Climate predictions several years into the future?

July 22, 2020

Our planet's climate system is complex. Different components, like atmosphere, ocean, sea and land ice influence each other and cause natural climate variations on a range of timescales from months to decades. Particularly for the long timescales, the ocean plays an essential role. In a new study published today, a research team led by GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel investigates the possibility of utilizing the wind field to predict the North Atlantic surface temperature variations several years into the future. Such variations of the sea surface temperature also have the potential to influence the climate in Europe.

'Predictions of climate variations are possible for certain regions on Earth', says Dr. Annika Reintges, scientist at GEOMAR and lead author of the study, that is now published in Geophysical Research Letters. One example is the, every couple of years, recurring El Niño phenomenon in the tropical Pacific, that can be predicted a few months ahead. 'Our study focuses on longer timescales, in a region where natural variability on decadal timescales is much larger than in the tropics', Reintges continues.

Are such predictions possible? What are the requirements and which kind of information can be provided by such predictions? These questions were addressed by a research team of GEOMAR and of the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Research Warnemünde. 'Indeed, long-term predictions are possible. This is enabled by the slow, over several years, varying oceanic processes', explains Dr. Reintges. The difficulty is that ocean observations--that are necessary to start the model computation--must be as accurate as possible. 'However, ocean observations, in particular below the surface, are limited in quantity and quality' says Reintges.

'For the predictions in our study, we did not use any ocean observations. Instead, we create oceanic start values, by prescribing only observed variations in the wind at the sea surface. After some time, this brings the ocean of the model into a state that is sufficiently realistic to start successful predictions for even more than 7 years into the future', explains the author of the study.

The research team suggests the following mechanism to explain this fact: The winds cause a change in the ocean circulation. By this, a certain region in the North Atlantic accumulates an anomalous amount of heat. This heat is then transported towards Northeast over a time of several years. This finally results in a warming of the sea surface in the eastern North Atlantic, in response to the winds many years before.

'Previous studies have shown that the sea surface temperature of the North Atlantic can influence the European climate. Therefore, such predictions of the North Atlantic surface temperature, covering several years are of great importance also for decision makers in politics, economy, society, and also for the public', Reintges concludes.

Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel (GEOMAR)

Related Climate Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Climate Insights 2020: Climate opinions unchanged by pandemic, but increasingly entrenched
A new survey provides a snapshot of American opinion on climate change as the nation's public health, economy, and social identity are put to the test.

Climate action goes digital
More transparent and accessible to everyone: information and communication technologies bring opportunities for transforming traditional climate diplomacy.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

How aerosols affect our climate
Greenhouse gases may get more attention, but aerosols -- from car exhaust to volcanic eruptions -- also have a major impact on the Earth's climate.

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

How trees could save the climate
Around 0.9 billion hectares of land worldwide would be suitable for reforestation, which could ultimately capture two thirds of human-made carbon emissions.

Climate undermined by lobbying
For all the evidence that the benefits of reducing greenhouse gases outweigh the costs of regulation, disturbingly few domestic climate change policies have been enacted around the world so far.

Climate education for kids increases climate concerns for parents
A new study from North Carolina State University finds that educating children about climate change increases their parents' concerns about climate change.

Read More: Climate News and Climate Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to