Bayesian estimation of climate sensitivity based on a simple climate model fitted to observations of hemispheric temperatures and global ocean heat content


Magne Aldrin, Norwegian Computing Center, P.O. Box 114 Blindern, N-0314, Oslo, Norway. E-mail:


Predictions of climate change are uncertain mainly because of uncertainties in the emissions of greenhouse gases and how sensitive the climate is to changes in the abundance of the atmospheric constituents. The equilibrium climate sensitivity is defined as the temperature increase because of a doubling of the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere when the climate reaches a new steady state. CO2 is only one out of the several external factors that affect the global temperature, called radiative forcing mechanisms as a collective term. In this paper, we present a model framework for estimating the climate sensitivity. The core of the model is a simple, deterministic climate model based on elementary physical laws such as energy balance. It models yearly hemispheric surface temperature and global ocean heat content as a function of historical radiative forcing. This deterministic model is combined with an empirical, stochastic model and fitted to observations on global temperature and ocean heat content, conditioned on estimates of historical radiative forcing. We use a Bayesian framework, with informative priors on a subset of the parameters and flat priors on the climate sensitivity and the remaining parameters. The model is estimated by Markov Chain Monte Carlo techniques. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.