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A Changing Climate: CMIP5 Climate Models

Efforts to model and predict long-term variations in climate—based on scientific understanding of climatological processes—have grown rapidly in their sophistication to the point that models can be used to develop reasonable expectations of regional climate change. This is important because our ability to assess the potential consequences of a changing climate for particular ecosystems or regions depends on having realistic expectations about the kinds and severity of change to which a region may be exposed.

The fifth phase of the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) is a collaborative climate modeling research effort coordinated by the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). This is the most recent phase (2009–2013) of the CMIP process, and CMIP5 model outputs are the primary body of climate model output relied upon by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). CMIP model output datasets represent predictions about temperature and precipitation variability from 1950 to 2100, with historical "predictions" providing a way to compare model predictions to observed climate.

Future projections are made under four greenhouse gas concentration pathways with differing severities. The example maps presented here are multi-model averages for the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5—a moderate scenario in which greenhouse gas emissions begin to decline by mid-century. Even with declining emissions, atmospheric concentrations remain high but stabilize.

CMIP5 model output collections are widely used in climate change research to improve modeling efforts by assessing differences in modeling approaches and underlying drivers, to assess the potential exposure of social and ecological systems to expected climate change, and for a multitude of outreach and educational applications.

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Last modified: 
10/06/2015 - 19:28