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|The Discovery of Global Warming February 2013|
Here are gathered in chronological sequence the most important events in the history of climate change science. (For a narrative see the Introduction: summary history.) This list of milestones includes major influences external to the science itself. Following it is a list of other external influences.
Mean global temperature (1850-1870) is about 13.6°C.
Milankovitch proposes orbital changes as the cause of ice ages. =>Climate cycles
Phillips produces a somewhat realistic computer model of the global atmosphere. =>Models (GCMs)
Plass calculates that adding CO2 to the atmosphere will have a significant effect on the radiation balance. =>Radiation math
Revelle finds that CO2 produced by humans will not be readily absorbed by the oceans. =>CO2 greenhouse
Keeling accurately measures CO2 in the Earth's atmosphere and detects an annual rise. =>CO2 greenhouse The level is 315 ppm. Mean global temperature (five-year average) is 13.9°C.
Manabe and Wetherald make a convincing calculation that doubling CO2 would raise world temperatures a couple of degrees. =>Radiation math
Budyko and Sellers present models of catastrophic ice-albedo feedbacks. =>Simple models
Nimbus III satellite begins to provide comprehensive global atmospheric temperature measurements. =>Government
Creation of US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the world's leading funder of climate research. =>Government
Aerosols from human activity are shown to be increasing swiftly. Bryson claims they counteract global warming and may bring serious cooling. =>Aerosols
Mariner 9 spacecraft finds a great dust storm warming the atmosphere of Mars, plus indications of a radically different climate in the past.=>Venus & Mars
Droughts in Africa, Ukraine, India cause world food crisis, spreading fears about climate change. =>Public opinion
Manabe and collaborators produce complex but plausible computer models which show a temperature rise of several degrees for doubled CO2. =>Models (GCMs)
Deforestation and other ecosystem changes are recognized as major factors in the future of the climate. =>Biosphere
Eddy shows that there were prolonged periods without sunspots in past centuries, corresponding to cold periods .=>Solar variation
US National Academy of Sciences report finds it highly credible that doubling CO2 will bring 1.5-4.5°C global warming. =>Models (GCMs)
World Climate Research Programme launched to coordinate international research. =>International
Hansen and others show that sulfate aerosols can significantly cool the climate, raising confidence in models showing future greenhouse warming. =>Aerosols
Some scientists predict greenhouse warming "signal" should be visible by about the year 2000. =>Modern temp's
Strong global warming since mid-1970s is reported, with 1981 the warmest year on record. =>Modern temp's
Villach Conference declares consensus among experts that some global warming seems inevitable, calls on governments to consider international agreements to restrict emissions.=>International
Antarctic ice cores show that CO2 and temperature went up and down together through past ice ages, pointing to powerful biological and geochemical feedbacks. =>CO2
Broecker speculates that a reorganization of North Atlantic Ocean circulation can bring swift and radical climate change. =>The oceans
Toronto conference calls for strict, specific limits on greenhouse gas emissions; UK Prime Minister Thatcher is first major leader to call for action. =>International
Ice-core and biology studies confirm living ecosystems give climate feedback by way of methane, which could accelerate global warming. =>Other gases
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is established. =>International
Global warming skeptics claim that 20th-century temperature changes followed from solar influences. (The solar-climate correlation would fail in the following decade.) =>Solar variation
Studies from 55 million years ago show possibility of eruption of methane from the seabed with enormous self-sustained warming. =>Rapid change
Study of ancient climates reveals climate sensitivity in same range as predicted independently by computer models. =>Models (GCMs)
Reports of the breaking up of Antarctic ice shelves and other signs of actual current warming in polar regions begin affecting public opinion. =>Public opinion
International conference produces Kyoto Protocol, setting targets for industrialized nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if enough nations sign onto a treaty (rejected by US Senate in advance). =>International
Qualms about arbitrariness in computer models diminish as teams model ice-age climate and dispense with special adjustments to reproduce current climate. =>Models (GCMs)
Ramanathan detects massive "brown cloud" of aerosols from South Asia. =>Aerosols
Variety of studies emphasize variability and importance of biological feedbacks in carbon cycle, liable to accelerate warming. =>Biosphere
Bonn meeting, with participation of most countries but not US, develops mechanisms for working towards Kyoto targets. =>International
National Academy panel sees a "paradigm shift" in scientific recognition of the risk of abrupt climate change (decade-scale). =>Rapid change
Warming observed in ocean basins; match with computer models gives a clear signature of greenhouse effect warming. =>Models (GCMs)
Deadly summer heat wave in Europe accelerates divergence between European and US public opinion. =>Public opinion
Hurricane Katrina and other major tropical storms spur debate over impact of global warming on storm intensity. =>Sea rise & ice
"An Inconvenient Truth" documentary persuades many but sharpens political polarization. =>Public opinion
Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and Arctic Ocean sea-ice cover found to be shrinking faster than expected.=>Sea rise & ice
Excerpts from stolen e-mails of climate scientists fuel public skepticism.=>Public opinion
Copenhagen conference fails to negotiate binding agreements: end of hopes of avoiding dangerous future climate change. =>International
Controversial "attribution" studies find recent disastrous heat waves, droughts, extremes of precipitation, and floods were made worse by global warming. =>Impacts
Level of CO2 in the atmosphere reaches 394 ppm.
|Additional External Influences 1950-1980|
This is a reference list of miscellaneous significant developments that don't fit into any of the other essays: scientific-technical matters that arose altogether independently of the scientific fields covered, and are not included above in the list of major "milestones," but that did have a significant influence on climate change studies.
Before the 1950s there were practically no global warming studies as such, and all the important discoveries (the ice ages, the infrared absorption of carbon dioxide, etc.) were effectively "external."
After about 1980, efforts that would be relevant to global warming
were generally undertaken with an awareness of potential connections.