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LSE statistician explores the unknowns of climate modelling

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Professor Leonard Smith|, of LSE's Centre for the Analysis of Time Series|, is one of the scientists involved in climateprediction.net - the centre which this week published a highly significant new paper on climate change in the journal Nature.

The article says that greenhouse gases could cause global temperatures to rise by between two and eleven degrees Celsius. This is according to results from the world's largest climate prediction experiment from climateprediction.net, based in Oxford.

They suggest the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) may be underestimating the risk of extreme warming, which would mean more needs to be done to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Many studies have shown that average temperatures across the globe will rise as levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases increase, but the climateprediction.net experiment shows that this rise could be anywhere from just under 2°C to over 11°C - even if carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are limited to twice those found before the industrial revolution. Such levels are expected to be reached by the middle of this century.

LSE CATS is active at the interface between environmental forecasts and economic impacts. Much of this work targets interpreting weather forecasts for decision support on times scales of one day to two weeks.

Professor Smith said: 'The questions are different in the case of climate modelling than in weather forecasting. In the weather scenario, we have a pretty good idea of the weaknesses of the models: after all, we see how the weather compares to the forecast each day. In climate modelling we have to wait decades or centuries to get that kind of real world feedback. What is so important about this work is that we are finally beginning to quantify the uncertainty in our models. And it is larger than many had anticipated.

'This study indicates where the models are robust, where known uncertainties lie and how big their impact is in the model. It can aid policy and decision making through an honest appraisal of what we know today. And, of course, we are exploring only the "known unknowns". Policy makers have to contend with the "unknown unknowns" as well.'

The paper, 'Uncertainty in the predictions of the climate response to rising levels of greenhouse gases', appears in Nature, 27 January 2005, vol 433. See www.climateprediction.net| or for a pdf of the paper, email pressoffice@nerc.ac.uk|


Contact Professor Leonard Smith, CATS, email: l.smith@lse.ac.uk| or lenny@maths.ox.ac.uk| 


The project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, is ongoing and involves more than 90,000 people from 150 countries. Schools, businesses and individuals across the globe can download the free climateprediction.net software which incorporates the UK Met Office's climate model and runs in the background when their computers lie idle.

The programme runs through a climate scenario over the course of a few days or weeks, before automatically reporting back to climate researchers at Oxford University and collaborating institutions worldwide, via the internet.

Participants have simulated over four million model years and donated over 8,000 years of computing time, making climateprediction.net easily the world's largest climate modelling experiment, comfortably exceeding the processing capacity of the world's largest supercomputers. This allows a broad range of uncertainties to be explored, picking up previously unidentified high-risk possibilities.

Climateprediction.net is a collaboration between several UK universities, including CATS at LSE, and The Met Office, led by the University of Oxford and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Department of Trade and Industry's e-Science programme.

NERC Press Office: Owen Gaffney, 01793 442629, 07775 713203 or Marion O'Sullivan, 01793 411727, 07917 086369 or pressoffice@nerc.ac.uk| 

Press cuttings

The Australian
'Scary' science finds Earth heating up twice as fast as thought (27 Jan 05)
The study by British scientists, which is published today, found the planet's global temperature could climb by between 2C and 11C because of skyrocketing levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The project is a collaboration of experts at Oxford and Reading universities, The Open University, LSE, Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research, and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

Also mentioned in the Metro (27 Jan 05)
No direct link

27 January 2005