How do Scientists Project the Climate of the Future and How Reliable are Their Projections?


Projections of future changes in climate are typically based on three sources of information.





Three Sources

  • Knowledge of historical climate variability and change
  • Scientific understanding of the climate system
  • Computer models of the climate system that generate projections of future climate based upon a number of variables

Of these three, climate models have received considerable attention. A number of different models exist and each represents the climate in a different way, resulting in large differences among models in projections of future climate change. A more useful way to think about

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climate models is not as a specific prediction, but rather as a range of possible futures.

Most of the current models do a reasonable job of simulating past climate variability on time scales of decades to centuries, but such models are not designed to predict short-term climate variability (days-years) and weather. (Weather forecasters use a different kind of model that can predict the weather but it not designed to project beyond 10 days.) Much of the uncertainty in future projections is due to the assumptions used regarding future trends in greenhouse gas emissions, which is a question of human behavior, not climate science.

Source: Center for Climate and Energy Solutions


This article is part of our educational series on Climate Change. See related articles below.