Reponse to a November 4, 2005 post on RealClimate

RealClimate posted a comment today on Chaos and Climate.

My response, which I also submitted to RealClimate, is as follows:

James and William- your post, unfortunately, perpetuates the use of climate to refer to long term weather statistics. You state that

“The chaotic nature of atmospheric solutions of the Navier-Stokes equations for fluid flow has great impact on weather forecasting (which we discuss first), but the evidence suggests that it has much less importance for climate prediction.”

This is incorrect.

First, the more appropriate scientific definition of climate is that it is a system involving the oceans, land, atmosphere and continental ice sheets with interfacial fluxes between these components, as we concluded in the 2005 National Research Council report . Observations show chaotic behavior of the climate system on all time scales, including sudden regime transitions, as we documented in Rial, J., R.A. Pielke Sr., M. Beniston, M. Claussen, J. Canadell, P. Cox, H. Held, N. de Noblet-Ducoudre, R. Prinn, J. Reynolds, and J.D. Salas, 2004: Nonlinearities, feedbacks and critical thresholds within the Earth’s climate system. Climatic Change, 65, 11-38.

That the model simulations that you discuss in your weblog do not simulate rapid climate transitions such as we document in our paper illustrates that the models do not skillfully create chaotic behavior over long time periods as clearly occurs in the real world.

That climate is an integrated system and is sensitive to initial conditions is overviewed in Pielke, R.A., 1998: Climate prediction as an initial value problem. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 79, 2743-2746. Even within the atmospheric portion of the climate system, and applying a simple nonlinear model, based on the work of Lorenz, a chaotic response can be generated which is not evident in the model results you refer to (see Pielke, R.A. and X. Zeng, 1994: Long-term variability of climate. J. Atmos. Sci., 51, 155-159). We show in this study that even short-periodic natural variations of climate forcing can lead to significant long-term variability in the climate system.

We need to move the discussion to studying climate as a complex, nonlinear system which displays chaotic behavior if we are going to provide scientifically robust understanding to policymakers. Readers of your weblog are invited to read my postings at if they would like to read a different perspective on climate science.

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