Dear readers, this article expects you to have reasonable understanding of climate and environment as the topic is quite advanced in its nature. Let us delve into the realm of Climate Models, a crucial aspect in comprehending and forecasting the alterations of our beloved planet, Earth’s climate. These models, like a symphony, simulate the interplay between the atmosphere, ocean, land, and sea ice. They serve as seers, predicting the future changes in temperature, precipitation, sea level and other climate variables.
The Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) offer a glimpse into the future, portraying the potential greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on our climate. The results obtained from diverse climate models, through the lens of RCP scenarios, paint a consistent picture of warming, primarily caused by human actions. Though the projections may carry some degree of uncertainty, the overall trend aligns with observational data and the historical records of our planet’s climate.
There are many different models that have been developed to simulate and understand the Earth’s climate. These models are used to project future changes in temperature, precipitation, sea level, and other climate variables based on different scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions. Let’s look at some of the models first:
|The Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP)||A set of experiments coordinated by the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and the Climate Variability and Predictability (CLIVAR) programme. Provides a standardized framework for evaluating the performance of different climate models, and the results of these experiments are used to make projections of future climate change.|
|The Community Earth System Model (CESM)||A fully-coupled, global climate model that simulates the interactions between the atmosphere, ocean, land, and sea ice. Used to simulate past, present, and future climate, and to understand the causes and consequences of climate change.|
|The Hadley Centre Coupled Model (HadCM3)||A coupled atmosphere-ocean model that is used to simulate past and future climate. One of the most widely used climate models, and it has been used in many studies of future climate change.|
|The Global Climate Model (GCM)||A type of model that simulates the Earth’s climate on a global scale. GCMs are used to make projections of future climate change and to understand the causes and consequences of climate change.|
These models, through their output, give us a glimpse into the future, painting a picture of how the earth may change if we continue on our present trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions. Although these models are not without flaws and there is always an inherent uncertainty in the projections they make, we must remember that they have consistently aligned with the observational data and ancient climate records. It is a testament to their efficacy.
Various governing bodies and scientific groups are regularly evaluating our understanding of climate change and incorporates the findings of these models in their assessments. In this way, we can have confidence in the projections made by these models and use them to guide our actions towards a more sustainable future.
Various climate-related models and their outputs
Let’s understand RCP first before diving into the numbers and projections. RCP stands for “Representative Concentration Pathway” which are scenarios used by scientists to project future greenhouse gas emissions and their potential effects on the climate. The below table, will give you a quick starter:
|RCP8.5||High-emissions scenario, in which greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase rapidly. This results in the highest projected warming and the most severe impacts on the climate.|
|RCP4.5||Medium-emissions scenario, in which emissions peak and then decrease, resulting in less warming and less severe impacts than RCP8.5.|
|RCP2.6||Low-emissions scenario, in which emissions decrease rapidly and reach near-zero by 2100. This results in the least warming and the least severe impacts on the climate.|
Now as we have a basic understanding of RCPs, let’s also understand few more key terminology to understand the below table properly:
- Global Mean Temperature Increase: It refers to the average increase in temperature observed across the globe. This increase is primarily caused by human activities that result in increased emissions of greenhouse gases, which trap more heat in the atmosphere.
- Annual Mean Precipitation Change: It refers to the average change in the amount of precipitation (rain, snow, sleet, etc.) that falls in a given region over a year. This change can be due to several factors, including shifts in atmospheric patterns, changes in temperature, and changes in atmospheric moisture.
- Sea Level Rise: It refers to the increase in the average level of the ocean over time. This rise is primarily caused by two factors: thermal expansion of seawater as it warms, and the melting of land-based ice, such as glaciers and ice sheets. Sea level rise poses significant threats to coastal communities and infrastructure.
Now that we comprehend that each model operates in a distinct RCP scenario, it furnishes us with the Global Mean Temperature Increase, Annual Mean Precipitation Change, and Sea Level Rise. These results are then employed by scientists as a foundation for their arguments concerning the changing climate. Go ahead and review the table below keeping all of this in mind:
|Sea Level Rise|
|CMIP5||RCP8.5||2.6 to 4.8°C||-1% to +5%||0.85 to 3.22 ft|
|CESM||RCP8.5||2.5 to 4.5°C||-1% to +5%||0.66 to 3.94 ft|
|HadCM3||RCP8.5||2.2 to 4.2°C||-1% to +5%||0.66 to 3.22 ft|
|ECHAM6-HAM2||RCP8.5||2.5 to 4.5°C||-10% to +10%||1.31 to 4.26 ft|
|HadGEM2-ES||RCP4.5||1.8 to 2.4°C||-10% to +10%||0.66 to 1.97 ft|
|CCSM4||RCP2.6||1.1 to 1.9°C||-10% to +10%||0.33 to 1.31 ft|
|IPSL-CM5A-LR||RCP8.5||2.6 to 4.8°C||-10% to +10%||0.66 to 2.62 ft|
|MIROC5||RCP4.5||1.8 to 2.4°C||-10% to +10%||0.66 to 1.97 ft|
|GFDL-CM3||RCP2.6||1.1 to 1.9°C||-10% to +10%||0.33 to 1.31 ft|
|MPI-ESM-LR||RCP8.5||2.6 to 4.8°C||-10% to +10%||0.66 to 2.62 ft|
|CanESM2||RCP4.5||1.8 to 2.4||-10% to +10%||0.66 to 1.97 ft|
|FGOALS-g2||RCP2.6||1.1 to 1.9||-10% to +10%||0.33 to 1.31 ft|
|BCC-CSM1.1(m)||RCP8.5||2.6 to 4.8||-10% to +10%||0.66 to 2.62 ft|
|MRI-CGCM3||RCP4.5||1.8 to 2.4||-10% to +10%||0.66 to 1.97 ft|
|GISS-E2-H||RCP2.6||1.1 to 1.9||-10% to +10%||0.33 to 1.31 ft|
|GFDL-ESM2G||RCP8.5||2.6 to 4.8||-10% to +10%||0.66 to 2.62 ft|
|IPSL-CM5B-LR||RCP4.5||1.8 to 2.4||-10% to +10%||0.66 to 1.97 ft|
|MIROC-ESM||RCP2.6||1.1 to 1.9||-10% to +10%||0.33 to 1.31 ft|
Looking at this data, of course for a layman is very difficult to understand and also to make sense of model is considered most accurate among all the models that I have listed above, but remember, the accuracy of a model depends on the specific application and the variables being considered, so each model has its own strengths and weaknesses and they are all based on different assumptions, parameterizations, and resolutions.
However, it is generally considered that the newer models are more accurate than the older ones. All the models that I have listed above are considered to be state-of-the-art models and have been developed by leading research groups around the world. These models have been extensively tested and evaluated against a wide range of observational data and have demonstrated skill in simulating many aspects of the climate system.
Additionally, many governing bodies and scientific groups regularly assesses the performance of climate models and compare them to observational data in their reports. The most recent assessment report, the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), has been published in 2022-2023, providing the most recent evaluation of the models.
In general, no single model can be considered as the “best” or most accurate model, as the accuracy of a model depends on the specific application and the variables being considered. We should always consider the range of uncertainty and the results from multiple models and scenarios when making predictions about future climate change.
Climate models: Who has developed, and the year they were developed
Please note: The models highlighted in this article are constantly evolving and undergoing improvements. Remember that just because they were developed in a certain year, they have not become outdated or obsolete. In fact, they continue to advance and are still utilized to this day.
|Model Name||Developed by||Year Developed|
|ECHAM6-HAM2||Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany||2006|
|HadGEM2-ES||Hadley Centre for Climate Change in the United Kingdom||2010|
|CCSM4||National Center for Atmospheric Research in the United States||2010|
|IPSL-CM5A-LR||Institut Pierre Simon Laplace in France||2010|
|MIROC5||National Institute for Environmental Studies and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology in Japan||2010|
|GFDL-CM3||Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in the United States||2010|
|MPI-ESM-LR||Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany||2010|
|CanESM2||Canadian Centre for Climate Modelling and Analysis||2011|
|FGOALS-g2||Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research of the Chinese Academy of Sciences||2013|
|BCC-CSM1.1(m)||Beijing Climate Center in China||2013|
|MRI-CGCM3||Meteorological Research Institute in Japan||2013|
|GISS-E2-H||Goddard Institute for Space Studies in the United States||2013|
|CMIP5||International Community of Climate Modelers (IPCC, WCRP)||2010|
|CESM||National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the Community Earth System Model (CESM) project||2010|
|HadCM3||Hadley Centre for Climate Change in the United Kingdom||1994|
|GFDL-ESM2G||Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in the United States||2013|
|IPSL-CM5B-LR||Institut Pierre Simon Laplace in France||2013|
|MIROC-ESM||National Institute for Environmental Studies and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology in Japan||2013|
These models have been developed by the leading research groups around the world and have been extensively tested and evaluated against a wide range of observational data.
Climate modeling is a complex field and the models are subject to a certain level of uncertainty. The projections made by these models are not exact predictions but rather estimates based on the current knowledge, assumptions, and scenarios.
Sources to find observational data and records related to climate change
Finding information on climate change can be overwhelming, with numerous sources available online, we’ll highlight some of the top sources for observational data and records related to climate change, including government agencies and research organizations, to help you find the information you may need to review yourself.
|https://www.climate.gov/||The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate website provides access to a wide range of climate data and information, including historical temperature and precipitation records, sea level data, and information on atmospheric composition.|
|https://climate.nasa.gov/||NASA’s Global Climate Change website features a wealth of information on climate change, including satellite data, interactive visualizations, and educational resources.|
|https://www.ipcc.ch/||The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) website provides access to the IPCC’s assessment reports and other information related to climate change. These reports are considered the most comprehensive and authoritative source of information on climate change.|
|https://public.wmo.int/en||The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is another intergovernmental organization that provides information on climate change and weather-related matters.|
|https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/||The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and provides access to a wide range of climate data, including temperature and precipitation records, as well as information on extreme weather events.|
|https://climatedataguide.ucar.edu/||The Climate Data Guide is an online resource provided by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) that helps users find, understand, and use climate data from a variety of sources.|
|https://www.climateexplorer.org/||The Climate Explorer is a web-based tool that allows users to explore historical climate data and create customized maps and graphs.|
Whether you’re a student, researcher, or simply interested in learning more about the changing climate, these sources have a wealth of information to offer.
Closing Note: Climate change & the climate models
Climate change is a pressing issue that requires the attention of scientists, policymakers, and society as a whole. Climate models are powerful tools that allow scientists to better understand the causes and consequences of climate change. These models provide important insights into the future state of the Earth’s climate, allowing us to make informed decisions and take proactive measures to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The accurate and comprehensive understanding of climate change is essential for the survival and well-being of humanity, and the work of scientists in this field is crucial for securing a sustainable future.
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