“These results are quite strange”, my colleague told me. He analysed some of the recent climate model results from an experiment known by the cryptic name ‘CMIP5‘. It turned out that the results were ok, but we had made an error when reading and processing the model output. The particular climate model that initially gave the strange results had used a different calendar set-up to the previous models we had examined.
I was disappointed by the recent summary for policymakers (SPM) of the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) assessment report 5, now that I finally got around to read it. Not so much because of the science, but because the way it presented the science.
The report was written by top scientists, so what went wrong?
Do different climate models give different results? And if so, why? The answer to these questions will increase our understanding of the climate models, and potentially the physical phenomena and processes present in the climate system.
We now have many different climate models, many different methods, and get a range of different results. They provide what we call ‘multi-model‘ and ‘multi-method‘ ensembles. But how do we make sense out of all this information?
No doubt, our climate system is complex and messy. Still, we can sometimes make some inferences about it based on well-known physical principles. Indeed, the beauty of physics is that a complex systems can be reduced into simple terms that can be quantified, and the essential aspects understood.
A recent paper by Sloan and Wolfendale (2013) provides an example where they derive a simple conceptual model of how the greenhouse effect works from first principles. They show the story behind the expression saying that a doubling in CO2 should increase the forcing by a factor of 1+log|2|/log|CO2|. I have a fondness for such simple conceptual models (e.g. I’ve made my own attempt posted at arXiv) because they provide a general picture of the essence – of course their precision is limited by their simplicity.
- T. Sloan, and A.W. Wolfendale, "Cosmic rays, solar activity and the climate", Environ. Res. Lett., vol. 8, pp. 045022, 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/8/4/045022
Some will be luckier than others when it comes to climate change. The effects of a climate change on me will depend on where I live. In some regions, changes may not be as noticeable as in others. So what are the impacts in my region?