PerspectiveClimate Change

Using the Past to Predict the Future?

Science  09 Dec 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6061, pp. 1360-1361
DOI: 10.1126/science.1214828

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Predictions of future climate change are subject to considerable uncertainty, for two main reasons: Future factors that may influence climate—such as emissions of greenhouse gases, volcanic eruptions, and changing solar activity—are uncertain; and knowledge of how strongly the climate system responds to external influences, particularly increases in greenhouse gases, is incomplete. One way to summarize this latter type of uncertainty is by estimating the equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS), which is defined as the equilibrium response of global surface temperature to a doubling of the atmospheric CO2 concentration. On page 1385 of this issue, Schmittner et al. (1) report that the use of spatially more complete paleoclimate data for the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) shows promise for narrowing the ECS uncertainty ranges relative to previous estimates.