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TABLE 4.1 Examples of Research Needs Related to Improving Fundamental Understanding of Climate Forcings, Feedbacks, Responses, and Thresholds in the Earth System

• Improve understanding of transient climate change and its dependence on ocean circulation, heat transport, mixing processes, and other factors, especially in the context of decadal-scale climate change.

• Extend understanding of natural climate variability on a wide range of space and time scales, including events in the distant past.

• Improve estimates of climate sensitivity, including theoretical, modeling, and observationally based approaches.

• Expand observations and understanding of aerosols, especially their radiative forcing effects and implications for strategies that might be taken to limit the magnitude of future climate change;

• Improve understanding of cloud processes, and cloud-aerosol interactions, especially in the context of radiative forcing, climate feedbacks, and precipitation processes.

• Improve understanding of ice sheets, including the mechanisms, causes, dynamics, and relative likelihood of ice sheet collapse versus ice sheet melting.

• Advance understanding of thresholds and abrupt changes in the Earth system.

• Expand understanding of carbon cycle processes in the context of climate change and develop Earth system models that include improved representations of carbon cycle processes and feedbacks.

• Improve understanding of ocean dynamics and regional rates of sea level rise.

• Improve understanding of the hydrologic cycle, especially changes in the frequency and intensity of precipitation and feedbacks of human water use on climate.

• Improve understanding and models of how agricultural crops, fisheries, and natural and managed ecosystems respond to changes in temperature, precipitation, CO2 levels and other environmental and management changes.

• Improve understanding of ocean acidification and its effects on marine ecosystems and fisheries.

SOURCE: These research needs (and those included in each of the other six themes in this chapter) are compiled from the detailed lists of key research needs identified in the technical chapters of Part II of this report.

induced climate change. Continued research on the mechanisms and manifesta-mechanisms and manifestations of natural climate variability in the atmosphere and oceans on a wide range of space and time scales, including events in the distant past, can be expected to yield, can be expected to yield additional progress.


Some of the largest risks associated with climate change are associated with the potential for abrupt changes or other climate “surprises” (see Chapters 3 and 6). The paleoclimate record indicates that such abrupt changes have occurred in the past, but our ability to predict future abrupt changes is constrained by our limited understand-



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