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Early climate models successfully predicted global warming
Climate models published between 1970 and 2007 provided accurate forecasts of subsequently observed global surface warming. This finding shows the value of using global observations to vet climate models as the planet warms.
Jennifer E. Kay is in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, Colorado 80309, USA.
Climate models are equations that describe climatically relevant processes and are solved on supercomputers. In addition to being invaluable tools for testing scientific hypotheses, these models have long provided societally important forecasts. The first climate models to numerically describe an evolving and interacting atmosphere, ocean and land surface on a grid covering the entire Earth date back to the 1970s (for example, refs 1–3). Since then, the planet’s surface has warmed, in large part because of increased emissions of greenhouse gases. Writing in Geophysical Research Letters, Hausfather et al.4 retrospectively assessed the forecasting skill of climate models published between 1970 and 2007. Their results show that the physics in these early models was accurate in predicting subsequently observed global surface warming.