea ice extent dynamics. This is assuming the trend in anthropogenic CO2 emission remains constant, or the interannual changes in the trends are negligible. Our analysis suggests that sea ice decline-related CO2 release may outweigh increased CO2 uptake through longer growing seasons and higher temperatures. The direct effects of variation in solar radiation and leading teleconnections, at least in part via their impacts on temperature, dominate the interannual variability of land, cryosphere and ocean indicators. Our results reveal a coherent long-term changes in multiple physical and biological systems that are consistent with anthropogenic forcing of Earth's climate and inconsistent with natural drivers.

Short summary
Using 3 decades of observational satellite and field data, we find that long-term changes in sea ice and sea level, plant phenology, and surface temperature are coherent with increases in atmospheric CO2 concentration and other global greenhouse gases. During the same period, natural causes of climate change should only have a net cooling long-term effect, suggesting the observed coherent pattern of changes across Earth's biological and physical systems could only be due to human activities.
Final-revised paper