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Surface Temperature Reconstructions for the last 2,000 Years
diverse sites experienced exceptional warmth during the late 20th century than during any other extended period from A.D. 900 onward.
Based on the analyses presented in the original papers by Mann et al. and this newer supporting evidence, the committee finds it plausible that the Northern Hemisphere was warmer during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period over the preceding millennium. The substantial uncertainties currently present in the quantitative assessment of large-scale surface temperature changes prior to about A.D. 1600 lower our confidence in this conclusion compared to the high level of confidence we place in the Little Ice Age cooling and 20th century warming. Even less confidence can be placed in the original conclusions by Mann et al. (1999) that “the 1990s are likely the warmest decade, and 1998 the warmest year, in at least a millennium” because the uncertainties inherent in temperature reconstructions for individual years and decades are larger than those for longer time periods and because not all of the available proxies record temperature information on such short timescales.
Surface temperature reconstructions for periods prior to the industrial era are only one of multiple lines of evidence supporting the conclusion that climatic warming is occurring in response to human activities, and they are not the primary evidence.
Surface temperature reconstructions also provide a useful source of information about the variability and sensitivity of the climate system. To within existing uncertainties, climate model simulations show that the estimated temperature variations during the two millennia prior to the Industrial Revolution can be explained plausibly by estimated variations in solar radiation and volcanic activity during the same period.
Large-scale surface temperature reconstructions have the potential to further improve our knowledge of temperature variations over the last 2,000 years, particularly if additional proxy evidence can be identified and obtained from areas where the coverage is relatively sparse and for time periods before A.D. 1600 and especially before A.D. 900. Furthermore, it would be helpful to update proxy records that were collected decades ago, in order to develop more reliable calibrations with the instrumental record. Improving access to data used in publications would also increase confidence in the results of large-scale surface temperature reconstructions both inside and outside the scientific community. New analytical methods, or more careful use of existing ones, may also help circumvent some of the existing limitations associated with surface temperature reconstructions based on multiple proxies. Finally, because some of the most important potential consequences of climate change are linked to changes in regional circulation patterns, hurricane activity, and the frequency and intensity of droughts and floods, regional and large-scale reconstructions of changes in other climatic variables, such as precipitation, over the last 2,000 years would provide a valuable complement to those made for temperature.