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WIREs Clim Change
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Skill and uncertainty in climate models

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Analyses of skill are widely used for assessing weather predictions, but the time scale and lack of validation data mean that it is not generally possible to investigate the predictive skill of today's climate models on the multidecadal time scale. The predictions made with early climate models can, however, be analyzed, and here we show that one such forecast did have skill. It seems reasonable to expect that predictions based on today's more advanced models will be at least as skillful. In general, assessments of predictions based on today's climate models should use Bayesian methods, in which the inevitable subjective decisions are made explicit. For the AR4, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommended the Bayesian paradigm for making estimates of uncertainty and probabilistic statements, and here we analyze the way in which uncertainty was actually addressed in the report. Analysis of the ensemble of general circulation models (GCMs) used in the last IPCC report suggests there is little evidence to support the popular notion that the multimodel ensemble is underdispersive, which would imply that the spread of the ensemble may be a reasonable starting point for estimating uncertainty. It is important that the field of uncertainty estimation is developed in order that the best use is made of current scientific knowledge in making predictions of future climate. At the same time, it is only by better understanding the processes and inclusion of these processes in the models, the best estimates of future climate will be closer to the truth. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Figure 1.

Forecast of Hansen et al.2 (blue line) evaluated against observational data (black). Twenty‐year trends of forecast and observations are indicated with thick lines, as is the null hypothesis of zero trend (red).

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