Recommendation 2. New modeling efforts that integrate geophysical, ecological, and social-science analyses should be developed to focus on investigating abrupt climate changes. In addition, new mechanisms that can cause abrupt climate change should be investigated, especially those operating during warm climatic intervals. Understanding of such mechanisms should be improved by developing and applying a hierarchy of models, from theory and conceptual models through models of intermediate complexity, to highresolution models of components of the climate system, to fully coupled earth-system models. Model-data comparisons should be enhanced by improving the ability of models to simulate changes in quantities such as isotopic ratios that record past climatic conditions. Modeling should be used to generate scenarios of abrupt climate change with high spatial and temporal resolution for assessing impacts and testing possible adaptations. Enhanced, dedicated computational resources will be required for such modeling.
Developing theoretical and empirical models to understand abrupt climate changes and the interaction of such changes with ecological and economic systems is a high priority. Modeling is essential for collaborative research between physical, ecological, and social scientists, and much more effort is needed to develop accurate models that produce a useful understanding of abrupt climate processes. Model analyses help to focus research on possible causes of abrupt climate change, such as human activities; on key areas where climatic thresholds might be crossed; and on fundamental uncertainties in climate-system dynamics. To date, most analyses have considered only gradual climate change; given the accumulating evidence of past abrupt climate change and of its capacity to affect human societies, more attention should be focused on scenarios involving abrupt 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.