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Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises
abrupt climate change and of its capacity to affect human societies, more attention should be focused on improving climate and impact-assessment models and on producing model scenarios involving abrupt climate change.
Climate models that are used to test leading hypotheses for abrupt climate change, such as altered deep-ocean circulation, can only partially simulate the size, speed, and extent of the large climatic changes that have occurred. The failure to explain the climate record fully suggests either that the proposed mechanisms being used to drive these models are incomplete or that the models are not as sensitive to abrupt climate change as is the natural environment. It is also of concern that existing models do not accurately simulate warm climates of the past.
Improved understanding of abrupt climatic changes that occurred in the past and are thus possible in the future can be gained through enhancements of climate models. A comprehensive modeling strategy designed to address abrupt climate change should include vigorous use of a hierarchy of models, from theory and conceptual models through models of intermediate complexity, to high-resolution models of components of the climate system, to fully coupled earth-system models. The simpler models are well suited for use in developing new hypotheses for abrupt climate change and should focus on warmer climates, because warming is likely. Because reorganizations of the thermohaline circulation have never been demonstrated in climate models employing high-resolution ocean components, improving the spatial resolution in climate models assumes high priority. Complex models should be used to produce geographically resolved (to about 1° of latitude by 1° of longitude), short-time (annual or seasonal) sensitivity experiments, and scenarios of possible abrupt climatic changes.
Long integrations of fully coupled models under various forcings for the past, present, and future will be required to evaluate the models, assess possibilities of future abrupt changes, and provide scenarios of those future changes. The scenarios can be combined with integrated-assessment economic models to improve understanding of the costs for alternative adaptive approaches to climate change with attention to the effects of rising greenhouse-gas concentrations and nonclimatic factors, such as land use changes and urbanization. Model-data comparisons are needed to assess the quality of model predictions. It is important to note that the multiple long integrations of enhanced, fully coupled earth-system models required for this research are not possible with the computer resources available today, and thus, these resources should be enhanced.
Ecologists and social scientists should use relevant scenarios of abrupt