This is a list of papers on natural variability of Earth’s climate. This subject was suggested by PeterPan here. The list is not complete, and will most likely be updated in the future in order to make it more thorough and more representative.
UPDATE (July 13, 2010): Lo & Hsu (2010) added.
UPDATE (June 12, 2010): Ghil & Vautard (1991) and Chao et al. (2000) added.
Change in the dominant decadal patterns and the late 1980s abrupt warming in the extratropical Northern Hemisphere – Lo & Hsu (2010) “Widespread abrupt warming in the extratropical Northern Hemisphere (NH) occurred in the late 1980s. This warming was associated with a change in the relative influence of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO)-like pattern and the Arctic Oscillation (AO)-like pattern. The AO-like pattern has had a dominant influence on the NH-mean temperature since the late 1980s, whereas the influence of the PDO has weakened. The AO-like mode appears as part of natural variability in the pre-industrial simulations of the CMIP3/IPCC climate models. However, its emergence in the late 1980s was not simulated by most models with or without the observed increasing greenhouse effect in the 20th century.”
Long-term natural variability and 20th century climate change – Swanson et al. (2009) “Here we present a technique that objectively identifies the component of inter-decadal global mean surface temperature attributable to natural long-term climate variability. Removal of that hidden variability from the actual observed global mean surface temperature record delineates the externally forced climate signal, which is monotonic, accelerating warming during the 20th century.” [Full text]
Changes in the phase of the annual cycle of surface temperature – Stine et al. (2009) “Here we show that the phase of the annual cycle of surface temperature over extratropical land shifted towards earlier seasons by 1.7 days between 1954 and 2007; this change is highly anomalous with respect to earlier variations, which we interpret as being indicative of the natural range. Significant changes in the amplitude of the annual cycle are also observed between 1954 and 2007. These shifts in the annual cycles appear to be related, in part, to changes in the northern annular mode of climate variability, although the land phase shift is significantly larger than that predicted by trends in the northern annular mode alone.” [Full text]
What is causing the variability in global mean land temperature? – Hoerling et al. (2008) “Diagnosis of climate models reveals that most of the observed variability of global mean land temperature during 1880–2007 is caused by variations in global sea surface temperatures (SSTs). Further, most of the variability in global SSTs have themselves resulted from external radiative forcing due to greenhouse gas, aerosol, solar and volcanic variations, especially on multidecadal time scales. Our results indicate that natural variations internal to the Earth’s climate system have had a relatively small impact on the low frequency variations in global mean land temperature. It is therefore extremely unlikely that the recent trajectory of terrestrial warming can be overwhelmed (and become colder than normal) as a consequence of natural variability.” [Full text]
Multidecadal Climate Variability in Observed and Modeled Surface Temperatures – Kravtsov & Spannagle (2008) “This study identifies interdecadal natural climate variability in global surface temperatures by subtracting, from the observed temperature evolution, multimodel ensemble mean based on the World Climate Research Programme’s (WCRP) Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 3 (CMIP3) multimodel dataset. The resulting signal resembles the so-called Atlantic multidecadal oscillation (AMO) and is presumably associated with intrinsic dynamics of the oceanic thermohaline circulation (THC). … Evidence suggests that the AMO influence on secular trends in the global-mean surface temperature can arise via direct, regional contribution to the surface temperature evolution, as well as via an indirect route linked to variability of the oceanic uptake of CO2 associated with AMO-related THC changes.” [Full text]
How natural and anthropogenic influences alter global and regional surface temperatures: 1889 to 2006 – Lean & Rind (2008) “To distinguish between simultaneous natural and anthropogenic impacts on surface temperature, regionally as well as globally, we perform a robust multivariate analysis using the best available estimates of each together with the observed surface temperature record from 1889 to 2006. The results enable us to compare, for the first time from observations, the geographical distributions of responses to individual influences consistent with their global impacts. We find a response to solar forcing quite different from that reported in several papers published recently in this journal, and zonally averaged responses to both natural and anthropogenic forcings that differ distinctly from those indicated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose conclusions depended on model simulations.” [Full text]
A signature of persistent natural thermohaline circulation cycles in observed climate – Knight et al. (2005) “Using a 1400 year climate model calculation, we are able to simulate the observed pattern and amplitude of the AMO. The results imply the AMO is a genuine quasi-periodic cycle of internal climate variability persisting for many centuries, and is related to variability in the oceanic thermohaline circulation (THC). This relationship suggests we can attempt to reconstruct past THC changes, and we infer an increase in THC strength over the last 25 years. Potential predictability associated with the mode implies natural THC and AMO decreases over the next few decades independent of anthropogenic climate change.” [Full text]
Pacific interdecadal variability in this century’s sea surface temperatures – Chao et al. (2000) “Analysis of this century’s sea surface temperatures over the Pacific Ocean reveals an interdecadal oscillation with a period of 15–20 years. Our results show that the well‐known 1976–77 climate regime shift is not unique, but represents one of several phase transitions associated with this interdecadal oscillation, also found around 1924–25, 1941–42, and 1957–58. The oscillation’s striking north‐south symmetry across the equator implies strong interactions between tropics and extratropics. A mode with a period of approximately 70 years and an apparently different spatial pattern is also identified tentatively but has to be evaluated further using longer time series.” [Full text]
A Comparison of Surface Air Temperature Variability in Three 1000-Yr Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere Model Integrations – Stouffer et al. (2000) “This study compares the variability of surface air temperature in three long coupled ocean–atmosphere general circulation model integrations. It is shown that the annual mean climatology of the surface air temperatures (SAT) in all three models is realistic and the linear trends over the 1000-yr integrations are small over most areas of the globe. … Assuming that the simulation of variability of the global mean SAT is as realistic on longer timescales as it is for the shorter timescales, then the observed warming of more than 0.5 K of the SAT in the last 110 yr is not likely to be due to internally generated variability of the coupled atmosphere–ocean–sea ice system. Instead, the warming is likely to be due to changes in the radiative forcing of the climate system, such as the forcing associated with increases in greenhouse gases.” [Full text]
ENSO-like Interdecadal Variability: 1900–93 – Zhang et al. (1997) “A number of recent studies have reported an ENSO-like EOF mode in the global sea surface temperature (SST) field, whose time variability is marked by an abrupt change toward a warmer tropical eastern Pacific and a colder extratropical central North Pacific in 1976–77. The present study compares this pattern with the structure of the interannual variability associated with the ENSO cycle and documents its time history back to 1900. … By means of several different analysis techniques, the time variability of the leading EOF of the global SST field is separated into two components: one identified with the “ENSO cycle-related” variability on the interannual timescale, and the other a linearly independent “residual” comprising all the interdecadal variability in the record.” [Full text]
Global and regional variability in a coupled AOGCM – Tett et al. (1997) “The variability of near surface temperature on global and regional spatial scales and interannual time scales from a 1000 year control integration of the Hadley Centre coupled model (HADCM2-CTL) are compared with the observational record of surface temperature. The model succeeds in reproducing the observed patterns of natural variability, with high variability over the northern continents and low variability over much of the tropics. The model global mean variability has similar strength to observed global mean variability on time scales less than 20 years. The warming seen in the historical record is outside the range of natural variability as simulated in HADCM2-CTL.”
Robust estimation of background noise and signal detection in climatic time series – Mann & Lees (1996) “We present a new technique for isolating climate signals in time series with a characteristic red noise background which arises from temporal persistence. … We apply our methodology to historical climate and paleoclimate time series examples. Analysis of a ~ 3 million year sediment core reveals significant periodic components at known astronomical forcing periodicities and a significant quasiperiodic 100 year peak.”
Model assessment of the role of natural variability in recent global warming – Stouffer et al. (1994) “Here we evaluate the observed warming trend using a 1,000-year time series of global temperature obtained from a mathematical model of the coupled ocean–atmosphere–land system. We find that the model approximately reproduces the magnitude of the annual to interdecadal variation in global mean surface air temperature. But throughout the simulated time series no temperature change as large as 0.5 °C per century is sustained for more than a few decades. Assuming that the model is realistic, these results suggest that the observed trend is not a natural feature of the interaction between the atmosphere and oceans.”
An oscillation in the global climate system of period 65–70 years – Schlesinger & Ramankutty (1994) “Here we apply singular spectrum analysis to four global-mean temperature records, and identify a temperature oscillation with a period of 65–70 years. Singular spectrum analysis of the surface temperature records for 11 geographical regions shows that the 65–70-year oscillation is the statistical result of 50–88-year oscillations for the North Atlantic Ocean and its bounding Northern Hemisphere continents. These oscillations have obscured the greenhouse warming signal in the North Atlantic and North America. Comparison with previous observations and model simulations suggests that the oscillation arises from predictable internal variability of the ocean–atmosphere system.”
Interdecadal oscillations and the warming trend in global temperature time series – Ghil & Vautard (1991) “THE ability to distinguish a warming trend from natural variability is critical for an understanding of the climatic response to increasing greenhouse-gas concentrations. Here we use singular spectrum analysis1 to analyse the time series of global surface air temperatures for the past 135 years, allowing a secular warming trend and a small number of oscillatory modes to be separated from the noise. The trend is flat until 1910, with an increase of 0.4 °C since then. The oscillations exhibit interdecadal periods of 21 and 16 years, and interannual periods of 6 and 5 years. The interannual oscillations are probably related to global aspects of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon. The interdecadal oscillations could be associated with changes in the extratropical ocean circulation. The oscillatory components have combined (peak-to-peak) amplitudes of >0.2 °C, and therefore limit our ability to predict whether the inferred secular warming trend of 0.005 °Cyr-1 will continue. This could postpone incontrovertible detection of the greenhouse warming signal for one or two decades.” [Full text]
Natural variability of the climate system and detection of the greenhouse effect – Wigley & Raper (1990) “Here we show how the ocean may produce low-frequency climate variability by passive modulation of natural forcing, to produce substantial trends in global mean temperature on the century timescale. Simulations with a simple climate model are used to determine the main controls on internally generated low-frequency variability, and show that natural trends of up to 0.3 °C may occur over intervals of up to 100 years. Although the magnitude of such trends is unexpectedly large, it is insufficient to explain the observed global warming during the twentieth century.”
Internally and Externally Caused Climate Change – Robock (1978) “A numerical climate model is used to simulate climate change forced only by random fluctuations of the atmospheric heat transport. This short-term natural variability of the atmosphere is shown to be a possible “cause” not only of the variability of the annual world average temperature about its mean, but also long-term excursions from the mean.” [Full text]