Climate attribution

Climate attribution is a scientific process for establishing the principal causes or physical explanation for observed climate conditions and phenomena. This includes attribution of the causes for observed climate variations that may not be unusual in a statistical sense but for which great public interest exists because they produce profound societal impacts. Climate attribution is most frequently associated with the process of explaining a detected change.[1]



There are numerous mechanisms that may produce climate variations or change including external forcing, anthropogenic forcing, and internal mechanisms. External forcing contains both natural and anthropogenic sources such as solar variability and volcanic eruptions. Anthropogenic forcing stem are from changing concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols, and land cover use produced by human activities. Internal mechanisms within the climate system can also produce climate variations through processes that are due primarily to interactions within the atmosphere as well as those that involve coupling of the atmosphere with various components of the climate system. Climate variability due to purely internal mechanisms is often called internal variability.[1]


According to the IPCC Third Assessment Report, the attribution requirements for a detected change are:[1]

  1. a demonstrated consistency with a combination of anthropogenic and natural external forcings
  2. an inconsistency with "alternative, physically plausible explanations of recent climate change that exclude important elements of the given combination of forcings."

For attribution to be established, the relationship between the observed climate state and the proposed causal mechanism needs to be demonstrated, and alternative explanations need to be determined as unlikely. In the case of attributing the cause of a climate condition to internal variations, for example, due to El Niño-related tropical east Pacific sea surface conditions, the influence of alternative modes of internal climate variability also must be assessed. Before attributing a climate condition to anthropogenic forcing, it is important to determine that the climate condition was unlikely to have resulted from natural external forcing or internal variations alone.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d "NOAA Climate Attribution What is Attribution?". U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Earth System Research Laboratory, Physical Sciences Division. NOAA. Retrieved 18 October 2010. 

This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "NOAA Climate Attribution What is Attribution?". U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Earth System Research Laboratory, Physical Sciences Division. NOAA. 

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