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Attributing and Predicting Climate

Sylvia Knight
Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, University of Oxford

Tolu Aina, Myles Allen, Carl Christensen, Dave Frame, Ellie

Highwood, Jamie Kettleborough, Claudio Piani, Neil Massey,
Ben Sanderson, Bob Spicer, David Stainforth, Daíthí Stone.
and about 100,000 other people worldwide!

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“In the light of new evidence and taking into account the remaining uncertainties,
most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely (meaning a better than
a 2 in 3 chance) to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas
Source: IPCC Third Assessment Report, 2001

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Hindcasting Past Climate

Despite the vast complexity of climate

Anthropogenic only: models they can simulate the observed
climate change in some global variables very

Natural only:

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And now for the next century: carbon dioxide

Note different scale! Source: IPCC Third Assessment Report

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Source: IPCC Third Assessment Report, 2001

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temperature 2080
change (K) precipitation
change (%)

We can produce very detailed predictions of

climate change with no idea of how reliable they
might be
Source: Dr. Mat Collins, Hadley Centre

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Sources of Uncertainty
and How to Include Them In a Climate Forecast

„ Natural Variability:
The climate is chaotic with variations on timescales from minutes to
Solution: Initial Condition Ensembles

„ Forcing uncertainty:
Changes due to factors external to the climate system e.g.
greenhouse gas emissions (natural and anthropogenic), solar
radiation etc.
Solution: Scenarios for possible futures.

„ Model uncertainty:
Different models could be as could at simulating the past but give a
different forecast for the future?
Solution: Perturbed-Physics Ensembles

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The problem with dealing with uncertainty in
climate change prediction
„ Objective: find as many as possible alternative,
equally realistic, model versions that respond
differently to increasing carbon dioxide, to explore the
full range of possibilities.
Perturbed Physics Initial Condition Forcing Ensemble
Ensemble Ensemble

Overall Grand
model set-up


10000s 10s 10s

Model Versions Simulations

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Estimating effective climate sensitivity from
short 2xCO2 runs

Climate Sensitivity: the equilibrium response of globally

averaged temperature to a doubling of Carbon Dioxide

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A shortage of models with high climate

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Ranges of opinion in climate sensitivity
(Morgan and Keith, 1995)

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Initial experiment

„ Using simplified model ocean to keep runs short

„ 15-year calibration, 15-year control, 15-year 2xCO2

Double CO2
15 yr, 2 x CO2
Diagnostics from final 8 yrs.

Derived fluxes

15 yr spin-up 15 yr, base case CO2 Control

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Time-evolving frequency distribution

Remove models that

are unstable in the

Few remaining
negatively drifting
2xCO2 model versions
are an unrealistic
consequence of using
a slab ocean.

Stainforth et al.,
Nature, 2005
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Not The Day After Tomorrow: why we got some
negative sensitivities…

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Still they come: 47334
simulations passing initial quality control

Traditional range

Courtesy of Ben Sanderson

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Can observations rule out high sensitivities?


CMIP-2 coupled models

Original Single perturbations


Stainforth et al, 2005

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Responses to Pinatubo forcing
blue = 0.5K sensitivity, deep red = 20K sensitivity

Frame et al, 2005

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Uncertainty in global warming under two
scenarios of future emissions

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High risk of substantial warming even with
today’s greenhouse gas levels

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High risk of substantial warming even with
today’s greenhouse gas levels

Can we really talk about a ‘safe’ stabilisation limit?

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Regional responses: temperature and

Standard model

Low sensitivity

High sensitivity

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Regional Behaviour – European Precipitation
Mediterranean Basin Northern Europe



Annual Annual

Unpublished analysis from Source: David Stainforth

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Record hot events are more likely in a generally warmer world

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Summer 2003 temperatures relative to 2000-2004

From NASA’s
MODIS - Moderate
Resolution Imaging
courtesy of Reto
Stöckli, ETHZ

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Heat-wave blamed for US$12.3 billion uninsured
crop losses + US$1.6 billion forest fire damage

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Excess mortality rates in early August 2003
indicate 22,000 - 35,000 heat-related deaths

Daily mortality in Baden-Württemberg

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But a single heat-wave is a weather event: how
can we pin down the role of climate change?

„ The immediate cause of the heat-wave was a

persistent anti-cyclone over Northwest Europe.
„ There is still no evidence that human influence on
climate makes such circulation patterns more likely.
„ Instead, we ask how human influence on climate has
affected the risk of such a weather event (however
induced) causing such an intense heat-wave?

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Was the hot summer of 2003 due to climate change?

Anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases have at least doubled the risk

of a summer like 2003
By 2050, it could be that hot every other summer

Stott, Stone & Allen, Nature, 2004

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South Oxford on January 5th, 2003

Photo courtesy of Dave Mitchell

“Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get” (Lorenz)

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Model-simulated changes in extreme rainfall in
southern England

4-year 12-year
event event
2090 30-year
2000 1860

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“Plaintiffs ... must show that, more probably than not,
their individual injuries were caused by the risk factor in
question, as opposed to any other cause. This has
sometimes been translated to a requirement of a relative
risk of at least two.” (Grossman, 2003)

„ The contribution of past greenhouse gas emissions

to some current climate risks may already exceed
50%, the threshold for civil tort actions.
„ Over the coming decade, both the cost and the
inevitability of climate change will become clearer,
fuelling demands for compensation for:
– Flooding
– Heat wave damages and deaths
– Threats to water supplies, especially from glacial sources
– Coastal erosion etc.

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By the 2030s, >50% of anthopogenic GHG
loading will be due to post-1990 emissions

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But what could be done?

„ How can an oil company or coal miner avoid selling

a product whose use involves increasing
atmospheric CO2?
„ Simple: they bury (“sequester”) the equivalent
amount of carbon.
„ Of course, this would make oil or coal more
expensive, which would hurt – but how much?
„ “All OECD countries besides the US impose big
taxes on fuel, but curiously it hasn’t reduced
consumption.” Lord Browne, BP (Financial Times)

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But what could be done?

„ Fossil fuels are still remarkably cheap, since we pay

for the cost of extraction (and cartel-like profits), not
the cost of their impact.
„ If politicians were to apply the “Polluter Pays
Principle” to producers of fossil fuels, this would
change rapidly: it might well make more sense to sell
carbon-neutral fuel than risk liability.

Oxford University the world’s largest
climate modelling facility

Since September 2003,

105,000 participants in 142 countries (20,000 in Germany)
have completed 106,000 45 -year GCM runs
computed 7 million model years
donated 8,000 years of computing time
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Members of the public download and run a full
3-D climate model on their personal computers

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