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On mismatches between models and observations

Filed under: — gavin @ 13 September 2013

It is a truism that all models are wrong. Just as no map can capture the real landscape and no portrait the true self, numerical models by necessity have to contain approximations to the complexity of the real world and so can never be perfect replications of reality. Similarly, any specific observations are only partial reflections of what is actually happening and have multiple sources of error. It is therefore to be expected that there will be discrepancies between models and observations. However, why these arise and what one should conclude from them are interesting and more subtle than most people realise. Indeed, such discrepancies are the classic way we learn something new – and it often isn’t what people first thought of.
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The answer is blowing in the wind: The warming went into the deep end

There has been an unusual surge of interest in the climate sensitivity based on the last decade’s worth of temperature measurements, and a lengthy story in the Economist tries to argue that the climate sensitivity may be lower than previously estimated. I think its conclusion is somewhat misguided because it missed some important pieces of information (also see skepticalscience’s take on this story here).

The ocean heat content and the global mean sea level height have marched on.

While the Economist referred to some unpublished work, it missed a new paper by Balmaseda et al. (2013) which provides a more in-depth insight. Balmaseda et al suggest that the recent years may not have much effect on the climate sensitivity after all, and according to their analysis, it is the winds blowing over the oceans that may be responsible for the ‘slow-down’ presented in the Economist.

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  1. M.A. Balmaseda, K.E. Trenberth, and E. Källén, "Distinctive climate signals in reanalysis of global ocean heat content", Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 40, pp. 1754-1759, 2013.

Ice hockey

Eric Steig

It is well known that ice shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula have collapsed on several occasions in the last couple of decades, that ice shelves in West Antarctica are thinning rapidly, and that the large outlet glaciers that drain the West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS) are accelerating. The rapid drainage of the WAIS into the ocean is a major contributor to sea level rise (around 10% of the total, at the moment).

All of these observations match the response, predicted in the late 1970s by glaciologist John Mercer, of the Antarctic to anthropogenic global warming. As such, they are frequently taken as harbingers of greater future sea level rise to come. Are they?

Two papers published this week in Nature Geoscience provide new information that helps to address this question. One of the studies (led by me) says “probably”, while another (Abram et al.) gives a more definitive “yes”. More »

Urban Heat Islands and U.S. Temperature Trends

Filed under: — group @ 13 February 2013

Guest Commentary by Zeke Hausfather and Matthew Menne (NOAA)

The impact of urban heat islands (UHI) on temperature trends has long been a contentious area, with some studies finding no effect of urbanization on large-scale temperature trend and others finding large effects in certain regions. The issue has reached particular prominence on the blogs, with some claiming that the majority of the warming in the U.S. (or even the world) over the past century can be attributed to urbanization. We therefore set out to undertake a thorough examination of UHI in the Conterminous United States (CONUS), examining multiple ‘urban’ proxies, different methods of analysis, and temperature series with differing degrees of homogenization and urban-specific corrections (e.g. the GISTEMP nightlight method; Hansen et al, 2010). The paper reporting our results has just been published in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
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  1. D.E. Parker, "Climate: Large-scale warming is not urban", Nature, vol. 432, pp. 290-290, 2004.
  2. X. Yang, Y. Hou, and B. Chen, "Observed surface warming induced by urbanization in east China", J. Geophys. Res., vol. 116, 2011.
  3. J. Hansen, R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, "GLOBAL SURFACE TEMPERATURE CHANGE", Rev. Geophys., vol. 48, 2010.

2012 Updates to model-observation comparisons

Time for the 2012 updates!

As has become a habit (2009, 2010, 2011), here is a brief overview and update of some of the most discussed model/observation comparisons, updated to include 2012. I include comparisons of surface temperatures, sea ice and ocean heat content to the CMIP3 and Hansen et al (1988) simulations.
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