Researching climate change is a lot like solving a crime – there are a lot of suspects. Is it caused by volcanoes? Solar radiation? Or human activities? Scientists use a technique called fingerprinting to identify the climate culprit.

Hand in clouds

Santer: “Just as when you look at fingerprints on your fingers and use them as distinctive markers of an individual, one can look at the climate equivalent of that.”

That’s Ben Santer, a climate scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. He explains that each factor that affects the climate does so in a very unique way.

Scientists can measure things like the rate of global warming, the molecular weight of different kinds of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, or how much temperatures rise in winter compared to summer. Then they look for patterns.

Ben Santer
Ben Santer

Santer: “And when you begin looking at that pattern and maybe also incorporate information about how the pattern changes, as a function of time, you have the opportunity to really discriminate between different causes of climate change.”

Santer and other scientists have examined these fingerprints thoroughly and have confirmed that human activities are causing global warming.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Copyright protected.

More Resources
Climate Fingerprinter (Profile: Benjamin Santer, Lawrence Livermore Laboratory)
Human fingerprints visible in atmospheric changes
A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems

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