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A global perspective on CMIP5 climate model biases


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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Figure 1: Global SST bias and its relationship with the AMOC.
Figure 2: Relationships of SST bias in the North Atlantic with the AMOC and SST bias in the North Pacific.
Figure 3: Relationships of ocean circulation with the warm SST bias in the Southern Ocean.
Figure 4: Interhemispheric link between SST biases in the tropical southeastern Pacific and the tropical North Atlantic.


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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.

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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.

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Correspondence to Chunzai Wang or Liping Zhang.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Wang, C., Zhang, L., Lee, SK. et al. A global perspective on CMIP5 climate model biases. Nature Clim Change 4, 201–205 (2014).

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