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Comparing models to the satellite datasets

How should one make graphics that appropriately compare models and observations? There are basically two key points (explored in more depth here) – comparisons should be ‘like with like’, and different sources of uncertainty should be clear, whether uncertainties are related to ‘weather’ and/or structural uncertainty in either the observations or the models. There are unfortunately many graphics going around that fail to do this properly, and some prominent ones are associated with satellite temperatures made by John Christy. This post explains exactly why these graphs are misleading and how more honest presentations of the comparison allow for more informed discussions of why and how these records are changing and differ from models.
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Millennia of sea-level change

How has global sea level changed in the past millennia? And how will it change in this century and in the coming millennia? What part do humans play? Several new papers provide new insights.

2500 years of past sea level variations

This week, a paper will appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) with the first global statistical analysis of numerous individual studies of the history of sea level over the last 2500 years (Kopp et al. 2016 – I am one of the authors). Such data on past sea level changes before the start of tide gauge measurements can be obtained from drill cores in coastal sediments. By now there are enough local data curves from different parts of the world to create a global sea level curve.

Let’s right away look at the main result. The new global sea level history looks like this:


Fig. 1 Reconstruction of the global sea-level evolution based on proxy data from different parts of the world. The red line at the end (not included in the paper) illustrates the further global increase since 2000 by 5-6 cm from satellite data. More »


  1. R.E. Kopp, A.C. Kemp, K. Bittermann, B.P. Horton, J.P. Donnelly, W.R. Gehrels, C.C. Hay, J.X. Mitrovica, E.D. Morrow, and S. Rahmstorf, "Temperature-driven global sea-level variability in the Common Era", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 113, pp. E1434-E1441, 2016.

Marvel et al (2015) Part III: Response to Nic Lewis

The first post in this series gave the basic summary of Marvel et al (2015) (henceforth MEA15) and why I think it is an important paper. The second discussed some of the risible immediate media coverage. But there has also been an ‘appraisal’ of the paper by Nic Lewis that has appeared in no fewer than three other climate blogs (you can guess which). This is a response to the more interesting of his points.

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  1. K. Marvel, G.A. Schmidt, R.L. Miller, and L.S. Nazarenko, "Implications for climate sensitivity from the response to individual forcings", Nature Climate Change, vol. 6, pp. 386-389, 2015.

Marvel et al (2015) Part 1: Reconciling estimates of climate sensitivity

This post is related to the substantive results of the new Marvel et al (2015) study. There is a separate post on the media/blog response.

The recent paper by Kate Marvel and others (including me) in Nature Climate Change looks at the different forcings and their climate responses over the historical period in more detail than any previous modeling study. The point of the paper was to apply those results to improve calculations of climate sensitivity from the historical record and see if they can be reconciled with other estimates. But there are some broader issues as well – how scientific anomalies are dealt with and how simulation can be used to improve inferences about the real world. It also shines a spotlight on a particular feature of the IPCC process…

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  1. K. Marvel, G.A. Schmidt, R.L. Miller, and L.S. Nazarenko, "Implications for climate sensitivity from the response to individual forcings", Nature Climate Change, vol. 6, pp. 386-389, 2015.

And the winner is…

Filed under: — group @ 17 November 2015

Remember the forecast of a temporary global cooling which made headlines around the world in 2008? We didn’t think it was reliable and offered a bet. The forecast period is now over: we were right, the forecast was not skillful.

Back around 2007/8, two high-profile papers claimed to produce, for the first time, skilful predictions of decadal climate change, based on new techniques of ocean state initialization in climate models. Both papers made forecasts of the future evolution of global mean and regional temperatures. The first paper, Smith et al. (2007), predicted “that internal variability will partially offset the anthropogenic global warming signal for the next few years. However, climate will continue to warm, with at least half of the years after 2009 predicted to exceed the warmest year currently on record.” The second, Keenlyside et al., (2008), forecast in contrast that “global surface temperature may not increase over the next decade, as natural climate variations in the North Atlantic and tropical Pacific temporarily offset the projected anthropogenic warming.”

This month marks the end of the forecast period for Keenlyside et al and so their forecasts can now be cleanly compared to what actually happened. This is particularly interesting to RealClimate, since we offered a bet to the authors on whether the results would be accurate based on our assessment of their methodology. They ignored our offer but now the time period of the bet has passed, it’s worth checking how it would have gone.

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  1. D.M. Smith, S. Cusack, A.W. Colman, C.K. Folland, G.R. Harris, and J.M. Murphy, "Improved Surface Temperature Prediction for the Coming Decade from a Global Climate Model", Science, vol. 317, pp. 796-799, 2007.
  2. N.S. Keenlyside, M. Latif, J. Jungclaus, L. Kornblueh, and E. Roeckner, "Advancing decadal-scale climate prediction in the North Atlantic sector", Nature, vol. 453, pp. 84-88, 2008.

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