, Volume 40, Issue 11-12, pp 2937-2972

Probabilistic projections of transient climate change

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Abstract

This paper describes a Bayesian methodology for prediction of multivariate probability distribution functions (PDFs) for transient regional climate change. The approach is based upon PDFs for the equilibrium response to doubled carbon dioxide, derived from a comprehensive sampling of uncertainties in modelling of surface and atmospheric processes, and constrained by multiannual mean observations of recent climate. These PDFs are sampled and scaled by global mean temperature predicted by a Simple Climate Model (SCM), in order to emulate corresponding transient responses. The sampled projections are then reweighted, based upon the likelihood that they correctly replicate observed historical changes in surface temperature, and combined to provide PDFs for 20 year averages of regional temperature and precipitation changes to the end of the twenty-first century, for the A1B emissions scenario. The PDFs also account for modelling uncertainties associated with aerosol forcing, ocean heat uptake and the terrestrial carbon cycle, sampled using SCM configurations calibrated to the response of perturbed physics ensembles generated using the Hadley Centre climate model HadCM3, and other international climate model simulations. Weighting the projections using observational metrics of recent mean climate is found to be as effective at constraining the future transient response as metrics based on historical trends. The spread in global temperature response due to modelling uncertainty in the carbon cycle feedbacks is determined to be about 65–80 % of the spread arising from uncertainties in modelling atmospheric, oceanic and aerosol processes of the climate system. Early twenty-first century aerosol forcing is found to be extremely unlikely to be less than −1.7 W m−2. Our technique provides a rigorous and formal method of combining several lines of evidence used in the previous IPCC expert assessment of the Transient Climate Response. The 10th, 50th and 90th percentiles of our observationally constrained PDF for the Transient Climate Response are 1.6, 2.0 and 2.4 °C respectively, compared with the 10–90 % range of 1.0–3.0 °C assessed by the IPCC.