From Climate Models to Earth System Models

Initially, climate models described only physical processes in the atmosphere, the ocean, and on land surface (Figure 3 a). However, future climate predictions also require modeling of geochemical, biochemical, and biological processes. Indeed, future changes in the chemical composition of the atmosphere, which is the primary cause of anthropogenic climate change, is not known and due to a number of important feedbacks between physical and biogeochemical processes in the climate system, they have to be modeled in consistent matter. For example, at present only one-third of anthropogenic carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere while the rest is partitioned between oceanic and terrestrial carbon uptakes. This implies that both terrestrial and marine carbon cycles have to be properly modeled. Moreover, terrestrial vegetation not only plays an important role in the carbon cycle but also provides an additional positive climate feedback by alternating surface albedo and other surface characteristics. At the same time, simulation of other important components of anthropogenic changes, such as methane, ozone, and aerosols, requires a detailed description of the atmospheric chemistry. When the simulations on the timescales longer than hundred years are concerned, especially during the glacial age, the dynamics of the ice sheets (both terrestrial and shelf ice) also have to be simulated. Incorporating of all these components into climate models (Figure 3b) represents an important step from climate models to the comprehensive Earth system models. Currently, a number of the Earth




Land surface


Atmospheric chemistry




carbon cycle






Socioeconomic model

Figure 3 The principal structure of the coupled climate models (a) and Earth system models (b). Gray shading represents physical components; brown, geochemical components; and green, ecological components of the model.

system models based both on GCMs and models of intermediate complexity are used for variety of climate change studies.

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