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What is written on climate change? Which are the important papers?

The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference is being held in Le Bourget, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11. According to the organizing committee, the objective of the conference is to achieve, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, a binding and universal agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.

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Popular science on Climate Change

Important papers on climate change

Climate Brief Ltd asked sientists to name the “most influential” climate change papers of all time. The most popular nomination was a seminal paper by Syukuro Manabe and Richard T Wetherald published in the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences in 1967.

Across all 120,000 papers, the most prolific author was Dr Philippe Ciais from the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat and de l’Environment in Paris. Ciais has 120 published articles on climate change, mostly about the global carbon cycle.

But while the number of publications shows how prolific a researcher is, it doesn’t reveal how influential their work is. To fint that you need to look at citations.

 In an academic paper, scientists will refer to previous work by other scientists in their field.  This may be to set the scene of their research or acknowledge a method or finding that someone else produced. In doing this they refer to, or ‘cite’, other academic papers.

Databases such as Scopus and Web of Science keep track of how many times each paper has been cited by others.

The top paper, with 3,305 citations, is Nature paper, ” A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems“, by Prof Camille Parmesan, at the University of Texas and Plymouth University, and Prof Gary Yohe, from Wesleyan University.

Published in 2003, the paper assessed the global impact of climate change on more than 1,700 biological species, from birds and butterflies to trees and alpine herbs. Parmesan and Yohe found that 279 species are already being affected by climate change, and 74-91% of these changes agree with what is expected from projections.

This paper also featured in the analysis as one of the papers that IPCC authors considered the most influential.

In runners-up spot is an Ecological Modelling paper from 2000, ” Predictive habitat distribution models in ecology“, with 2,746 citations. The paper was written by Prof Antoine Guisan  and Dr Niklaus Zimmerman.

And coming in third  ” Extinction risk from climate change“, again published in Nature, with 2,562 citations. This 2004 paper has 19 authors, but the lead was Dr Chris Thomas from the University of Leeds.

Very recent papers don’t appear in the top 100 because they haven’t been around long enough to accrue citations. The most recent paper in the top 100 was published in 2011.

Looking at the countries where these institutions reside, there is a prominent leaning towards western countries in the northern hemisphere. The US and the UK dominate, with almost three-quarters of the top 100 papers.

You can read the whole article from Carbon Brief's website.