Climate Dynamics

, Volume 46, Issue 5–6, pp 1387–1396 | Cite as

Implications of recent multimodel attribution studies for climate sensitivity

  • Nicholas LewisEmail author


Equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) is inferred from estimates of instrumental-period warming attributable solely to greenhouse gases (AW), as derived in two recent multi-model detection and attribution (D&A) studies that apply optimal fingerprint methods with high spatial resolution to 3D global climate model simulations. This approach minimises the key uncertainty regarding aerosol forcing without relying on low-dimensional models. The “observed” AW distributions from the D&A studies together with an observationally-based estimate of effective planetary heat capacity (EHC) are applied as observational constraints in (AW, EHC) space. By varying two key parameters—ECS and effective ocean diffusivity—in an energy balance model forced solely by greenhouse gases, an invertible map from the bivariate model parameter space to (AW, EHC) space is generated. Inversion of the constrained (AW, EHC) space through a transformation of variables allows unique recovery of the observationally-constrained joint distribution for the two model parameters, from which the marginal distribution of ECS can readily be derived. The method is extended to provide estimated distributions for transient climate response (TCR). The AW distributions from the two D&A studies produce almost identical results. Combining the two sets of results provides best estimates (5–95 % ranges) of 1.66 (0.7–3.2) K for ECS and 1.37 (0.65–2.2) K for TCR, in line with those from several recent studies based on observed warming from all causes but with tighter uncertainty ranges than for some of those studies. Almost identical results are obtained from application of an alternative profile likelihood statistical methodology.


Climate sensitivity Transient climate response Effective ocean diffusivity attributable warming AR5 Profile likelihood 



I thank Gregory Johnson for supplying the data underlying Box 3.1, Fig. 1 of AR5, Gareth Jones for supplying numerical results and other information relating to Jones et al. (2013), and Judith Curry, Jonathan Jones and Paul Kirwan and two reviewers for helpful comments that significantly improved the manuscript.

Supplementary material

382_2015_2653_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (276 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 276 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.BathUK

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