NASA study fixes error in low contrarian climate sensitivity estimates
A new study by Kate Marvel, Gavin Schmidt, Ron Miller, and Larissa Nazarenko at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies appears to have found the answer. They drew upon previous research by Drew Shindell and Kummer & Dessler, who identified a flaw in studies taking the energy budget approach. Those studies had assumed that the Earth’s climate is equally sensitive to all forcings.
In reality, as world-renowned climate scientist James Hansen noted in a 1997 paper, some forcings are more efficient at causing the Earth’s surface temperature to change than others. Those in which the effects are focused in the northern hemisphere tend to be more efficient, for example. [...] The NASA study shows that the previous estimates were indeed biased low, and correcting for that bias brings them into agreement with estimates using other approaches.
Climate sensitivity to doubled CO2 is a widely used metric for the large-scale response to external forcing. Climate models predict a wide range for two commonly used definitions: the transient climate response (TCR: the warming after 70 years of CO2 concentrations that rise at 1% per year), and the equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS: the equilibrium temperature change following a doubling of CO2 concentrations). Many observational data sets have been used to constrain these values, including temperature trends over the recent past1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, inferences from palaeoclimate7, 8 and process-based constraints from the modern satellite era9, 10. However, as the IPCC recently reported11, different classes of observational constraints produce somewhat incongruent ranges. Here we show that climate sensitivity estimates derived from recent observations must account for the efficacy of each forcing active during the historical period. When we use single-forcing experiments to estimate these efficacies and calculate climate sensitivity from the observed twentieth-century warming, our estimates of both TCR and ECS are revised upwards compared to previous studies, improving the consistency with independent constraints.
A number of independent studies using near-global satellite data find positive feedbackand high climate sensitivity. [...] Climate sensitivity is a measure of how much our climate responds to an energy imbalance. The most common definition is the change in global temperature if the amount of atmospheric CO2 was doubled. If there were no feedbacks, climate sensitivity would be around 1°C. But we know there are a number of feedbacks, both positive and negative. So how do we determine the net feedback? An empirical solution is to observe how our climateresponds to temperature change. We have satellite measurements of the radiation budget and surface measurements of temperature. Putting the two together should give us an indication of net feedback.
Marvel et al (2015) Part 1: Reconciling estimates of climate sensitivityThis post is related to the substantive results of the new Marvel et al (2015) study. There is a separate post on the media/blog response.
The recent paper by Kate Marvel and others (including me) in Nature Climate Change looks at the different forcings and their climate responses over the historical period in more detail than any previous modeling study. The point of the paper was to apply those results to improve calculations of climate sensitivity from the historical record and see if they can be reconciled with other estimates. But there are some broader issues as well – how scientific anomalies are dealt with and how simulation can be used to improve inferences about the real world. It also shines a spotlight on a particular feature of the IPCC process…