Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s


Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from the Arctic to Antarctica, was centred around 1987, and was sparked by the El Chichón volcanic eruption in Mexico five years earlier.

The ‘regime shift’ was centred around 1987, and was sparked by the El Chichón volcanic eruption in Mexico five years earlier.

© By National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), via Wikimedia Commons.

Their study, published in Global Change Biology, documents a range of associated events caused by the shift, from a 60% increase in winter river flow into the Baltic Sea to a 400% increase in the average duration of wildfires in the Western United States.

“We suggest that climate change is not a gradual process, but one subject to sudden increases, with the 1980s shift representing the largest in an estimated 1,000 years”, said co-author Rita Adrian, Professor at the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin (Germany).

Philip C. Reid, Professor of Oceanography at Plymouth University’s Marine Institute (UK), and Senior Research Fellow at the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science (UK), is the lead author of the report. “We demonstrate, based on 72 long time series, that a major change took place in the world centred on 1987 that involved a step change and move to a new regime in a wide range of Earth systems”, he said.

“Our work contradicts the perceived view that major volcanic eruptions just lead to a cooling of the world. In the case of the regime shift it looks as if global warming has reached a tipping point where the cooling that follows such eruptions rebounds with a rapid rise in temperature in a very short time. The speed of this change has had a pronounced effect on many biological, physical and chemical systems throughout the world, but is especially evident in the Northern temperate zone and Arctic.”

Over the course of three years, the scientists - drawing upon a range of climate models, using data from nearly 6,500 meteorological stations, and consulting innumerable scientists and their studies round the world - found evidence of the shift across a wide range of biophysical indicators, such as the temperature and salinity of the oceans, the pH level of rivers, the timing of land events, including the behaviour of plants and birds, the amount of ice and snow in the cryosphere (the frozen world), and wind speed changes.

They detected a marked decline in the growth rate of CO2 in the atmosphere after the regime shift, coinciding with a sudden growth in land and ocean carbon sinks – such as new vegetation spreading into polar areas previously under ice and snow. And they found that the annual timing of the regime shift appeared to have moved regionally around the world from west to east, starting with South America in 1984, North America (1985), North Atlantic (1986), Europe (1987), and Asia (1988).

These dates coincide with significant shifts to an earlier flowering date for cherry trees around the Earth in Washington DC, Switzerland, and Japan and coincided with the first evidence of the extinction of amphibians linked to global warming, such as the harlequin frog and golden toad in Central and South America.

Second author Renata E. Hari, Eawag, Dübendorf, Switzerland, said: “The 1980s regime shift may be the beginning of the acceleration of the warming shown by the IPCC. It is an example of the unforeseen compounding effects that may occur if unavoidable natural events like major volcanic eruptions interact with anthropogenic warming.”


The full paper is available to download at:


Professor Rita Adrian
Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB), Berlin
Phone: 001 775 200 4231

PR office
Nadja Neumann/Angelina Tittmann
Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB), Berlin
Phone: 0049 (0)30 64181-975/ -631

About IGB:

The Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, IGB, is an independent and interdisciplinary research centre dedicated to the creation, dissemination, and application of knowledge about freshwater ecosystems. Working in close partnership with the scientific community, government agencies, as well as the private sector, guarantees the development of innovative solutions to the most pressing challenges facing freshwater ecosystems and human societies.

Angelina Tittmann | idw - Informationsdienst Wissenschaft

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>