Quantifying Uncertainties in Climate System Properties with the Use of Recent Climate Observations

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Science  04 Jan 2002:
Vol. 295, Issue 5552, pp. 113-117
DOI: 10.1126/science.1064419

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We derive joint probability density distributions for three key uncertain properties of the climate system, using an optimal fingerprinting approach to compare simulations of an intermediate complexity climate model with three distinct diagnostics of recent climate observations. On the basis of the marginal probability distributions, the 5 to 95% confidence intervals are 1.4 to 7.7 kelvin for climate sensitivity and −0.30 to −0.95 watt per square meter for the net aerosol forcing. The oceanic heat uptake is not well constrained, but ocean temperature observations do help to constrain climate sensitivity. The uncertainty in the net aerosol forcing is much smaller than the uncertainty range for the indirect aerosol forcing alone given in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Third Assessment Report.

  • * To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: ceforest{at}

  • Present address: Department of Public Policy, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.

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