Science Resources

Demystifying Climate Models

Most people have probably heard about climate models, but what are they? How do they work and what components do they contain? What kinds of data go into climate models and how are uncertainties handled? How can you combine insights from different systems of the earth, such as air, ocean and land? What kind of interactions occur in the climate system and how are those modeled?

How are climate models evaluated? What happens if some information is missing? How do forecasts differ from projections? What are the results of some current climate models? Can climate models be used to successfully predict intensity and frequency of extreme events? What kind of information can climate models give policymakers and other interested stakeholders? How do you accurately frame uncertainties?

Demystifying Climate Models: A Users Guide to Earth System Models is an open access textbook about climate models written by Andrew Gettelman and Richard B. Rood and published by Springer. Gettelman is a research scientist working at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and focuses mainly on understanding the impact of clouds on climate. Rood is a Professor at the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering (CLaSP) at University of Michigan and right now focuses on the intersection between climate knowledge and policy-making.

Despite the fact that there is a massive amount of scientific evidence for the mainstream climate science position that humans contribute majorly to the current warming trend and changes caused by it, science deniers are vocally spreading their misinformation both online and in politics. This book illuminates one issue that has long been obfuscated by climate deniers, namely climate models.

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The book is close to 300 pages and has thirteen chapters divided into three parts. The first part introduces the reader to basic issues related to climate and climate forecasts and consists of four chapters. The first chapter explains the concept of climate, how models work in science and how science deals with different kinds of uncertainties. The second chapter explains the various parts of the climate system, such as air, water and land while the third chapter goes over forcings and historical data. The fourth chapter finishes the first part and provides the reader with the essential components of a climate model.

The second part goes over model mechanics and serves as the meat of the book. It explains how to model the atmosphere (chapter 5), ocean and sea ice (chapter 6), land (chapter 7) and combining these different parts into a coherent system that takes into account interactions (chapter 8).

The third and final part takes a closer look at how to apply models in practice: how to evaluate them critically (chapter 9), look at predictability (chapter 10), key results of current models (chapter 11) and how climate models can be used by researchers and others (chapter 12). The final chapter of the book provides a summary and some concluding thoughts of the book (chapter 13). Besides the main text, the textbook also feature an extensive glossary of climate model terms. There are also many useful color illustrations in the book to explain key concepts.

The textbook can be downloaded either in PDF or ePUB format. A cached version of the PDF file can be found here. If you want to get a good overview of the role of climate models, this is an excellent textbook to read. If you only have time to read some of it, start by reading the summary chapter at the end.

If you find climate science fascinating, check out other textbooks such as The Discovery of Global Warming and Climate Change: Evidence and Causes.


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