Near-term climate prediction ‘coming of age’

Near-term climate prediction ‘coming of age’



24 January 2019

Bridging the gap between shorter-term seasonal forecasts and long-term climate projections has long been a dream of climate scientists.

Now a review paper, published by a team of international climate scientists, and led by authors at the Met Office and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Institute, validates the capability for near-term climate predictions out to a few years ahead. These predictions are expected to become increasingly useful for society, for government and business planning. And they have the potential to provide increasing resilience to communities at useful timescales for planning. Many societal decisions, such as flood and drought management and international disaster risk reduction, need to be made on timescales best served by near-term climate predictions.

The paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change shows the prospects for skilful near-term climate predictions when climate models are started from real-time observations of both the ocean and the atmosphere.  These coupled ocean-atmosphere climate models also incorporate the effects of anthropogenic greenhouse gases and natural effects, such as solar variability on climate.

The article describes the work and vision of the World Climate Research Programme's Grand Challenge on Near-Term Climate Prediction. The paper also highlights operational production of decadal climate predictions coordinated through WMO.

"Near-term" is synonymous with "decadal" and hence covers climate predictions between one and around ten years ahead. Skilful predictions on these timescales require coupled initialized from the current climate state, most importantly from the ocean. The newly published article explores both the current skill of such predictions, which is comparable to that of seasonal predictions, as well as the challenges and opportunities ahead. Progress on decadal predictions will bridge the gap between current seasonal forecasts and century-scale climate change projections, allowing a seamless climate service delivery chain to be established.

Pavel Kabat, the World Meteorological Organization's Chief Scientist and Director of Research, commented on the article's publication: “Climate predictions at decadal time scales are produced routinely now to international standards, allowing this nascent field to develop further and to adapt to society's needs. This achievement is an outstanding example of long-standing science investment and ongoing collaboration between entities such as the World Climate Research Programme and international partners in research and national prediction centers.”

Both the paper and the Grand Challenge on Near-Term Climate Prediction were led by Adam Scaife (UK Met Office and University of Exeter) and Yochanan Kushnir (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Colombia University). A press release by the UK Met Office, Professor Scaife's home institution, puts the paper and decadal predictions into a wider context of their societal value, integration into climate services, and climate-aware decision making.

Operationalization of Near Term Climate Prediction  (NTCP) Capabilities

WMO has recently established accredited procedures and infrastructure needed for the operational provision of credible NTCP information, through formally defining the roles and designation criteria for Global Producing Centres of Annual to Decadal Predictions (GPCs-ADCP), along with a Lead Center for Annual to Decadal Climate Prediction (LC-ADCP) that will participate in and be responsible for the collection, coordination and dissemination of NTCP products. 

Standards and protocols regarding the provision of decadal prediction by GPCs-ADCP and LC-ADCP have also been developed as part of the 2017 Edition of WMO’s Manual on the Global Data Processing and Forecasting System. These define a clear process for the contributing centres seeking WMO accreditation as GPCs-ADCP, requiring commitment to the WMO-specified products and fixed production cycles, as well as to prediction verification. Development of, and adherence to, such commonly agreed standards, structures and guidelines is a prerequisite to the success of the international operational provision of real-time NTCP products. 

The formal establishment of GPCs-ADCP by the WMO is considered a welcome development to help consolidate and streamline the contributions of the NTCP community worldwide. Such coordinated efforts will broaden the benefits of NTCP, ensure well-informed delivery and increase availability of NTCP information to National Meteorological and Hydrological Services as well as Regional Climate Centres and other users by providing an important and authentic source of information, thereby addressing a key gap in the annual to decadal time frame, and accelerating the development of regular climate services.

For further information on the Grand Challenge on Near-Term Climate Prediction's activities, see the GC-NTCP website.

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