What does global mean temperature tell us about local climate?
Sutton, R., Suckling, E. and Hawkins, E. (2015) What does global mean temperature tell us about local climate? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 373. 20140426. ISSN 1364-503X
To link to this article DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2014.0426
The subject of climate feedbacks focuses attention on global mean surface air temperature (GMST) as the key metric of climate change. But what does knowledge of past and future GMST tell us about the climate of specific regions? In the context of the ongoing UNFCCC process, this is an important question for policy-makers as well as for scientists. The answer depends on many factors, including the mechanisms causing changes, the timescale of the changes, and the variables and regions of interest. This paper provides a review and analysis of the relationship between changes in GMST and changes in local climate, first in observational records and then in a range of climate model simulations, which are used to interpret the observations. The focus is on decadal timescales, which are of particular interest in relation to recent and near-future anthropogenic climate change. It is shown that GMST primarily provides information about forced responses, but that understanding and quantifying internal variability is essential to projecting climate and climate impacts on regional-to-local scales. The relationship between local forced responses and GMST is often linear but may be nonlinear, and can be greatly complicated by competition between different forcing factors. Climate projections are limited not only by uncertainties in the signal of climate change but also by uncertainties in the characteristics of real-world internal variability. Finally, it is shown that the relationship between GMST and local climate provides a simple approach to climate change detection, and a useful guide to attribution studies.