Use of models in detection and attribution of climate change

Gabriele Hegerl, Francis Zwiers

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

Abstract

Most detection and attribution studies use climate models to determine both the expected 'fingerprint' of climate change and the uncertainty in the estimated magnitude of this fingerprint in observations, given the climate variability. This review discusses the role of models in detection and attribution, the associated uncertainties, and the robustness of results. Studies that use observations only make substantial assumptions to separate the components of observed changes due to radiative forcing from those due to internal climate variability. Results from observation-only studies are broadly consistent with those from fingerprint studies. Fingerprint studies evaluate the extent to which patterns of response to external forcing (fingerprints) from climate model simulations explain observed climate change in observations. Fingerprints are based on climate models of various complexities, from energy balance models to full earth system models. Statistical approaches range from simple comparisons of observations with model simulations to multi-regression methods that estimate the contribution of several forcings to observed change using a noise-reducing metric. Multi-model methods can address model uncertainties to some extent and we discuss how remaining uncertainties can be overcome. The increasing focus on detecting and attributing regional climate change and impacts presents both opportunities and challenges. Challenges arise because internal variability is larger on smaller scales, and regionally important forcings, such as from aerosols or land-use change, are often uncertain. Nevertheless, if regional climate change can be linked to external forcing, the results can be used to provide constraints on regional climate projections. (C) 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. WIREs Clim Change 2011 2 570-591 DOI: 10.1002/wcc.121

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)570-591
Number of pages22
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change
Volume2
Issue number4
Early online date26 May 2011
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jul 2011

Keywords

  • MEAN SURFACE-TEMPERATURE
  • WESTERN UNITED-STATES
  • GREENHOUSE-GAS
  • REGIONAL-SCALE
  • PRECIPITATION TRENDS
  • LAND PRECIPITATION
  • FINGERPRINT METHOD
  • AIR-TEMPERATURE
  • COUPLED MODELS
  • DATA SET

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