New climate models forecast a warming surge

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Science  19 Apr 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6437, pp. 222-223
DOI: 10.1126/science.364.6437.222

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  • RE: New climate models forecast a warming surge
    • David T Price, Research Scientist - climate change impacts, Natural Resources Canada

    While the implications of this article are alarming, I think the title is rather misleading. A better one might be: "New climate models may reveal faster warming".

    The story explains that some well-respected GCMs are suggesting that overall "equilbrium climate sensitivity" could be higher than was previously inferred from earlier GCMs. But this does not necessarily imply that warming over the next few decades will suddenly accelerate! Much of the article explains why new model features and parametrizations could be exaggerating sensitivity. If these new GCMs capture observed trends over the recent past as well as earlier GCMs have done, then the "warming surge" is at best a surprise result which is causing the modellers a lot of head-scratching. At this stage, calling it a "forecast" is decidedly premature--and it will lead to accusations of alarmism! Let the modellers get to the bottom of it first, and only when reasonable explanations of higher sensitivity can be found, consider whether they are realistic and hence indicative of things being worse than previously thought.

    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • RE: New climate models forecast a warming surge

    Paul Voosen (News, 19 April 2019, pp. 222-223) informatively reports that at least eight next-generation climate models now predict a warming of 5 C or greater for a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide over preindustrial levels, notably greater than the 2.0-4.5 C range from earlier state-of-the-art climate models. Well over a century ago, in 1896, the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius calculated warming amounts for doubled CO2 that would come to about 5-6 C globally (his results are presented by latitude, in: S. Arrhenius, 1896, Phil. Mag. J. Sci., 41, 251, 237-276). If the new models are correct, Arrhenius’s results from 1896, made without computers or even electronic calculators, might have been better than rather than simply impressively close to the 2.0-4.5 C range obtained with numerous sophisticated modern computer models. Voosen’s article concludes with a quote from a prominent climate modeler saying that “The scary part is these models might be right …” This is a fair statement, but an equally fair statement would reflect with some humility that we really don’t know which of our models is getting the better results, as is clear from earlier in Voosen’s article.

    Competing Interests: None declared.

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