Instrumental observations over the past 157 years show that temperatures at the surface
have risen globally, with important regional variations. For the global average, warming
in the last century has occurred in two phases, from the 1910s to the 1940s (0.35°C),
and more strongly from the 1970s to the present (0.55°C). An increasing rate of warming
has taken place over the last 25 years, and 11 of the 12 warmest years on record have occurred
in the past 12 years. Above the surface, global observations since the late 1950s show that the
troposphere (up to about 10 km) has warmed at a slightly greater rate than the surface, while
the stratosphere (about 10–30 km) has cooled markedly since 1979. This is in accord with physical
expectations and most model results. Confirmation of global warming comes from warming of the
oceans, rising sea levels, glaciers melting, sea ice retreating in the Arctic and diminished snow
cover in the Northern Hemisphere.
There is no single thermometer measuring the global temperature. Instead, individual thermometer
measurements taken every day at several thousand stations over the land areas of the world are
combined with thousands more measurements of sea surface temperature taken from ships moving over
the oceans to produce an estimate of global average temperature every month. To obtain consistent
changes over time, the main analysis is actually of anomalies (departures from the climatological
mean at each site) as these are more robust to changes in data availability. It is now possible to
use these measurements from 1850 to the present, although coverage is much less than global in the
second half of the 19th century, is much better after 1957 when measurements began in Antarctica,
and best after about 1980, when satellite measurements began.
Expressed as a global average, surface temperatures have increased by about 0.74°C over the
past hundred years (between 1906 and 2005; see Figure 1). However, the warming has been neither
steady nor the same in different seasons or in different locations. There was not much overall change
from 1850 to about 1915, aside from ups and downs associated with natural variability but which may
have also partly arisen from poor sampling. An increase (0.35°C) occurred in the global average
temperature from the 1910s to the 1940s, followed by a slight cooling (0.1°C), and then a rapid
warming (0.55°C) up to the end of 2006 (Figure 1). The warmest years of the series are 1998 and
2005 (which are statistically indistinguishable), and 11 of the 12 warmest years have occurred in the
last 12 years (1995 to 2006). Warming, particularly since the 1970s, has generally been greater over
land than over the oceans. Seasonally, warming has been slightly greater in the winter hemisphere.
Additional warming occurs in cities and urban areas (often referred to as the urban heat island effect),
but is confined in spatial extent, and its effects are allowed for both by excluding as many of the
affected sites as possible from the global temperature data and by increasing the error range (the blue
band in the figure).
A few areas have cooled since 1901, most notably the northern North Atlantic near southern Greenland.
Warming during this time has been strongest over the continental interiors of Asia and northern North
America. However, as these are areas with large year-to-year variability, the most evident warming signal
has occurred in parts of the middle and lower latitudes, particularly the tropical oceans. In the lower
left panel of Figure 1, which shows temperature trends since 1979, the pattern in the Pacific Ocean
features warming and cooling regions related to El Niño.
Analysis of long-term changes in daily temperature extremes has recently become possible for many
regions of the world (parts of North America and southern South America, Europe, northern and eastern
Asia, southern Africa and Australasia). Especially since the 1950s, these records show a decrease in
the number of very cold days and nights and an increase in the number of extremely hot days and warm
nights (see FAQ 3.3). The length of the frost-free season has increased
in most mid- and high-latitude regions of both hemispheres. In the Northern Hemisphere, this is mostly
manifest as an earlier start to spring.
In addition to the surface data described above, measurements of temperature above the surface have
been made with weather balloons, with reasonable coverage over land since 1958, and from satellite
data since 1979. All data are adjusted for changes in instruments and observing practices where
necessary. Microwave satellite data have been used to create a ‘satellite temperature record’ for
thick layers of the atmosphere including the troposphere (from the surface up to about 10 km) and
the lower stratosphere (about 10 to 30 km). Despite several new analyses with improved cross-calibration
of the 13 instruments on different satellites used since 1979 and compensation for changes in observing
time and satellite altitude, some uncertainties remain in trends.
For global observations since the late 1950s, the most recent versions of all available data sets show
that the troposphere has warmed at a slightly greater rate than the surface, while the stratosphere has
cooled markedly since 1979. This is in accord with physical expectations and most model results, which
demonstrate the role of increasing greenhouse gases in tropospheric warming and stratospheric cooling;
ozone depletion also contributes substantially to stratospheric cooling.
Consistent with observed increases in surface temperature, there have been decreases in the length
of river and lake ice seasons. Further, there has been an almost worldwide reduction in glacial mass
and extent in the 20th century; melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet has recently become apparent; snow
cover has decreased in many Northern Hemisphere regions; sea ice thickness and extent have decreased
in the Arctic in all seasons, most dramatically in spring and summer; the oceans are warming; and sea
level is rising due to thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of land ice.
FAQ 3.1, Figure 1. (Top) Annual global mean observed temperatures1 (black dots)
along with simple fits to the data. The left hand axis shows anomalies relative to the 1961
to 1990 average and the right hand axis shows the estimated actual temperature (°C). Linear
trend fits to the last 25 (yellow), 50 (orange), 100 (purple) and 150 years (red) are shown, and
correspond to 1981 to 2005, 1956 to 2005, 1906 to 2005, and 1856 to 2005, respectively. Note that
for shorter recent periods, the slope is greater, indicating accelerated warming. The blue curve
is a smoothed depiction to capture the decadal variations. To give an idea of whether the fluctuations
are meaningful, decadal 5 to 95% (light blue) error ranges about that line are given (accordingly,
annual values do exceed those limits). Results from climate models driven by estimated radiative
forcings for the 20th century (Chapter 9) suggest that there was little change prior to about 1915,
and that a substantial fraction of the early 20th-century change was contributed by naturally occurring
influences including solar radiation changes, volcanism and natural variability. From about 1940 to 1970
the increasing industrialisation following World War II increased pollution in the Northern Hemisphere,
contributing to cooling, and increases in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases dominate the observed
warming after the mid-1970s. (Bottom) Patterns of linear global temperature trends from 1979 to 2005
estimated at the surface (left), and for the troposphere (right) from the surface to about 10 km altitude,
from satellite records. Grey areas indicate incomplete data. Note the more spatially uniform warming in the
satellite tropospheric record while the surface temperature changes more clearly relate to land and ocean.