Attribution of observed changes to causes

Causes of changes to different aspects of the climate system are attributed to human and/or natural influences.

Observations contain information about how climate has varied. Climate models provide the facility to investigate the impact of different influences on climate, including both anthropogenic and natural factors, and to determine the level of variability that would still exist in the climate system even if these did not change.

In this area of work, observations, climate models and advanced statistical methods are brought together with the aim of determining if the changes that are observed in the climate system can be attributed to natural or anthropogenic causes, or both. The result is a robust statistical assessment of whether anthropogenic influences on our climate can be detected and attributed given our current knowledge.

Key aims

  • Attribute changes in climate to their cause.
  • Provide advice to government, the media and others.

Current activities

  • Implementation of sophisticated statistical techniques to assess the contribution of different forcings to climate change.
  • Changes in the likelihood of high-impact extreme events.
  • Influence of uncertainty in temperature records on detection and attribution results.
  • Impact of black carbon on historic temperature variations.
  • Application of optimal fingerprinting to study changes in climatic extremes and impacts of climate change.
  • Attribution of regional changes and multi-model analyses.
  • Production of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report/Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 (CMIP5) HadGEM2 Earth-System model simulations for detection and attribution studies.

Last updated: 14 December 2010