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The pause in global warming: Turning a routine fluctuation into a problem for science

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)723-733
Number of pages11
JournalBulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Volume97
Issue number5
DOIs
DateAccepted/In press - 27 Aug 2015
DatePublished (current) - 3 Jun 2016

Abstract

There has been much recent published research about a putative “pause” or “hiatus” in global warming. We show that there are frequent fluctuations in the rate of warming around a longer-term warming trend, and that there is no evidence that identifies the recent period as unique or particularly unusual. In confirmation, we show that the notion of a pause in warming is considered to be misleading in a blind expert test. Nonetheless, the most recent fluctuation about the longer-term trend has been regarded by many as an explanatory challenge that climate science must resolve. This departs from long-standing practice, insofar as scientists have long recognized that the climate fluctuates, that linear increases in CO2 do not produce linear trends in global warming, and that 15-yr (or shorter) periods are not diagnostic of long-term trends. We suggest that the repetition of the “warming has paused” message by contrarians was adopted by the scientific community in its problem-solving and answer-seeking role and has led to undue focus on, and mislabeling of, a recent fluctuation. We present an alternative framing that could have avoided inadvertently reinforcing a misleading claim.

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    Rights statement: This is the final published version of the article (version of record). It first appeared online via American Meteorological Society at http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/BAMS-D-14-00106.1. Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

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