Quantification of the Past and Future Anthropogenic Effect on Climate Change Using the Empirical Model of Global Climate, an Energy Balance Multiple Linear Regression Model

Thumbnail Image
Publication or External Link
Hope, Austin Patrick
Salawitch, Ross J
Canty, Timothy P
The current episode of global warming is one of, if not the, biggest challenge to modern society as the world moves into the 21st century. Rising global temperatures due to anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are causing sea level rise, extreme heat waves, droughts and floods, and other major social and economic disruptions. To prepare for and potentially reverse this warming trend, the causes of climate change must not only be understood, but thoroughly quantified so that we can attempt to make reasonable predictions of the future rise in global temperature and its associated consequences. The project described in this dissertation seeks to use a simple model of global climate, utilizing an energy balance and multiple linear regression approach, to provide a quantification of historical temperature trends and use that knowledge to provide probabilistic projections of future temperature. By considering many different greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions scenarios along with multiple possibilities for the role of the ocean in the climate system and the extent of climate feedbacks, I have determined that there is a 50% probability of keeping global warming beneath 2 °C if society can keep future emissions on the pathway suggested by the RCP 4.5 scenario, which includes moderately ambitious emissions reductions policies, and a 67% probability of keeping global warming beneath 1.5 °C if society can keep emissions in line with the very ambitious RCP 2.6 scenario. These probabilities are higher, e.g. more optimistic, than similar probabilities for the same scenarios given by the most recent IPCC assessment report. Similarly, we find larger carbon budgets than those from GCM analyses for any warming limitation target and confidence level, e.g. the EM-GC predicts a total carbon budget of 710 GtC for limiting global warming to 1.5 °C with 95% confidence. The results from our simple climate model suggest that the difference in future temperatures is related to an overestimation of recent warming by the IPCC global climate models. We postulate that this difference is partially due to an overestimation of cloud feedback processes in the global climate models. Importantly, though, I also reaffirm the consensus that anthropogenic emissions are driving current warming trends, and discuss both the effects of shifting the energy sector toward increase methane emissions and the timeline we have for emitting the remainder of our carbon budget – less than a decade if we wish to prevent global warming from exceeding the 1.5 °C threshold with 95% certainty.