2012 Updates to model-observation comparisons

  • Short term (15 years or less) trends in global temperature are not usefully predictable as a function of current forcings. This means you can’t use such short periods to ‘prove’ that global warming has or hasn’t stopped, or that we are really cooling despite this being the warmest decade in centuries. We discussed this more extensively here.
  • The CMIP3 model simulations were an ‘ensemble of opportunity’ and vary substantially among themselves with the forcings imposed, the magnitude of the internal variability and of course, the sensitivity. Thus while they do span a large range of possible situations, the average of these simulations is not ‘truth’.
  • The model simulations use observed forcings up until 2000 (or 2003 in a couple of cases) and use a business-as-usual scenario subsequently (A1B). The models are not tuned to temperature trends pre-2000.
  • Differences between the temperature anomaly products is related to: different selections of input data, different methods for assessing urban heating effects, and (most important) different methodologies for estimating temperatures in data-poor regions like the Arctic. GISTEMP assumes that the Arctic is warming as fast as the stations around the Arctic, while HadCRUT4 and NCDC assume the Arctic is warming as fast as the global mean. The former assumption is more in line with the sea ice results and independent measures from buoys and the reanalysis products.
  • Model-data comparisons are best when the metric being compared is calculated the same way in both the models and data. In the comparisons here, that isn’t quite true (mainly related to spatial coverage), and so this adds a little extra structural uncertainty to any conclusions one might draw.

Given the importance of ENSO to the year to year variability, removing this effect can help reveal the underlying trends. The update to the Foster and Rahmstorf (2011) study using the the latest data (courtesy of Tamino) (and a couple of minor changes to procedure) shows the same continuing trend:

Similarly, Rahmstorf et al. (2012) showed that these adjusted data agree well with the projections of the IPCC 3rd (2001) and 4th (2007) assessment reports.

Ocean Heat Content

Figure 3 is the comparison of the upper level (top 700m) ocean heat content (OHC) changes in the models compared to the latest data from NODC and PMEL (Lyman et al (2010) ,doi). I only plot the models up to 2003 (since I don’t have the later output). All curves are baselined to the period 1975-1989.

This comparison is less than ideal for a number of reasons. It doesn’t show the structural uncertainty in the models (different models have different changes, and the other GISS model from CMIP3 (GISS-EH) had slightly less heat uptake than the model shown here). Neither can we assess the importance of the apparent reduction in trend in top 700m OHC growth in the 2000s (since we don’t have a long time series of the deeper OHC numbers). If the models were to be simply extrapolated, they would lie above the observations, but given the slight reduction in solar, uncertain changes in aerosols or deeper OHC over this period, I am no longer comfortable with such a simple extrapolation. Analysis of the CMIP5 models (which will come at some point!) will be a better apples-to-apples comparison since they go up to 2012 with ‘observed’ forcings. Nonetheless, the long term trends in the models match those in the data, but the short-term fluctuations are both noisy and imprecise.

Summer sea ice changes

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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. S. Rahmstorf, G. Foster, and A. Cazenave, "Comparing climate projections to observations up to 2011", Environ. Res. Lett., vol. 7, pp. 044035, 2012. http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/7/4/044035
  3. J.M. Lyman, S.A. Good, V.V. Gouretski, M. Ishii, G.C. Johnson, M.D. Palmer, D.M. Smith, and J.K. Willis, "Robust warming of the global upper ocean", Nature, vol. 465, pp. 334-337, 2010. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature09043