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Journal Article

Can an ensemble climate simulation be used to separate climate change signals from internal unforced variability?


Bengtsson,  Lennart
Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom;
Emeritus Scientific Members, MPI for Meteorology, Max Planck Society;

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Bengtsson, L., & Hodges, K. (2019). Can an ensemble climate simulation be used to separate climate change signals from internal unforced variability? Climate Dynamics, 52, 3553-3573. doi:10.1007/s00382-018-4343-8.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000D-0574-B
The contribution of internal unforced variability to climate change is explored using a 100-member ensemble climate simulation for the period 1850–2005. The ensemble simulation is based on the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology climate model, ECHAM6, where all members have been exposed to the identically same radiative forcing. The range of global mean surface temperature warming over the 1850–2005 period, based on all members, is 0.65–1.10 °C. The distribution of the global mean surface temperature about the ensemble mean has a standard deviation (StD) of ~ 0.14 °C which slowly decreases in time. Regionally, the largest decrease in the ensemble StD occurs in the Northern Hemisphere winter. Comparing the temporal StD with that from the observed HadCRUT4 surface temperature data indicates that the majority of the ensemble members have a larger temporal StD than the observations suggesting that the model simulations might overestimate the variance. There are clear random 20-year linear trends in global mean surface temperature anomalies as well as significant regional 50-year linear trends. Even with an ensemble mean warming trend, typical of the early twenty-first century, a global hiatus in temperature of 20 years duration is possible to occur by chance. The results support the view that observed decadal and multi-decadal anomalies in the twentieth century were significantly influenced by internal processes of the climate system. This is particularly the case for the observed global warming trend of 1910–1940 and the global cooling trend of 1940–1970. Global mean precipitation hardly increases with time in the ensemble simulations, but in agreement with theory regional changes occur, with increasing precipitation in polar regions and in some tropical areas. In the subtropics there are reductions in precipitation. Long-lasting regional anomalies of significant amplitudes occur by chance in the ensemble integration. © 2018, The Author(s).