IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis

10.5.2 Range of Responses from Different Models Comprehensive AOGCMs

The way a climate model responds to changes in external forcing, such as an increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gases, is characterised by two standard measures: (1) ‘equilibrium climate sensitivity’ (the equilibrium change in global surface temperature following a doubling of the atmospheric equivalent CO2 concentration; see Glossary), and (2) ‘transient climate response’ (the change in global surface temperature in a global coupled climate model in a 1% yr–1 CO2 increase experiment at the time of atmospheric CO2 doubling; see Glossary). The first measure provides an indication of feedbacks mainly residing in the atmospheric model but also in the land surface and sea ice components, and the latter quantifies the response of the fully coupled climate system including aspects of transient ocean heat uptake (e.g., Sokolov et al., 2003). These two measures have become standard for quantifying how an AOGCM will react to more complicated forcings in scenario simulations.

Historically, the equilibrium climate sensitivity has been given in the range from 1.5°C to 4.5°C. This range was reported in the TAR with no indication of a probability distribution within this range. However, considerable recent work has addressed the range of equilibrium climate sensitivity, and attempted to assign probabilities to climate sensitivity.

Equilibrium climate sensitivity and TCR are not independent (Figure 10.25a). For a given AOGCM, the TCR is smaller than the equilibrium climate sensitivity because ocean heat uptake delays the atmospheric warming. A large ensemble of the BERN2.5D EMIC has been used to explore the relationship of TCR and equilibrium sensitivity over a wide range of ocean heat uptake parametrizations (Knutti et al., 2005). Good agreement with the available results from AOGCMs is found, and the BERN2.5D EMIC covers almost the entire range of structurally different models. The percent change in precipitation is closely related to the equilibrium climate sensitivity for the current generation of AOGCMs (Figure 10.25b), with values from the current models falling within the range of the models from the TAR. Figure 10.25c shows the percent change in globally averaged precipitation as a function of TCR at the time of atmospheric CO2 doubling, as simulated by 1% yr–1 transient CO2 increase experiments with AOGCMs. The figure suggests a broadly positive correlation between these two quantities similar to that for equilibrium climate sensitivity, with these values from the new models also falling within the range of the previous generation of AOGCMs assessed in the TAR. Note that the apparent relationships may not hold for other forcings or at smaller scales. Values for an ensemble with perturbations made to parameters in the atmospheric component of UKMO-HadCM3 (M. Collins et al., 2006) cover similar ranges and are shown in Figure 10.25 for comparison.

Figure 10.25

Figure 10.25. (a) TCR versus equilibrium climate sensitivity for all AOGCMs (red), EMICs (blue), a perturbed physics ensemble of the UKMO-HadCM3 AOGCM (green; an updated ensemble based on M. Collins et al., 2006) and from a large ensemble of the Bern2.5D EMIC (Knutti et al., 2005) using different ocean vertical diffusivities and mixing parametrizations (grey lines). (b) Global mean precipitation change (%) as a function of global mean temperature change at equilibrium for doubled CO2 in atmospheric GCMs coupled to a non-dynamic slab ocean (red all AOGCMS, green from a perturbed physics ensemble of the atmosphere-slab ocean version of UKMO-HadCM3 (Webb et al., 2006)). (c) Global mean precipitation change (%) as a function of global mean temperature change (TCR) at the time of CO2 doubling in a transient 1% yr–1 CO2 increase scenario, simulated by coupled AOGCMs (red) and the UKMO-HadCM3 perturbed physics ensemble (green). Black crosses in (b) and (c) mark ranges covered by the TAR AOGCMs (IPCC, 2001) for each quantity.

Fitting normal distributions to the results, the 5 to 95% uncertainty range for equilibrium climate sensitivity from the AOGCMs is approximately 2.1°C to 4.4°C and that for TCR is 1.2°C to 2.4°C (using the method of Räisänen, 2005b). The mean for climate sensitivity is 3.26°C and that for TCR is 1.76°C. These numbers are practically the same for both the normal and the lognormal distribution (see Box 10.2). The assumption of a (log) normal fit is not well supported by the limited sample of AOGCM data. In addition, the AOGCMs represent an ‘ensemble of opportunity’ and are by design not sampled in a random way. However, most studies aiming to constrain climate sensitivity with observations do indeed indicate a similar to lognormal probability distribution of climate sensitivity and an approximately normal distribution of the uncertainty in future warming and thus TCR (see Box 10.2). Those studies also suggest that the current AOGCMs may not cover the full range of uncertainty for climate sensitivity. An assessment of all the evidence on equilibrium climate sensitivity is provided in Box 10.2. The spread of the AOGCM climate sensitivities is discussed in Section 8.6 and the AOGCM values for climate sensitivity and TCR are listed in Table 8.2.

The nonlinear relationship between TCR and equilibrium climate sensitivity shown in Figure 10.25a also indicates that on time scales well short of equilibrium, the model’s TCR is not particularly sensitive to the model’s climate sensitivity. The implication is that transient climate change is better constrained than the equilibrium climate sensitivity, that is, models with different sensitivity might still show good agreement for projections on decadal time scales. Therefore, in the absence of unusual solar or volcanic activity, climate change is well constrained for the coming few decades, because differences in some feedbacks will only become important on long time scales (see also Section and because over the next few decades, about half of the projected warming would occur as a result of radiative forcing being held constant at year 2000 levels (constant composition commitment, see Section 10.7).

Comparing observed thermal expansion with those AR4 20th-century simulations that have natural forcings indicates that ocean heat uptake in the models may be 25% larger than observed, although both could be consistent within their uncertainties. This difference is possibly due to a combination of overestimated ocean heat uptake in the models, observational uncertainties and limited data coverage in the deep ocean (see Sections, 9.5.2, and Assigning this difference solely to overestimated ocean heat uptake, the TCR estimates could increase by 0.6°C at most. This is in line with evidence for a relatively weak dependence of TCR on ocean mixing based on SCMs and EMICS (Allen et al., 2000; Knutti et al., 2005). The range of TCR covered by an ensemble with perturbations made to parameters in the atmospheric component of UKMO-HadCM3 is 1.5 to 2.6°C (M. Collins et al., 2006), similar to the AR4 AOGCM range. Therefore, based on the range covered by AOGCMs, and taking into account structural uncertainties and possible biases in transient heat uptake, TCR is assessed as very likely larger than 1°C and very unlikely greater than 3°C (i.e., 1.0°C to 3.0°C is a 10 to 90% range). Because the dependence of TCR on sensitivity becomes small as sensitivity increases, uncertainties in the upper bound on sensitivity only weakly affect the range of TCR (see Figure 10.25; Chapter 9; Knutti et al., 2005; Allen et al., 2006b). Observational constraints based on detection and attribution studies provide further support for this TCR range (see Section