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Emergent Constraints on Earth System Sensitivities

Presented by: 
PM Cox University of Exeter
Thursday 31st October 2013 - 11:45 to 12:20
INI Seminar Room 1
Co-author: Chris Huntingford (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology)

Climate and Earth System Models are designed to project changes in the climate-carbon cycle system over the coming centuries. These models have ever higher spatial resolution and are based on an improving understanding of key processes. However, climate modelling still suffers from a significant timescale problem – we need to find constraints on the huge range of projected changes in the climate-carbon system over the next century, but the observational data that we have relates to much shorter timescales. This talk will summarise one promising way around the timescale problem - the use of “Emergent Constraints”. An Emergent Constraint is a relationship between some climate system sensitivity to anthropogenic forcing and an observable (or already observed) feature of the climate system. We call it emergent because it emerges from the ensemble of models, and it is described as a constraint because it enables an observation to constrain the estimate of the cli mate system sensitivity in the real world. As an example, I will describe an emergent constraint on the projected loss of tropical land carbon under climate change, which has a huge range amongst climate-carbon cycle projections for the 21st century. We have recently identified an emergent linear relationship across the ensemble of models between the sensitivity of tropical land-carbon storage to warming and the sensitivity of the annual growth-rate in atmospheric CO2 to tropical temperature anomalies. When combined with contemporary observations of the atmospheric CO2 concentration and the tropical temperature, this relationship provides a tight constraint on the sensitivity of tropical land carbon to warming in the real climate system (Cox et al., Nature, 2013). The talk will conclude by hypothesising how such emergent constraints may relate to (a) the Fluctuation-Dissipation Theorem and (b) Time-series Precursors of Tipping Points.

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Presentation Material: 
University of Cambridge Research Councils UK
    Clay Mathematics Institute London Mathematical Society NM Rothschild and Sons