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Keywords:

  • 20th century;
  • CMIP3 climate models;
  • HadCRUT3;
  • surface temperature

[1] In this paper, we breakdown the temperature response of coupled ocean-atmosphere climate models into components due to radiative forcing, climate feedback, and heat storage and transport to understand how well climate models reproduce the observed 20th century temperature record. Despite large differences between models' feedback strength, they generally reproduce the temperature response well but for different reasons in each model. We show that the differences in forcing and heat storage and transport give rise to a considerable part of the intermodel variability in global, Arctic, and tropical mean temperature responses over the 20th century. Projected future warming trends are much more dependent on a model's feedback strength, suggesting that constraining future climate change by weighting these models on the basis of their 20th century reproductive skill is not possible. We find that tropical 20th century warming is too large and Arctic amplification is unrealistically low in the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory CM2.1, Meteorological Research Institute CGCM232a, and MIROC3.2(hires) models because of unrealistic forcing distributions. The Arctic amplification in both National Center for Atmospheric Research models is unrealistically high because of high feedback contributions in the Arctic compared to the tropics. Few models reproduce the strong observed warming trend from 1918 to 1940. The simulated trend is too low, particularly in the tropics, even allowing for internal variability, suggesting there is too little positive forcing or too much negative forcing in the models at this time. Over the whole of the 20th century, the feedback strength is likely to be underestimated by the multimodel mean.