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How long does it take to reduce the buildup of greenhouse gases and other emissions that contribute to climate change? Do different greenhouse gases and other emissions have different draw down periods?

TABLE 1 Removal Times and Climate Forcing Values for Specified Atmospheric Gases and Aerosols

Forcing Agent

Approximate Removal Times 3

Climate Forcing (W/m2) Up to the year 2000

Greenhouse Gases

Carbon Dioxide

>100 years

1.3 to 1.5


10 years

0.5 to 0.7

Tropospheric Ozone

10–100 days

0.25 to 0.75

Nitrous Oxide

100 years

0.1 to 0.2



(Including SF6)

>1000 years


Fine Aerosols


10 days

–0.3 to –1.0

Black Carbon

10 days

0.1 to 0.8

3A removal time of 100 years means that much, but not all, of the substance would be gone in 100 years. Typically, the amount remaining at the end of 100 years is 37%; after 200 years 14%; after 300 years 5%; after 400 years 2%

Is climate change occurring? If so, how?

Weather station records and ship-based observations indicate that global mean surface air temperature warmed between about 0.4 and 0.8°C (0.7 and 1.5°F) during the 20th century. Although the magnitude of warming varies locally, the warming trend is spatially widespread and is consistent with an array of other evidence detailed in this report. The ocean, which represents the largest reservoir of heat in the climate system, has warmed by about 0.05°C (0.09°F) averaged over the layer extending from the surface down to 10,000 feet, since the 1950s.

The observed warming has not proceeded at a uniform rate. Virtually all the 20th century warming in global surface air temperature occurred between the early 1900s and the 1940s and during the past few decades. The troposphere warmed much more during the 1970s than during the two subsequent decades, whereas Earth's surface warmed more during the past two decades than during the 1970s. The causes of these irregularities and the disparities in the timing are not completely understood. One striking change of the past 35 years is the cooling of the stratosphere at altitudes of ~13 miles, which has tended to be concentrated in the wintertime polar cap region.

Are greenhouse gases causing climate change?

The IPCC's conclusion that most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations accurately reflects the current thinking of the scientific community on this issue. The stated degree of confidence in the IPCC assessment is higher today than it was 10, or even 5 years ago, but uncertainty remains because of (1) the level of natural variability inherent in the climate system on time scales of decades to centuries, (2) the questionable ability of models to accurately simulate natural variability on those long time scales, and (3) the degree of confidence that can be placed on reconstructions of global mean temperature over the past millennium based on proxy evidence. Despite the uncertainties, there is general agreement that the observed warming is real and particularly strong within the past 20 years. Whether it is consistent with the change that would be expected in response to human activities is dependent upon what assumptions one makes about the time history of atmospheric concentrations of the various forcing agents, particularly aerosols.

By how much will temperatures change over the next 100 years and where?

Climate change simulations for the period of 1990 to 2100 based on the IPCC emissions scenarios yield a globally-averaged surface temperature increase by the end of the century of 1.4 to 5.8°C (2.5 to 10.4°F) relative to 1990. The wide range of uncertainty in these estimates reflects both the different assumptions about future concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols in the various scenarios considered by the IPCC and the differing climate sensitivities of the various climate models used in the simulations. The range of climate sensitivities implied by these predictions is generally consistent with previously reported values.

The predicted warming is larger over higher latitudes than over low latitudes, especially during winter and spring, and larger over land than over sea. Rainfall rates and the frequency of heavy precipitation events are predicted to increase, particularly over the higher latitudes. Higher evaporation rates would accelerate the drying of soils following rain events, resulting in lower relative humidities and higher daytime temperatures, especially during the warm season. The likelihood that this effect could prove important is greatest in semi-arid regions, such as the U.S. Great Plains. These predictions in the IPCC report are consistent with current understanding of the processes that control local climate.

In addition to the IPCC scenarios for future increases in greenhouse gas concentrations, the committee considered a scenario based on an energy policy designed to keep climate change moderate in the next 50 years. This scenario takes into account not only the growth of carbon emissions, but also the changing concentrations of other greenhouse gases and aerosols.

Sufficient time has elapsed now to enable comparisons between observed trends in the concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases with the trends predicted

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