Abstract

Stochastic reduced models are an important tool in climate systems whose many spatial and temporal scales cannot be fully discretized or underlying physics may not be fully accounted for. One form of reduced model, the linear inverse model (LIM), has been widely used for regional climate predictability studies—typically focusing more on tropical or midlatitude studies. However, most LIM fitting techniques rely on point estimation techniques deriving from fluctuation–dissipation theory. In this methodological study we explore the use of Bayesian inference techniques for LIM parameter estimation of sea surface temperature (SST), to quantify the skillful decadal predictability of Bayesian LIM models at high latitudes. We show that Bayesian methods, when compared to traditional point estimation methods for LIM-type models, provide better calibrated probabilistic skill, while simultaneously providing better point estimates due to the regularization effect of the prior distribution in high-dimensional problems. We compare the effect of several priors, as well as maximum likelihood estimates, on 1) estimating parameter values on a perfect model experiment and 2) producing calibrated 1-yr SST anomaly forecast distributions using a preindustrial control run of the Community Earth System Model (CESM). Finally, we employ a host of probabilistic skill metrics to determine the extent to which an LIM can forecast SST anomalies at high latitudes. We find that the choice of prior distribution has an appreciable impact on estimation outcomes, and priors that emphasize physically relevant properties enhance the model’s ability to capture variability of SST anomalies.

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