Climate Change Models Spot On, Scientists Say

Although global warming appears to have slowed down in the last 15 years, scientists say that model projections are accurate, once the El Niño-La Niña oscillation is accounted for.

AsianScientist (Jul 30, 2014) – Comparing climate model projections directly with observed global warming trends is comparing ‘apples with oranges’, scientists say. A closer examination of the projection models—taking into account other key influences—reveals the models have in fact performed well in predicting global warming trends.

Their comments, part of a paper published in Nature Climate Change, come after some studies questioned whether climate model projections were overestimating recent temperature trends, given the ‘slowdown’ in the rate of surface warming over the past 15 years.

Winthrop Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, a cognitive scientist from the University of Western Australia (UWA)’s School of Psychology and the University of Bristol who has been modeling the effects of scientific uncertainty in the climate system, said climate model projections represent long-term expectations that reflect temperature trends across centuries.

“Because projections have no information about the sequence and timing of internal climate variability, they average across the ups and downs of short-term trends in response to natural climate variations,” Professor Lewandowsky said. “One of the most important drivers of internal variability is the El Niño-La Niña oscillation, which determines how much heat is taken up by the oceans rather than the atmosphere.

“In order to meaningfully compare model projections against recent observed trends they must therefore be synchronised with natural variability.”

When the authors focused on those models that were synchronised with the El Niño-La Niña phase of the oceans, they found the models were in fact accurately estimating recent temperature trends and were even mirroring the spatial distribution of heat in the oceans.

“The results show that models selected in this way provide good estimates of 15-year trends over the past half century, including for the most recent 15 year period,” lead author Dr. James Risbey said.

Dr. Risbey, a synoptic climatologist from CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere in Tasmania, said 15-year temperature trends sped up and slowed down in response to natural climate variations represented by El Niño or La Niña dominated periods.

“The preference for El Niño or La Niña periods in the climate model projections is not synchronised between models and the real world,” he said. “This means that any particular model is not expected to give the same 15-year trend as observations in any given 15-year period.

“Thus, comparing model projections directly with observed trends is comparing ‘apples with oranges’.”

The article can be found at: Risbey et al. (2014) Well-estimated Global Surface Warming in Climate Projections Selected for ENSO Phase.


Source: University of Western Australia; Photo: Ted Eytan/Flickr/CC.
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