AGW Observer

Observations of anthropogenic global warming

Papers on models vs. observations

Posted by Ari Jokimäki on October 23, 2009

This is a list of papers that compare climate model simulations to real world observations. Emphasis is on the global climate studies. The list is not complete, and will most likely be updated in the future in order to make it more thorough and more representative.

UPDATE (November 19, 2015): Ramanathan & Coakley (1978) added, thanks to Barry for pointing it out, in the Earth’s radiation budget list
UPDATE (July 24, 2013): Rahmstorf et al. (2012) added.
UPDATE (October 25, 2009): Hansen et al. (1988) and Hansen et al. (2006) added, thanks to PeterPan for pointing it out, see the discussion section below.
UPDATE (October 23, 2009): Rahmstorf et al. (2007) added, thanks to PeterPan for pointing it out, see the discussion section below.

Comparing climate projections to observations up to 2011 – Rahmstorf et al. (2012) “We analyse global temperature and sea-level data for the past few decades and compare them to projections published in the third and fourth assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The results show that global temperature continues to increase in good agreement with the best estimates of the IPCC, especially if we account for the effects of short-term variability due to the El Niño/Southern Oscillation, volcanic activity and solar variability. The rate of sea-level rise of the past few decades, on the other hand, is greater than projected by the IPCC models. This suggests that IPCC sea-level projections for the future may also be biased low.” Stefan Rahmstorf et al 2012 Environ. Res. Lett. 7 044035 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/7/4/044035. [Full text]

How natural and anthropogenic influences alter global and regional surface temperatures: 1889 to 2006 – Lean & Rind (2008) “To distinguish between simultaneous natural and anthropogenic impacts on surface temperature, regionally as well as globally, we perform a robust multivariate analysis using the best available estimates of each together with the observed surface temperature record from 1889 to 2006. The results enable us to compare, for the first time from observations, the geographical distributions of responses to individual influences consistent with their global impacts.” [Full text]

Climate simulations for 1880-2003 with GISS modelE – Hansen et al. (2007) “We compare side-by-side simulated climate change for each forcing, all forcings, observations, unforced variability among model ensemble members, and, if available, observed variability. Discrepancies between observations and simulations with all forcings are due to model deficiencies, inaccurate or incomplete forcings, and imperfect observations. Although there are notable discrepancies between model and observations, the fidelity is sufficient to encourage use of the model for simulations of future climate change.” [Full text, size of the file is over 20 MB]

Recent Climate Observations Compared to Projections – Rahmstorf et al. (2007) “We present recent observed climate trends for carbon dioxide concentration, global mean air temperature, and global sea level, and we compare these trends to previous model projections as summarized in the 2001 assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). … The data available for the period since 1990 raise concerns that the climate system, in particular sea level, may be responding more quickly to climate change than our current generation of models indicates.” [Full text]

Present-Day Atmospheric Simulations Using GISS ModelE: Comparison to In Situ, Satellite, and Reanalysis Data – Schmidt et al. (2006) “The performance of the model using three configurations with different horizontal and vertical resolutions is compared to quality-controlled in situ data, remotely sensed and reanalysis products. Overall, significant improvements over previous models are seen, particularly in upper-atmosphere temperatures and winds, cloud heights, precipitation, and sea level pressure.” [Full text]

Global temperature change – Hansen et al. (2006) Compares the model projections of Hansen et al. (1988) to observations. “Global surface temperature has increased ≈0.2°C per decade in the past 30 years, similar to the warming rate predicted in the 1980s in initial global climate model simulations with transient greenhouse gas changes.” [Full text]

Assessment of Twentieth-Century Regional Surface Temperature Trends Using the GFDL CM2 Coupled Models – Knutson et al. (2006) “Historical climate simulations of the period 1861–2000 using two new Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) global climate models (CM2.0 and CM2.1) are compared with observed surface temperatures. … Observed warming trends on the global scale and in many regions are simulated more realistically in the all-forcing and anthropogenic-only forcing runs than in experiments using natural-only forcing or no external forcing.” [Full text]

Transient Climate Simulations with the HadGEM1 Climate Model: Causes of Past Warming and Future Climate Change – Stott et al. (2006) “The ability of climate models to simulate large-scale temperature changes during the twentieth century when they include both anthropogenic and natural forcings and their inability to account for warming over the last 50 yr when they exclude increasing greenhouse gas concentrations has been used as evidence for an anthropogenic influence on global warming. One criticism of the models used in many of these studies is that they exclude some forcings of potential importance, notably from fossil fuel black carbon, biomass smoke, and land use changes. Herein transient simulations with a new model, the Hadley Centre Global Environmental Model version 1 (HadGEM1), are described, which include these forcings in addition to other anthropogenic and natural forcings, and a fully interactive treatment of atmospheric sulfur and its effects on clouds. These new simulations support previous work by showing that there was a significant anthropogenic influence on near-surface temperature change over the last century. They demonstrate that black carbon and land use changes are relatively unimportant for explaining global mean near-surface temperature changes.” [Full text]

Combinations of Natural and Anthropogenic Forcings in Twentieth-Century Climate – Meehl et al. (2004) “The late-twentieth-century warming can only be reproduced in the model with anthropogenic forcing (mainly GHGs), while the early twentieth-century warming is mainly caused by natural forcing in the model (mainly solar).” [Full text]

Forty years of numerical climate modelling – McGuffie & Henderson-Sellers (2001) A review article. “This paper discusses some of the important developments during the first 40 years of climate modelling from the first models of the global atmosphere to today’s models, which typically consist of integrated multi-component representations of the full climate system.” [Full text]

Causes of Climate Change Over the Past 1000 Years – Crowley (2000) “Recent reconstructions of Northern Hemisphere temperatures and climate forcing over the past 1000 years allow the warming of the 20th century to be placed within a historical context and various mechanisms of climate change to be tested. Comparisons of observations with simulations from an energy balance climate model indicate that as much as 41 to 64% of preanthropogenic (pre-1850) decadal-scale temperature variations was due to changes in solar irradiance and volcanism. … Removal of all forcing except greenhouse gases from the ~1000-year time series results in a residual with a very large late-20th-century warming that closely agrees with the response predicted from greenhouse gas forcing.” [Full text]

The impact of new physical parametrizations in the Hadley Centre climate model: HadAM3 – Pope et al. (2000) “The work covers three aspects of model performance: (1) it shows the improvements in the mean climate in changing from HadAM2b to HadAM3; (2) it demonstrates that the model now compares well with observations and (3) it isolates the impacts of new physical parametrizations.” [Full text]

Climate simulations with the global coupled atmosphere-ocean model ECHAM2/OPYC Part I: present-day climate and ENSO events – Lunkeit et al. (1996) “In this study the global coupled atmosphere-ocean general circulation model ECHAM2/OPYC and its performance in simulating the present-day climate is presented. … The coupled model simulates a realistic mean climate state, which is close to the observations.” [Full text]

Global Climate Changes as Forecast by Goddard Institute for Space Studies Three-Dimensional Model – Hansen et al. (1988) The classic paper that made very accurate global temperature projections by model runs but they also compared the runs with the existing observations. Comparison with existing observations is in a siderole in this paper, though, but there is a reasonable match with observations and model runs (obviously there are some differences as all model runs had at that time). “We use a three-dimensional climate model, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) model II with 8° by 10° horizontal resolution, to simulate the global climate effects of time-dependent variations of atmospheric trace gases and aerosols.” [Full text]

Sensitivity of a Global Climate Model to an Increase of CO2 Concentration in the Atmosphere – Manabe & Stouffer (1980) “This study investigates the response of a global model of the climate to the quadrupling of the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. … It is found that with some exceptions, the model succeeds in reproducing the large-scale characteristics of seasonal and geographical variation of the observed atmospheric temperature.” [Full text]

Climate modeling through radiative-convective models – Ramanathan & Coakley (1978)
Abstract: “We present a review of the radiative-convective models that have been used in studies pertaining to the earth’s climate. After familiarizing the reader with the theoretical background, modeling methodology, and techniques for solving the radiative transfer equation the review focuses on the published model studies concerning global climate and global climate change. Radiative-convective models compute the globally and seasonally averaged surface and atmospheric temperatures. The computed temperatures are in good agreement with the observed temperatures. The models include the important climatic feedback mechanism between surface temperature and H2O amount in the atmosphere. The principal weakness of the current models is their inability to simulate the feedback mechanism between surface temperature and cloud cover. It is shown that the value of the critical lapse rate adopted in radiative-convective models for convective adjustment is significantly larger than the observed globally averaged tropospheric lapse rate. The review also summarizes radiative-convective model results for the sensitivity of surface temperature to perturbations in (1) the concentrations of the major and minor optically active trace constituents, (2) aerosols, and (3) cloud amount. A simple analytical model is presented to demonstrate how the surface temperature in a radiative-convective model responds to perturbations.”
Ramanathan, V., and J. A. Coakley Jr. (1978), Climate modeling through radiative-convective models, Rev. Geophys., 16(4), 465–489, doi:10.1029/RG016i004p00465. [Full text}

Climate Calculations with a Combined Ocean-Atmosphere Model – Manabe & Bryan (1969) The first combined atmosphere-ocean model. “It is hoped that the experience gained in this preliminary study will be useful in planning and carrying out more extensive climatic calculations in the near future.” [Full text]

14 Responses to “Papers on models vs. observations”

  1. PeterPan said

    Recent climate observations compared to projections
    Rahmstorf et al (2007)

  2. Ari Jokimäki said

    Ahh, this one. I’ve seen it before. Thanks. It’s a fan favourite in denier circles too…😉

  3. PeterPan said

    Thank you, for this excellent resource on peer review regarding climate change😉 I’m not a scientist, so I always argue with PR documentes, and this site is very helpful😉

    Another favourite for deniers is Hansen’s 1988 projections. Hansen checked those projections in 2006:

    Global temperature change – Hansen et al (2006) (the full pdf is available there, also here)

  4. Ari Jokimäki said

    I actually thought of Hansen et al. (1988) when I was making this list, but then I thought that it is more about predictions than comparing model runs to observations. I wasn’t aware of Hansen et al. (2006). Now I added them both as the 1988 paper also makes some comparisons to observations, thanks.🙂

    I’m also not a scientist, but for a long time I have used scientific literature to read on scientific matters, and while doing so on climate science, I noticed a need for this kind of resource. By the way, there is a very good resource for finding the scientific material, the Google Scholar.

    Hmm… what’s “PR documentes”?

  5. PeterPan said

    With PR I meant peer-review😉 (and I meant documents instead of documentes :P)

    I also like debunking sites:


  6. Ari Jokimäki said

    Ahh, peer-review! Of course. All I could think of was public relations, and it didn’t seem to fit very well to the context.🙂

    I see you posted some papers to cosmic ray thread, I’ll deal with them tomorrow.

  7. Ari Jokimäki said

    I updated this list. Stott et al. (2006) now have link to full text.

  8. barry said

    Not sure if this goes here or in the debunking thread, if it has a place at all. A paper looking at observed and projected short-term cooling trends in GCMS.

    Here we analyze both the observed record and a series of climate model simulations for the occurrence of both positive and negative decadal trends in the globally averaged surface air temperature to show that it is possible, and indeed likely to have a period of as long as a decade or two with no trend in an anthropogenically forced climate.

  9. Ari Jokimäki said

    I have that paper already in “Papers on global surface temperature”, there’s a separate section for early 2000’s “cooling”:

  10. barry said

    Not sure where this should go, Ari, but it is a projection from Hansen that predates his 1988 paper in the list above. Recently blogged about at realclimate. You could just about stretch that it “also makes some comparisons to observations.”

    Climate Impact of Increasing Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

    Hansen et al (1981)

    The global temperature rose by 0.20C between the middle 1960’s and1980, yielding a warming of 0.4°C in the past century. This temperature increase is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect due to measured increases of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Variations of volcanic aerosols and possibly solar luminosity appear to be primary causes of observed fluctuations about the mean trend of increasing temperature. It is shown that the anthropogenic carbon dioxide warming should emerge from the noise level of natural climate variability by the end of the century, and there is a high probability of warming in the 1980’s. Potential effects on climate in the 21st century include the creation of drought-prone regions in North America and central Asia as part of a shifting of climatic zones, erosion of the West Antarctic ice sheet with a consequent worldwide rise in sea level, and opening of the fabled Northwest Passage.

    At sciencemag:

    Full verion:

  11. barry said

    Hmmm, the full version link above has the nicest copy, and will probably work as a hyperlink, but here’s another link with a fast load time.

  12. Ari Jokimäki said

    I added it to the General papers on AGW list, thanks.

  13. Ari Jokimäki said

    I added Rahmstorf et al. (2012).

  14. Ari Jokimäki said

    Ramanathan & Coakley (1978) added.

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