Evidence for external forcing on 20th-century climate from combined ocean-atmosphere warming patterns
Article first published online: 23 OCT 2012
©2012. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.
Geophysical Research Letters
Volume 39, Issue 20, 28 October 2012
How to Cite
2012), Evidence for external forcing on 20th-century climate from combined ocean-atmosphere warming patterns, Geophys. Res. Lett., 39, L20708, doi:10.1029/2012GL053262., and (
- Issue published online: 23 OCT 2012
- Article first published online: 23 OCT 2012
- Manuscript Accepted: 19 SEP 2012
- Manuscript Revised: 18 SEP 2012
- Manuscript Received: 24 JUL 2012
- atmosphere-ocean coupling;
- warming patterns
 Of the additional energy absorbed by the Earth over the past decades, by far the largest fraction is taken up by the oceans. Yet most attribution studies focus on the surface warming, and only few have used patterns of ocean warming to attribute changes to external forcing or internal variability. Here we use the combined observed evidence from warming of the atmosphere and ocean with the latest climate model simulations to demonstrate that both the depth profiles and spatial warming patterns near the surface are very heterogeneous when resulting from internal unforced variability. In the 20th-century simulations on the other hand, the observed spatial pattern is smooth, and the warming decreases almost gradually with depth in the ocean, consistent with observations and a penetration of the surface warming to intermediate depth by diffusion and advection. We argue that such physically motivated arguments combining different lines of evidence and types of observations offer insight that is complementary to optimal fingerprint attribution methods. We conclude that the simultaneous global warming of the atmosphere and mixed layer alone is uninformative for attribution, but the magnitude of ocean heat uptake, the homogeneity of the spatial pattern as well as the distribution of warming below the mixed layer strongly argue for the 20th-century warming being largely externally forced.