Articles | Volume 4, issue 1
Research article
 | Highlight paper
08 Apr 2013
Research article | Highlight paper |  | 08 Apr 2013

Scenario and modelling uncertainty in global mean temperature change derived from emission-driven global climate models

B. B. B. Booth, D. Bernie, D. McNeall, E. Hawkins, J. Caesar, C. Boulton, P. Friedlingstein, and D. M. H. Sexton

Abstract. We compare future changes in global mean temperature in response to different future scenarios which, for the first time, arise from emission-driven rather than concentration-driven perturbed parameter ensemble of a global climate model (GCM). These new GCM simulations sample uncertainties in atmospheric feedbacks, land carbon cycle, ocean physics and aerosol sulphur cycle processes. We find broader ranges of projected temperature responses arising when considering emission rather than concentration-driven simulations (with 10–90th percentile ranges of 1.7 K for the aggressive mitigation scenario, up to 3.9 K for the high-end, business as usual scenario). A small minority of simulations resulting from combinations of strong atmospheric feedbacks and carbon cycle responses show temperature increases in excess of 9 K (RCP8.5) and even under aggressive mitigation (RCP2.6) temperatures in excess of 4 K. While the simulations point to much larger temperature ranges for emission-driven experiments, they do not change existing expectations (based on previous concentration-driven experiments) on the timescales over which different sources of uncertainty are important. The new simulations sample a range of future atmospheric concentrations for each emission scenario. Both in the case of SRES A1B and the Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs), the concentration scenarios used to drive GCM ensembles, lies towards the lower end of our simulated distribution. This design decision (a legacy of previous assessments) is likely to lead concentration-driven experiments to under-sample strong feedback responses in future projections. Our ensemble of emission-driven simulations span the global temperature response of the CMIP5 emission-driven simulations, except at the low end. Combinations of low climate sensitivity and low carbon cycle feedbacks lead to a number of CMIP5 responses to lie below our ensemble range. The ensemble simulates a number of high-end responses which lie above the CMIP5 carbon cycle range. These high-end simulations can be linked to sampling a number of stronger carbon cycle feedbacks and to sampling climate sensitivities above 4.5 K. This latter aspect highlights the priority in identifying real-world climate-sensitivity constraints which, if achieved, would lead to reductions on the upper bound of projected global mean temperature change. The ensembles of simulations presented here provides a framework to explore relationships between present-day observables and future changes, while the large spread of future-projected changes highlights the ongoing need for such work.

Final-revised paper