How to understand and reason about uncertainty in climate science is a topic that is receiving increasing attention in both the scientific and philosophical literature. This paper provides a perspective on exploring ways to understand, assess, and reason about uncertainty in climate science, including application to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment reports. Uncertainty associated with climate science and the science–policy interface presents unique challenges owing to the complexity of the climate system itself, the potential for adverse socioeconomic impacts of climate change, and the politicization of proposed policies to reduce societal vulnerability to climate change. The challenges to handling uncertainty at the science– policy interface are framed using the “monster” metaphor, whereby attempts to tame the monster are described. An uncertainty lexicon is provided that describes the natures and levels of uncertainty and ways of representing and reasoning about uncertainty. Uncertainty of climate models is interpreted in the context of model inadequacy, uncertainty in model parameter values, and initial condition uncertainty. This article examines the challenges of building confidence in climate models and, in particular, the issue of confidence in simulations of the twenty-first-century climate. The treatment of uncertainty in the IPCC assessment reports is examined, including the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report conclusion regarding the attribution of climate change in the latter half of the twentieth century. Ideas for monster-taming strategies are discussed for institutions, individual scientists, and communities.
Research Article| 1 December 2011
Climate Science and the Uncertainty Monster
J. A. Curry;
Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc. (2011) 92 (12): 1667–1682.
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Curry, J. A., and P. J. Webster, 2011: Climate Science and the Uncertainty Monster. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 92, 1667–1682, https://doi.org/10.1175/2011BAMS3139.1.
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