IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis

10.5.4 Sampling Uncertainty and Estimating Probabilities

Uncertainty in the response of an AOGCM arises from the effects of internal variability, which can be sampled in isolation by creating ensembles of simulations of a single model using alternative initial conditions, and from modelling uncertainties, which arise from errors introduced by the discretization of the equations of motion on a finite resolution grid, and the parametrization of sub-grid scale processes (radiative transfer, cloud formation, convection, etc). Modelling uncertainties are manifested in alternative structural choices (for example, choices of resolution and the basic physical assumptions on which parametrizations are based), and in the values of poorly constrained parameters within parametrization schemes. Ensemble approaches are used to quantify the effects of uncertainties arising from variations in model structure and parameter settings. These are assessed in Sections to, followed by a discussion of observational constraints in Section and methods used to obtain probabilistic predictions in Sections to

While ensemble projections carried out to date give a wide range of responses, they do not sample all possible sources of modelling uncertainty. For example, the AR4 multi-model ensemble relies on specified concentrations of CO2, thus neglecting uncertainties in carbon cycle feedbacks (see Section 10.4.1), although this can be partially addressed by using less detailed models to extrapolate the AOGCM results (see Section 10.5.3). More generally, the set of available models may share fundamental inadequacies, the effects of which cannot be quantified (Kennedy and O’Hagan, 2001). For example, climate models currently implement a restricted approach to the parametrization of sub-grid scale processes, using deterministic bulk formulae coupled to the resolved flow exclusively at the grid scale. Palmer et al. (2005) argue that the outputs of parametrization schemes should be sampled from statistical distributions consistent with a range of possible sub-grid scale states, following a stochastic approach that has been tried in numerical weather forecasting (e.g., Buizza et al., 1999; Palmer, 2001). The potential for missing or inadequately parametrized processes to broaden the simulated range of future changes is not clear, however, this is an important caveat for the results discussed below.