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Abrupt Climate Change Overview

dry lakebedDOE’s Climate Modeling Program has initiated an area of research in Abrupt Climate Change Modeling aimed at articulating the thresholds, nonlinearities and fast feedbacks in the climate system with a focus on abrupt climate change, incorporating causal mechanisms into coupled climate models and testing the enhanced models against observational records of past abrupt climate change.  Examples of abrupt climate change of interest to DOE are mega droughts, rapid changes in Arctic sea-ice extent and duration, and potential rapid increase in sea level rise.  The research is delivered through the IMPACTS project (Investigation of the Magnitudes and Probabilities of Abrupt Climate TransitionS) and several university projects, many of which are also collaborations with IMPACTS science teams.

Technically, an abrupt climate change occurs when the climate system is forced across some threshold, triggering a persistent transition to a new state at a rate determined by the climate system itself and faster than the cause (Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises, National Research Council, 2002). DOE interest is on events where large (i.e., subcontinental) and widespread change occurs within a short period (i.e., a decade).

The DOE Abrupt Climate Change Modeling activity examines both attribution of recent past abrupt climate change, as well as potential future abrupt climate change based on climate change projections using dynamical coupled climate models.  The research seeks to provide climate change projections for the 21st century using state-of-the-science dynamically coupled models.  All research funded by the program is subject to the Office of Biological and Environmental Research data sharing policies.

Understanding future changes in major modes of climate variability and climate extremes (variability) and detecting and attributing the regional manifestations of climate change (predictability) remain significant challenges.  Improved climate information at high spatial and temporal resolution is of immense significance to society and decision makers.

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