On intrinsic uncertainties in earth system modelling


Various types of uncertainty plague climate change simulation, which is, in turn, a crucialelement of Earth System modelling. This fact was recognized for example in the Third Assessment Report (TAR) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, Houghton et al. (2001)), where the authors indicate that for the period between 1990 and 2100 an increase of the global mean temperature around 1.4-5.8°C is to be expected (Houghton et al. 2001). The width of this span as well as the fact that the authors did not give a number concerning the most probable value or a probability distribution shows clearly the large uncertainty. This uncertainty does not only arise due to the different scenarios of future development concerning greenhouse gas emissions for example, but follows to large degree from the wide range of results from different models as well. The chain of these uncertainties of imponderables in the analysis of the Earth System (Schellnhuber and Wenzel 1998), which includes the climate system as well as the anthroposphere, reaches from uncertainties about the existence of critical thresholds, to ignorance of the exact state of today's climate, and ultimately to a lack of knowledge concerning climate-relevant processes, some of which are visible as uncertainties in climate models. Many attempts have been made to reduce these uncertainties by gaining a conceptual understanding of processes, e.g. of El Ni~no / Southern Oscillation (ENSO) (Jin 1997, e.g.) or of the Atlantic overturning (Stommel 1961; Rahmstorf 1996, e.g.), by developing methods to identify critical thresholds in the climate system (Alley et al. 2003; Rial et al. 2004, e.g.), or by implementing an increasing number of processes in a model, resulting in high resolution general circulation models (GCMs), e.g. ECHAM5/MPI-OM (Jungclaus et al. 2006) or HadCM3 (Gordon et al. 2000) and many more. Nevertheless, the much larger part of uncertainties is inevitable in the process of modelling as well as in our understanding of the Earth System. In this thesis we will structure this conglomeration of uncertainties climate research is confronted with. We will address several types of uncertainty and apply methods of dynamical systems theory on a trendsetting field of climate research, i.e. the Indian monsoon ...
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