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The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report

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Posted on Sep 27, 2013
AZRainman (CC BY 2.0)

By Climate News Network

This piece first appeared at Climate News Network.

A note from the Climate News Network editors: we have prepared this very abbreviated version of the first instalment of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) to serve as an objective guide to some of the headline issues it covers. It is in no sense an evaluation of what the Summary says: the wording is that of the IPCC authors themselves, except for a few cases where we have added headings. The AR5 uses a different basis as input to models from that used in its 2007 predecessor, AR4: instead of emissions scenarios, it speaks of RCPs, representative concentration pathways. So it is not possible everywhere to make a direct comparison between AR4 and AR5, though the text does so in some cases, and at the end we provide a very short list of the two reports’ conclusions on several key issues. The language of science can be complex. What follows is the IPCC scientists’ language. In the following days and weeks we will be reporting in more detail on some of their findings.

In this Summary for Policymakers, the following summary terms are used to describe the available evidence: limited, medium, or robust; and for the degree of agreement: low, medium, or high. A level of confidence is expressed using five qualifiers: very low, low, medium, high, and very high, and typeset in italics, e.g., medium confidence. For a given evidence and agreement statement, different confidence levels can be assigned, but increasing levels of evidence and degrees of agreement are correlated with increasing confidence. In this Summary the following terms have been used to indicate the assessed likelihood of an outcome or a result: virtually certain 99–100% probability, very likely 90–100%, likely 66–100%, about as likely as not 33–66%, unlikely 0–33%, very unlikely 0–10%, exceptionally unlikely 0–1%. Additional terms (extremely likely: 95–100%, more likely than not >50–100%, and extremely unlikely 0–5%) may also be used when appropriate.

Observed Changes in the Climate System

Atmosphere

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Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased

Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850.

For the longest period when calculation of regional trends is sufficiently complete (1901–2012), almost the entire globe has experienced surface warming.

In addition to robust multi-decadal warming, global mean surface temperature exhibits substantial decadal and interannual variability. Due to natural variability, trends based on short records are very sensitive to the beginning and end dates and do not in general reflect long-term climate trends.

As one example, the rate of warming over the past 15 years, which begins with a strong El Niño, is smaller than the rate calculated since 1951.

Changes in many extreme weather and climate events have been observed since about 1950. It is very likely that the number of cold days and nights has decreased and the number of warm days and nights has increased on the global scale

Ocean

Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence ). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0?700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010, and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971.

On a global scale, the ocean warming is largest near the surface, and the upper 75 m warmed by 0.11 [0.09 to 0.13] °C per decade over the period 1971–2010. Since AR4, instrumental biases in upper-ocean temperature records have been identified and reduced, enhancing confidence in the assessment of change.

It is likely that the ocean warmed between 700 and 2000 m from 1957 to 2009. Sufficient observations are available for the period 1992 to 2005 for a global assessment of temperature change below 2000 m. There were likely no significant observed temperature trends between 2000 and 3000 m for this period. It is likely that the ocean warmed from 3000 m to the bottom for this period, with the largest warming observed in the Southern Ocean.

More than 60% of the net energy increase in the climate system is stored in the upper ocean (0–700 m) during the relatively well-sampled 40-year period from 1971 to 2010, and about 30% is stored in the ocean below 700 m. The increase in upper ocean heat content during this time period estimated from a linear trend is likely.

Cryosphere

Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence).

The average rate of ice loss from the Greenland ice sheet has very likely substantially increased … over the period 1992–2001. The average rate of ice loss from the Antarctic ice sheet has likely increased … over the period 1992–2001. There is very high confidence that these losses are mainly from the northern Antarctic Peninsula and the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica.


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