2012 Updates to model-observation comparisons

Sea ice changes this year were again very dramatic, with the Arctic September minimum destroying the previous records in all the data products. Updating the Stroeve et al. (2007)(pdf) 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 is no longer so true for the CMIP5 models, but those comparisons will need to wait for another day (Stroeve et al, 2012).

Hansen et al, 1988

Finally, we update the Hansen et al (1988) (doi) comparisons. Note that the old GISS model had a climate sensitivity that was a little higher (4.2ºC for a doubling of CO2) than the best estimate (~3ºC) and as stated in previous years, the actual forcings that occurred are not the same as those used in the different scenarios. We noted in 2007, that Scenario B was running a little high compared with the forcings growth (by about 10%) using estimated forcings up to 2003 (Scenario A was significantly higher, and Scenario C was lower), and we see no need to amend that conclusion now.

Correction (02/11/12): Graph updated using calendar year mean HadCRUT4 data instead of meteorological year mean.

The trends for the period 1984 to 2012 (the 1984 date chosen because that is when these projections started), scenario B has a trend of 0.29+/-0.04ºC/dec (95% uncertainties, no correction for auto-correlation). For the GISTEMP and HadCRUT4, the trends are 0.18 and 0.17+/-0.04ºC/dec respectively. For reference, the trends in the CMIP3 models for the same period have a range 0.21+/-0.16 ºC/dec (95%).

As discussed in Hargreaves (2010), while this simulation was not perfect, it has shown skill in that it has out-performed any reasonable naive hypothesis that people put forward in 1988 (the most obvious being a forecast of no-change). However, concluding much more than this requires an assessment of how far off the forcings were in scenario B. That needs a good estimate of the aerosol trends, and these remain uncertain. This should be explored more thoroughly, and I will try and get to that at some point.


The conclusion is the same as in each of the past few years; the models are on the low side of some changes, and on the high side of others, but despite short-term ups and downs, global warming continues much as predicted.

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  1. J. Stroeve, M.M. Holland, W. Meier, T. Scambos, and M. Serreze, "Arctic sea ice decline: Faster than forecast", Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 34, 2007. http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2007GL029703
  2. J.C. Stroeve, V. Kattsov, A. Barrett, M. Serreze, T. Pavlova, M. Holland, and W.N. Meier, "Trends in Arctic sea ice extent from CMIP5, CMIP3 and observations", Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 39, pp. n/a-n/a, 2012. http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/2012GL052676
  3. J. Hansen, I. Fung, A. Lacis, D. Rind, S. Lebedeff, R. Ruedy, G. Russell, and P. Stone, "Global climate changes as forecast by Goddard Institute for Space Studies three-dimensional model", J. Geophys. Res., vol. 93, pp. 9341, 1988. http://dx.doi.org/10.1029/JD093iD08p09341
  4. J.C. Hargreaves, "Skill and uncertainty in climate models", Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, vol. 1, pp. 556-564, 2010. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/wcc.58

152 comments on this post.
  1. WebHubTelescope:

    Indeed, the perceived short time constant for CO2 residence time has even tripped up Freeman Dyson.These diffusional processes are not damped exponentials, even though they appear that way initially. The fact that Dyson didn’t pick up on this shows how important concensus science is


    This is my question, please. Would you mind to reply, please?
    Earth Systems Models (ESMs) have become more sophisticated but a lot more work needs to be done. What in your view should be the model development priorities of the ESM community in the coming years?