February 7, 2019 | Published by | ,

The perspective discusses where the community is headed (or needs to head) on the evaluation and use of climate models.  

The problem has always been that although many climate models have been developed at various labs around the world, none of them get everything right, and they often make contradictory predictions about the future (say, whether rain in some region will be more or less than today).  Although it would be great if we could develop one near-perfect model that supercedes all others, realistically that will not happen soon, if ever.  

In the mean time we need to get the most out of the diverse set of models we have, with their different pluses and minuses, and draw what inferences we can.  

The key point in our perspective is that the scientific community is moving away from “beauty contest” thinking where models are accepted or rejected on the basis of how well they simulate particular aspects of the present or past, toward a smarter approach that seeks to understand and exploit how present and future predictions are related as well as how different models are related.  

The problem is analogous in some ways to that of choosing how to allocate across a range of investment options.  The traditional approach would be analogous to buying shares in whatever companies performed well historically—not a dumb thing to do, but unlikely to catch the next Apple or Facebook.  

The new approach would be more like analysing performance patterns to learn what characteristics of a company lead to success, and at the same time striving for a balanced portfolio to minimise risk.  

The perspective also notes that achieving this will be made easier by new software tools that are being deployed for community use, but will require intelligent scientific thinking and hypothesis testing.

  • Perspective: Eyring, V., Cox, P.M., Flato, G.M., Gleckler, P.J., Abramowitz, G., Caldwell, P., Collins, W.D., Gier, B.K., Hall, A.D., Hoffman, F.M., Hurtt, G.C., Jahn, A., Jones, C.D., Klein, S.A., Krasting, J.P., Kwiatkowski, L., Lorenz, R., Maloney, E., Meehl, G.A., Pendergrass, A.G., Pincus, R., Ruane, A.C., Russell, J.L., Sanderson, B.M., Santer, B.D., Sherwood, S.C., Simpson, I.R., Stouffer, R.J., Williamson, M.S., 2019. Taking climate model evaluation to the next level. Nature Climate Change 9, 102–110. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0355-y