Prospects for decadal climate prediction

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Abstract

During the last decade, global surface temperatures did not increase as rapidly as in the preceding decades. Although relatively small compared to the observed centennial scale global warming, it has renewed interest in understanding and even predicting climate on time scales of decades, and sparked a community initiative on near-term prediction that will feature in the fifth intergovernmental panel on climate change assessment report. Decadal prediction, however, is in its infancy, with only a few publications existing. This article has three aims. The first is to make the case for decadal prediction. Decadal fluctuations in global climate similar to that of recent decades were observed during the past century. Associated with large regional changes in precipitation and climate extremes, they are of socioeconomic importance. Climate models, which capture some aspects of observed decadal variability, indicate that such variations might be partly predictable. The second aim is to describe the major challenges to skilful decadal climate prediction. One is poor understanding of mechanisms of decadal climate variability, with climate models showing little agreement. Sparse observations in the past, particularly in the ocean, are also a limiting factor to developing and testing of initialization and prediction systems. The third aim is to stress that despite promising initial results, decadal prediction is in a highly experimental stage, and care is needed in interpreting results and utilizing data from such experiments. In the long-term, decadal prediction has the potential to improve models, reduce uncertainties in climate change projections, and be of socioeconomic benefit. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

This article is categorized under:

  • Climate Models and Modeling > Earth System Models
  • Climate Models and Modeling > Knowledge Generation with Models

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