Of the two dozen or so global atmosphere–ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs), many share parameterizations, components or numerical schemes, and several are developed by the same institutions. Thus it is natural to suspect that some of the AOGCMs have correlated error patterns. Here we present a local eigenvalue analysis for the AOGCM errors based on statistically quantified correlation matrices for these errors. Our statistical method enables us to assess the significance of the result based on the simulated data under the assumption that all AOGCMs are independent. The result reveals interesting local features of the dependence structure of AOGCM errors. At least for the variable and the timescale considered here, the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project phase 3 (CMIP3) model archive cannot be treated as a collection of independent models. We use multidimensional scaling to visualize the similarity of AOGCMs and all-subsets regression to provide subsets of AOGCMs that are the best approximation to the variation among the full set of models.