2011 Updates to model-data comparisons

Foster and Rahmstorf (2011) showed nicely that if you account for some of the obvious factors affecting the global mean temperature (such as El Niños/La Niñas, volcanoes etc.) there is a strong and continuing trend upwards. An update to that analysis using the latest data is available here – and shows the same continuing trend:

There will soon be a few variations on these results. Notably, we are still awaiting the update of the HadCRUT (HadCRUT4) product to incorporate the new HadSST3 dataset and the upcoming CRUTEM4 data which incorporates more high latitude data (Jones et al, 2012). These two changes will impact the 1940s-1950s temperatures, the earliest parts of the record, the last decade, and will likely affect the annual rankings (and yes, I know that this is not particularly significant, but people seem to care).

Ocean Heat Content

Figure 2 is the comparison of the ocean heat content (OHC) changes in the models compared to the latest data from NODC. As before, I don’t have the post-2003 AR4 model output, so I have extrapolated the ensemble mean to 2012 (understanding that this is not ideal). New this year, are the OHC changes down to 2000m, as well as the usual top-700m record, which NODC has started to produce. For better comparisons, I have plotted the ocean model results from 0-750m and for the whole ocean. All curves are baselined to the period 1975-1989.

I’ve left off the data from the Lyman et al (2010) paper for clarity, but note that there is some structural uncertainty in the OHC observations. Similarly, different models have different changes, and the other GISS model from AR4 (GISS-EH) had slightly less heat uptake than the model shown here.

Update (May 2012): The figure has been corrected for an error in the model data scaling. The original image can still be seen here.

As can be seen the long term trends in the models match those in the data, but the short-term fluctuations are both noisy and imprecise [Update: with the correction in the graph, this is less accurate a description. The extrapolations of the ensemble give OHC changes to 2011 that range from slightly greater than the observations, to quite a bit larger]. As an aside, there are a number of comparisons floating around using only the post 2003 data to compare to the models. These are often baselined in such a way as to exaggerate the model data discrepancy (basically by picking a near-maximum and then drawing the linear trend in the models from that peak). This falls into the common trap of assuming that short term trends are predictive of long-term trends – they just aren’t (There is a nice explanation of the error here).

Summer sea ice changes

Sea ice changes this year were dramatic, with the Arctic September minimum reaching record (or near record) values (depending on the data product). Updating the Stroeve et al, 2007 analysis (courtesy of Marika Holland) using the NSIDC data we can see that the Arctic continues to melt faster than any of the AR4/CMIP3 models predicted.

This may not be true for the CMIP5 simulations – but we’ll have a specific post on that another time.

Hansen et al, 1988

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  1. G. Foster, and S. Rahmstorf, "Global temperature evolution 1979–2010", Environ. Res. Lett., vol. 6, pp. 044022, 2011. http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/6/4/044022
  2. P.D. Jones, D.H. Lister, T.J. Osborn, C. Harpham, M. Salmon, and C.P. Morice, "Hemispheric and large-scale land-surface air temperature variations: An extensive revision and an update to 2010", J. Geophys. Res., vol. 117, 2012. http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2011JD017139