Climate Change and Climate Modeling

J. David Neelin

Cambridge University Press 2011
A book review by Danny Yee © 2011
Climate Change and Climate Modeling is an undergraduate textbook, but one aimed at outside students as well as those going on to specialise in climate science. This makes it suitable for a broad range of readers, with the only assumed knowledge being some basic physics and mathematics — elementary dynamics, a bit of thermodynamics, simple differential equations, and so forth.

The opening chapter introduces climate, the climate system and climate models, but mostly attempts to whet the reader's interest, touching on recent climate changes, El Niño as an example of natural climate variability and paleoclimate variability.

Chapter two presents the components of the climate system: radiative forcing, global energy transport, atmospheric and oceanic circulations, land processes and the carbon cycle. And chapter three covers the basic atmospheric and oceanic physics — conservation laws, moist processes — and introduces gravity, Kelvin, and Rossby waves.

A chapter on the El Niño effect begins with the Bjerknes hypothesis, some tropical Pacific climatology, and the basic ENSO mechanisms. It then takes a detailed look at the transition into the 1997-98 El Niño, the mechanisms involved (equatorial jets, Kelvin wave, oscillator models), and the success and fundamental limitations of El Niño predictions. The El Niño effect has teleconnections to other regions, notably storms on the US West coast and precipitation over Australia and Southeast Asia. Neelin also touches here on other interannual phenomena such as hurricanes seasons, Sahel droughts, and the North Atlantic oscillation.

Introducing climate models, chapter five covers computational issues (spectral versus finite difference models, numerical stability, staggered grids, parallelism), the parameterization of small-scale "sub-grid" processes (convection, mixing, land surface, sea ice and snow), the hierarchy of climate models (with simplified models used to allow more or very long model runs, or greater detail in regional forecasts), and model "spin up" and "climate drift". It also presents an evaluation of some current model simulations of present climate.

Chapter six covers the basic radiative physics of the greenhouse effect and the major climate feedbacks: water vapour, snow/ice cover, clouds, stratospheric cooling, and lapse rate feedback. It explains the difference between the transient response to greenhouse forcing (what will happen in the short-term) and the longer-term equilibrium response involving the deep ocean (with some future changes "locked in").

The final chapter tackles the application of climate models to global warming. Looking at some of the different models and emission scenarios, it presents forecasts for global changes in temperature and precipitation and their spatial patterns, as well as for changes in ice cover, sea level, and the probability of extreme events. It looks at the climate changes observed so far and how models compare with observations, explores the effects of different emission paths, and briefly considers different mitigation possibilities.

Neelin makes good use in this of maps, diagrams and figures. These are all in black and white, but sets of colour powerpoint slides for each chapter are available on a web site. (Problem sets and answers are also available, but only to instructors.)

Climate Change and Climate Modeling is an overview and there's a fair bit it doesn't cover. It doesn't delve into model implementation details, for example, and it has little on paleoclimatology or the history of climate science. Reasonably discursive endnotes to each chapter contain additional material, sometimes extra mathematical or physical details, sometimes references to further reading.

On the one hand, Climate Change and Climate Modeling offers a foundation for readers who will go on to tackle more advanced texts or the research literature. On the other hand, it will be a good resource for those who need to understand and interpret the results of climate models — most obviously ecologists, economists, and researchers in other fields, but also lay readers, possibly including policy makers, who have the necessary science background.

March 2011

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%T Climate Change and Climate Modeling
%A Neelin, J. David
%I Cambridge University Press
%D 2011
%O glossary, references, index
%G ISBN-13 9780521602433
%P 282pp