Stochastic climate models Part I. Theory



A stochastic model of climate variability is considered in which slow changes of climate are explained as the integral response to continuous random excitation by short period “weather” disturbances. The coupled ocean-atmosphere-cryosphere-land system is divided into a rapidly varying “weather” system (essentially the atmosphere) and a slowly responding “climate” system (the ocean, cryosphere, land vegetation, etc.). In the usual Statistical Dynamical Model (SDM) only the average transport effects of the rapidly varying weather components are parameterised in the climate system. The resultant prognostic equations are deterministic, and climate variability can normally arise only through variable external conditions. The essential feature of stochastic climate models is that the non-averaged “weather” components are also retained. They appear formally as random forcing terms. The climate system, acting as an integrator of this short-period excitation, exhibits the same random-walk response characteristics as large particles interacting with an ensemble of much smaller particles in the analogous Brownian motion problem. The model predicts “red” variance spectra, in qualitative agreement with observations. The evolution of the climate probability distribution is described by a Fokker-Planck equation, in which the effect of the random weather excitation is represented by diffusion terms. Without stabilising feedback, the model predicts a continuous increase in climate variability, in analogy with the continuous, unbounded dispersion of particles in Brownian motion (or in a homogeneous turbulent fluid). Stabilising feedback yields a statistically stationary climate probability distribution. Feedback also results in a finite degree of climate predictability, but for a stationary climate the predictability is limited to maximal skill parameters of order 0.5.