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Working towards more accurate forecasts of future climates

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Climate modelling is fundamental to predicting, or estimating, future trends in our planetary environment. Yet it is a science based on observations, assumptions about likely effects, and with many potential uncertainties. Reducing the number of uncertainties improves the accuracy and capability of climate models – which was the goal of the European Union (EU)-funded research project COMBINE.

COMBINE team aimed to advance the accuracy of climate prediction and projection by improving the capabilities of what are called Earth-System Models or ESMs. These sets of equations describe the physical, chemical and biological processes that are in continual flux within the planet's atmosphere, the land and the oceans. Such models have developed into important tools for understanding the behaviour of our climate, and they form the basis for international assessments of climate change.

The project brought together leading European centres in Earth system modelling in order to improve the European approach to climate modelling, and hence our understanding of complex climate processes. COMBINE's research work aligned closely with ongoing international work in this area, in particular with the parameters relied upon by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which focuses on understanding human-induced climate change.

“We produced a set of new climate simulations that contributed directly to the IPCC's latest report – the Fifth Assessment Report or AR5,” says project coordinator Marco Giorgetta of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, Germany. “The simulations were part of the European contribution to the CMIP5 protocol, an international effort among the climate-modelling community to coordinate climate change experiments,” he adds.  

The Policymakers' Summary of the AR5 Report, released in September 2013, has already received publicity around the world. It claims not only that the evidence for climate warming is unequivocal, but also that human activity is likely to be the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century.

Apart from the headline-grabbing aspects of the AR5 report, the COMBINE project results have contributed to increasing the knowledge of interactions between the land surface, the atmosphere and the oceans, including the significance and impact of sea ice, the carbon cycle and the contribution of radiated heat. The results of the project are also feeding into other European research projects (such as EMBRACE, SPECS, CLIMRUN and EUPORIAS) and are expected to form a valuable database for future EU climate research.

In addition to the pure research, the project team also examined the potential impact of climate variation on three different regions: the Arctic, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Amazon basin. The researchers had a specific focus on the interactions between climate variation and water availability in these regions, which could have implications for the planning of crops and potential harvests.

The results of the COMBINE project are being disseminated to the international scientific community via the CMIP5 Earth System network and in peer-reviewed publications. In this way the research team's work has produced not only a valuable core of data that is expected to be used by future climate change research, but also made an important contribution to the climate change assessments being delivered by the IPCC. 
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