Dr Michael Byrne, a lecturer in earth surface procedures at the college of St Andrews and also a Marie Skłodowska-Curie research other in the Atmospheric, Oceanic and also Planetary Physics team at the university of Oxford

Last year, worldwide temperatures to be 0.95C warmer 보다 the 20th century average. Human task is responsible for approximately 100% of this warming.

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Delving a small deeper into these figures shows that the earth land areas were 1.43C warmer than average, if the seas were 0.77C warmer. This is proof of how the world continents have actually warmed an ext rapidly 보다 its seas over current decades.

This contrast in between land and ocean temperature readjust will strongly form the an international pattern the future warming and also has crucial implications because that humans. We are, after all, a varieties that lot prefers to live on land.

But what cd driver this warming contrast? it’s a deceptively simple question, but one through a much-misunderstood answer. In this guest post, I summary a robust, quantitative concept for the land-ocean warming contrast that has actually only been emerged in recent years.

Heat capacity

Simple physics says that when you put much more heat right into the climate system, land must warm much more quickly 보다 oceans. This is since land has a smaller sized “heat capacity” than water, which way it requirements less heat to progressive its temperature.

The chart listed below shows just how the earth’s land surface (yellow line) has actually warmed an ext rapidly 보다 the s (dark blue) over the observational record.

Amplified warming end land evident in surface temperature documents from NOAA. Chart shows yearly average temperatures because that land (yellow line), s (dark blue) and land and also ocean linked (light blue). All figures relative come 1901-2000. Data native NOAA; graph by Carbon brief using Highcharts.

This effect can also be seen in different parts that the seasonal climate system. Because that example, together the sunlight moves phibìc of the equator during the northern hemisphere spring, its energy rapidly heats India family member to surrounding oceans. This contrast in heating plays a an essential role in the reversal the winds the drives the south Asia monsoon.

Land’s little heat capacity also helps to explain why some continental regions, such as Russia and the main US, deserve to get very hot in summer yet bitterly cold in winter. This is well-known as “continentality”.

Given its main role in the seasonal land-ocean warming contrast, heat capacity is the natural starting point once attempting to describe why continent warm an ext than seas under climate change. However there is a trouble with this explanation.

Warming contrast

In a landmark 1991 paper, meteorologist Syukuro Manabe and his colleagues used very early climate model to compare the transient solution of the climate system to steady increases in CO2 to the irreversible equilibrium response.

In other words, they were comparing the climate while CO2 was raising with the climate once CO2 had stopped rising and also the climate had ultimately stabilised in ~ its new, warmer state.

If the distinction in warm capacities between land and oceans was the decisive factor regulating the warming contrast, we would expect the comparison to disappear in ~ equilibrium as soon as the oceans have had enough time to warm up.

But this is not what Manabe found. Instead, he discovered that the proportion of land to s warming (now recognized as the “amplification factor”) was comparable in both the transient and equilibrium experiments.

This was proof that the land-ocean warming comparison – highlighted in the map listed below of projected warming because that the end of this century – is a basic response come climate change that is not controlled by warm capacity. If warm capacity can not explain amplified land warming in a changing climate, what can?


Climate model projection the the adjust in near-surface temperature by the end of the 21st century (2080-2100) relative to the historical duration (1980-2000). Data from the GFDL-CM4 version under the fossil-fueled, high emissions SSP58.5 scenario; chart by M Byrne.

Beyond warmth capacity

The an initial explanation, at first put front by Manabe, invokes the surface energy balance. This explains the exchange that energy between the earth’s surface and the atmosphere over it.

When atmospheric CO2 concentration increase, radiation into Earth’s surface increases causing temperatures to rise. This is due to the fact that a larger amount of the heat radiated by the Earth’s surface is gift trapped by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

But the extent of this CO2-induced surface warming counts on how much is balanced by localised components that cause cooling – namely, cooling brought about by evaporation and cooling due to the exchange of dry heat between the soil surface and also the air over it. (The atmospheric warming caused by the latter likewise tends to inhibit cloud formation and, thus, can cause further drying of the soil surface.)

Oceans – which have endless water to evaporate – can properly cool us in a warming climate by evaporating much more and much more water with just a little temperature increase. Continents, on the other hand, typically have limited moisture ease of access and so evaporation is constrained.

This method that, over continents, much more of the extra radiation going into the surface ar in a warming climate requirements to it is in dissipated through the exchange of dried heat and also longwave radiative cooling, quite than evapotranspiration. This suggests a larger increase in surface ar temperature contrasted to the easily evaporating oceans.

This “surface power balance” theory for the land-ocean warming contrast has likewise been put forward in more recent studies.

This explanation for enhanced continental warming is intuitive and hints at a crucial role because that land “dryness” in determining the temperature change. Yet it requirements to be sustained by difficult numbers.

An concern with the surface energy balance concept is the it depends on nature of the land surface ar – which room varied, complex and notoriously difficult to simulate – in stimulate to it is in accurately represented in climate models. In particular, quantifying just how evapotranspiration will certainly respond come a transforming climate – the crucial ingredient that the surface energy balance concept – requires understanding of local soil moisture and vegetation and also how this properties themselves adjust with climate. A complicated task.

Moreover, factors in the overlying environment are also important: exactly how will rainfall and winds change? The myriad processes influencing land surface energy balance median that using this structure as a basis for a quantitative theory for the land-ocean warming comparison is challenging. Return the view is conceptually useful, it provides an incomplete knowledge of the physics steering the warming contrast.

A brand-new idea

Rather than surface power balance, atmospheric dynamics – the motion of the atmosphere and also its thermodynamic state – underpin a brand-new understanding that the land-ocean warming comparison that has developed over the critical decade.

In a 2008 paper, Prof Manoj Joshi – then at the Met Office Hadley Centre and also the university of Reading and also now in ~ the college of eastern Anglia – to be the an initial to allude out that dynamical procedures in the atmosphere connect temperature and also humidity end land and ocean regions.

Specifically, he showed that the lapse price – the price of to decrease of temperature with elevation – decreases an ext strongly over ocean than over land as climate warms. This is because the air above the s is, at any moment in time, commonly holding an ext water vapour than the air end land.

These contrasting lapse rate transforms explain the warming contrast: a weaker decrease in floor lapse rate suggests a larger rise in land surface temperature loved one to the ocean.

This system is not necessarily intuitive, however relies on well-established procedures in atmospheric dynamics. Differing lapse rate alters are now accepted as the fundamental driver the the land-ocean warming contrast, an especially at low latitudes (up to around 40N and also 40S). Amplified warming in regions consisting of the Mediterranean are also explained through the very same lapse-rate mechanism.

A quantitative theory

With his 2008 paper, Joshi presented a new theoretical understanding because that the land-ocean warming contrast. But, again, the explanation to be qualitative.

Together v Prof Paul O’Gorman native the Massachusetts academy of Technology, i realised the the lapse rate argument can be extended and developed into a quantitative theory.

The key insight was that although changes in temperature and also humidity end land and also ocean are an extremely different, the atmospheric dynamics constraints established by Joshi suggest that changes in a particular combination of temperature and humidity – specifics the energy included in a package of air at rest, a quantity recognized as moist static energy – are roughly equal. This insight allowed us to derive an equation for the soil temperature change, which we published in 2018.

What our equation mirrors is that the an answer of floor temperature to climate change depends on 2 factors: ocean warming and also how dry the land is in today’s climate.

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The drier the land is, the more it warms. The theory has been verified in climate models and using observational data end the past 40 years. The theory explains why land warming is expected to be specifically severe in dry, arid subtropical areas and likewise explains why loved one humidity end land has been diminish over current decades.