PerspectiveClimate Change

Simplicity amid Complexity

Science  14 Mar 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6176, pp. 1206-1207
DOI: 10.1126/science.1248447

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We live in interesting times as we watch diverse effects of human activities on Earth's climate emerge from natural variability. In predicting the outcome of this evolving inadvertent experiment, climate science faces many challenges, some of which have been outlined in this series of Science Perspectives (16): reducing the uncertainty in climate sensitivity; explaining the recent slowdown in the rate of warming and its implications for understanding internal variability; uncovering the factors that control how and where the land will become drier as it warms; quantifying the cooling due to anthropogenic aerosols; explaining the curious evolution of atmospheric methane; and predicting changes in extreme weather. In addition to these challenges, the turbulent and chaotic atmospheric and oceanic flows seemingly limit predictability on various time scales. Is the climate system just too complex for useful prediction?