Causal networks for climate model evaluation and constrained projections

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Global climate models are central tools for understanding past and future climate change. The assessment of model skill, in turn, can benefit from modern data science approaches. Here we apply causal discovery algorithms to sea level pressure data from a large set of climate model simulations and, as a proxy for observations, meteorological reanalyses. We demonstrate how the resulting causal networks (fingerprints) offer an objective pathway for process-oriented model evaluation. Models with fingerprints closer to observations better reproduce important precipitation patterns over highly populated areas such as the Indian subcontinent, Africa, East Asia, Europe and North America. We further identify expected model interdependencies due to shared development backgrounds. Finally, our network metrics provide stronger relationships for constraining precipitation projections under climate change as compared to traditional evaluation metrics for storm tracks or precipitation itself. Such emergent relationships highlight the potential of causal networks to constrain longstanding uncertainties in climate change projections. Algorithms to assess causal relationships in data sets have seen increasing applications in climate science in recent years. Here, the authors show that these techniques can help to systematically evaluate the performance of climate models and, as a result, to constrain uncertainties in future climate change projections.


Original languageEnglish
Article number1415
Number of pages11
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2020


    Research areas

  • Climate models, Earth observations, atmospheric dynamics, causal discovery, network algorithms, model evaluation and intercomparison, machine learning, CMIP5, climate change, precipitation patterns, ENSEMBLE, CIRCULATION, PERFORMANCE, METRICS, FEEDBACKS, IMPACT, ENSO TELECONNECTIONS, UNCERTAINTY, ATMOSPHERIC TELECONNECTIONS

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doi: 10.1038/s41467-020-15195-y

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