Judith Curry on Climate Models

In my world, seems like you can’t go to a meeting without someone telling you that you need to change your plans or management on the basis of climate models. Based on years of experience with relatively “simple” vegetation models and a healthy respect for the complexity of Nature, I tend to be a bit skeptical about spending the taxpayer’s dollars doing this, as opposed to a “no-regrets” approach to climate adaptation. The topic of models and how strongly we hold to their predictions is even related to the requirements of the new planning rule.

I ran across this piece (the first in a series) by Judith Curry, a climate scientist at Georgia Tech, that was thought-provoking and also at a level of detail and complexity that feels about right for me. These should be required reading for anyone who is responsible for making investments in resource management or research in the light of climate change, in my view.

Also, kudos to Curry for her blog. Blogs may well be the most powerful form of “extension” (as in research, education and extension), and science education for the public, for the 21st Century.

Here’s a quote:

Returning to the question raised in the title of this post, we have learned much from climate models about how the climate system works. But I think the climate modeling enterprise is putting the cart before the horse in terms of attempting a broad range of applications that include prediction of regional climate change, largely driven by needs of policy makers. Before attempting such applications, we need a much more thorough exploration of how we should configure climate models and test their fitness for purpose. An equally important issue is how we should design climate model experiments in the context of using climate models to test hypotheses about how the climate system works, which is a nontrivial issue particularly given the ontic uncertainties. Until we have achieved such an improved understanding, the other applications are premature and are detracting resources (computer and personnel) from focusing on these more fundamental issues.

As a person who must deal with those attempting to influence policy through linking biological and climate models, I must say I enjoyed this exchange in the comments on the post:

Jim | October 3, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Reply

I guess throwing in biological processes would be darn near impossible and just pile on the pandemonium.

curryja | October 4, 2010 at 10:41 am | Reply

Well the good (?) news is that the community is going towards Earth Systems Models that includes human systems and biology, driven by “policy” needs. IMO this is not the optimal way to use resources to get to the heart of the climate modeling problem

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