A Bayesian framework for emergent constraints: case studies of climate sensitivity with PMIP

Renoult, Martin; Annan, James Douglas; Hargreaves, Julia Catherine; Sagoo, Navjit; Flynn, Clare; Kapsch, Marie-Luise; Li, Qiang; Lohmann, Gerrit; Mikolajewicz, Uwe; Ohgaito, Rumi; Shi, Xiaoxu; Zhang, Qiong; Mauritsen, Thorsten

In this paper we introduce a Bayesian framework, which is explicit about prior assumptions, for using model ensembles and observations together to constrain future climate change. The emergent constraint approach has seen broad application in recent years, including studies constraining the equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) using the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) and the mid-Pliocene Warm Period (mPWP). Most of these studies were based on ordinary least squares (OLS) fits between a variable of the climate state, such as tropical temperature, and climate sensitivity. Using our Bayesian method, and considering the LGM and mPWP separately, we obtain values of ECS of 2.7 K (0.6–5.2, 5th–95th percentiles) using the PMIP2, PMIP3, and PMIP4 datasets for the LGM and 2.3 K (0.5–4.4) with the PlioMIP1 and PlioMIP2 datasets for the mPWP. Restricting the ensembles to include only the most recent version of each model, we obtain 2.7 K (0.7–5.2) using the LGM and 2.3 K (0.4–4.5) using the mPWP. An advantage of the Bayesian framework is that it is possible to combine the two periods assuming they are independent, whereby we obtain a tighter constraint of 2.5 K (0.8–4.0) using the restricted ensemble. We have explored the sensitivity to our assumptions in the method, including considering structural uncertainty, and in the choice of models, and this leads to 95 % probability of climate sensitivity mostly below 5 K and only exceeding 6 K in a single and most uncertain case assuming a large structural uncertainty. The approach is compared with other approaches based on OLS, a Kalman filter method, and an alternative Bayesian method. An interesting implication of this work is that OLS-based emergent constraints on ECS generate tighter uncertainty estimates, in particular at the lower end, an artefact due to a flatter regression line in the case of lack of correlation. Although some fundamental challenges related to the use of emergent constraints remain, this paper provides a step towards a better foundation for their potential use in future probabilistic estimations of climate sensitivity.

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Renoult, Martin / Annan, James Douglas / Hargreaves, Julia Catherine / et al: A Bayesian framework for emergent constraints: case studies of climate sensitivity with PMIP. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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