Basics of Climate Models

Adapted from Barsugli, J., K. Averyt, and A. Ray. How Climate Models Work. (August 7, 2009). Southwest Climate Change Network.

News headlines about climate change research often are based on climate models. But to most people, the way these models function is a mystery.

Researchers are continually improving the ability of climate models to simulate realistic climate. The models are imperfect descriptions of the Earth’s climate system, but their progress has advanced the understanding of future climate change and expanded the use of models in climate change planning. The most sophisticated climate models, called Global Climate Models, often are used to generate data that are incorporated into regional studies that assess, for example, future changes in river flow or species distribution. They are also used to help people understand the relation between greenhouse gas emissions and future climate, providing valuable information for policy makers who may set greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Despite widespread references made to climate models, there is a great deal of confusion about them. The following topics provide a window into the anatomy of climate models and how they work:

Adapted by Melanie Lenart, University of Arizona

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