High skill in low-frequency climate response through fluctuation dissipation theorems despite structural instability

Andrew J. Majda, Rafail Abramov, Boris Gershgorin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Climate change science focuses on predicting the coarse-grained, planetary-scale, longtime changes in the climate system due to either changes in external forcing or internal variability, such as the impact of increased carbon dioxide. The predictions of climate change science are carried out through comprehensive, computational atmospheric, and oceanic simulation models, which necessarily parameterize physical features such as clouds, sea ice cover, etc. Recently, it has been suggested that there is irreducible imprecision in such climate models that manifests itself as structural instability in climate statistics and which can significantly hamper the skill of computer models for climate change. A systematic approach to deal with this irreducible imprecision is advocated through algorithms based on the Fluctuation Dissipation Theorem (FDT). There are important practical and computational advantages for climate change science when a skillful FDT algorithm is established. The FDT response operator can be utilized directly for multiple climate change scenarios, multiple changes in forcing, and other parameters, such as damping and inverse modelling directly without the need of running the complex climate model in each individual case. The high skill of FDT in predicting climate change, despite structural instability, is developed in an unambiguous fashion using mathematical theory as guidelines in three different test models: a generic class of analytical models mimicking the dynamical core of the computer climate models, reduced stochastic models for low-frequency variability, and models with a significant new type of irreducible imprecision involving many fast, unstable modes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)581-586
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2010


  • Climate change
  • Irreducible imprecision

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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