Letter | Published:

A global perspective on CMIP5 climate model biases

Nature Climate Change volume 4, pages 201205 (2014) | Download Citation


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report largely depends on simulations, predictions and projections by climate models1. Most models, however, have deficiencies and biases that raise large uncertainties in their products. Over the past several decades, a tremendous effort has been made to improve model performance in the simulation of special regions and aspects of the climate system2,3,4. Here we show that biases or errors in special regions can be linked with others at far away locations. We find in 22 climate models that regional sea surface temperature (SST) biases are commonly linked with the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), which is characterized by the northward flow in the upper ocean and returning southward flow in the deep ocean. A simulated weak AMOC is associated with cold biases in the entire Northern Hemisphere with an atmospheric pattern that resembles the Northern Hemisphere annular mode. The AMOC weakening is also associated with a strengthening of Antarctic Bottom Water formation and warm SST biases in the Southern Ocean. It is also shown that cold biases in the tropical North Atlantic and West African/Indian monsoon regions during the warm season in the Northern Hemisphere have interhemispheric links with warm SST biases in the tropical southeastern Pacific and Atlantic, respectively. The results suggest that improving the simulation of regional processes may not suffice for overall better model performance, as the effects of remote biases may override them.

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R. Lumpkin served as an internal reviewer of the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML). This work was supported by grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Program Office, National Science Foundation, the base funding of NOAA/AOML, China National Global Change Major Research Project (2013CB956201), and China National Science Foundation Key Project (41130859). The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the funding agency.

Author information


  1. NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, Miami, Florida 33149, USA

    • Chunzai Wang
    • , Liping Zhang
    •  & Sang-Ki Lee
  2. Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies, University of Miami, Miami, Florida 33149, USA

    • Liping Zhang
    •  & Sang-Ki Lee
  3. Physical Oceanography Laboratory/Qingdao Collaborative Innovation Center for Marine Science and Technology, Ocean University of China, Qingdao 266100, China

    • Lixin Wu
  4. University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA

    • Carlos R. Mechoso


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C.W. and L.Z. designed the study. L.Z. made all plots and analyses. C.W. wrote the paper and C.R.M. contributed significantly to the text. All co-authors helped interpret the analyses and also edited the paper.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Chunzai Wang or Liping Zhang.

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