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 climate, 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 are needed 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.


Recommendation 3. The quantity of paleoclimatic data on abrupt change and ecological responses should be enhanced, with special emphasis on:

  • Selected coordinated projects to produce especially robust, multiparameter, high-resolution histories of climate change and ecological response.

  • Better geographic coverage and higher temporal resolution.

  • Additional proxies, including those that focus on water (e.g., droughts, floods, etc.).

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