Computer Simulations Missed Key Driver of Climate Change – for 30 Years

Melting ice in Greenland.

(CN) – News about climate change has grown increasingly bleak in recent weeks, including word from the United Nations that we need to work more quickly to control global warming and news that the world’s beer supply will be jeopardized if things don’t turn around. Now, scientists have acknowledged their predictions on the regional effects of climate change are flawed and things could be far worse than they knew.

The problem, according to a study published Tuesday in the European journal The Cryosphere, is that none of the simulation programs scientists use to predict climate change account for the so-called “Greenland blocking” – a strong ridge of high pressure that has been developing each summer for the past 30 years.

In fact, the researchers say their simulations show exactly the opposite – slightly decreasing air pressure. The findings raise serious doubts as to the accuracy of climate predictions for the United Kingdom and Western Europe, since their weather is closely linked to pressure changes over Greenland.

Climatologists believe record wet summers across England like those experienced in 2007 and 2012 could become commonplace if the Greenland blocking pattern continues to strengthen. However, no one will see it coming because of the faulty simulation programs, the researchers said.

“These differences between the estimates from the current climate models and observations suggests that the models cannot accurately represent recent conditions or predict future changes in Greenland climate,” said lead researcher Edward Hanna of the University of Lincoln’s School of Geography. “While there is natural variability in the climate system, we think that the recent rapid warming over Greenland since the early 1990s is not being fully simulated by the models, and that this misrepresentation could mean that future changes in atmospheric circulation and the jet stream over the wider North Atlantic region may not be properly simulated.”

Making the situation even more dire, the researchers have also concluded current models of melting on the Greenland Ice Sheet – which covers 80 percent of the surface of the world’s largest island – may be flawed as well, and may significantly underestimate how much sea levels will rise by 2100.

The team’s research is the first to compare global climate models with observations of Greenland’s air-pressure changes.

Also leading the research team were Richard Hall, also of the University of Lincoln’s School of Geography, and Xavier Fettweis of the University of Liege in Belgium.


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