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Well-estimated global surface warming in climate projections selected for ENSO phase

Abstract

The question of how climate model projections have tracked the actual evolution of global mean surface air temperature is important in establishing the credibility of their projections. Some studies and the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report suggest that the recent 15-year period (1998–2012) provides evidence that models are overestimating current temperature evolution. Such comparisons are not evidence against model trends because they represent only one realization where the decadal natural variability component of the model climate is generally not in phase with observations. We present a more appropriate test of models where only those models with natural variability (represented by El Niño/Southern Oscillation) largely in phase with observations are selected from multi-model ensembles for comparison with observations. These tests show that climate models have provided good estimates of 15-year trends, including for recent periods and for Pacific spatial trend patterns.

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Figure 1: Model ensemble trends and observational trends.
Figure 2: Running 15-year trends.
Figure 3: Trend histograms.
Figure 4: Model phase-selected trends and observed trends.
Figure 5: Composite sea surface temperature (SST) spatial trends (kelvin per decade).
Figure 6: Model ensemble trends and model phase-selected trends.

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Acknowledgements

This work was financially supported by the Climate Adaptation and Wealth from Oceans Flagships of CSIRO, and the Australian Research Council.

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Contributions

J.S.R. and S.L. conceived the study and initial experimental design. All authors contributed to experiment design and interpretation. S.L. provided analysis of models and observations. C.L. and D.P.M. analysed Niño3.4 in models. J.S.R. wrote the paper and all authors edited the text.

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Correspondence to James S. Risbey.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Risbey, J., Lewandowsky, S., Langlais, C. et al. Well-estimated global surface warming in climate projections selected for ENSO phase. Nature Clim Change 4, 835–840 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2310

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