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Conducting climate science: Reporting climate forecasts

Updated Wednesday, 19th February 2014

We start the learning journey proper by looking at how climate forecasts are reported.

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Let us start by reading a online article by the BBC’s science editor, David Shukman, entitled ‘Climate model forecast is revised’ from January 8th, 2013.

The UK Met Office has revised one of its forecasts for how much the world may warm in the next few years.

It says the average temperature is likely to be 0.43 C above the long-term average by 2017, as opposed to an earlier forecast suggesting a difference of 0.54C.

The explanation is that a new kind of computer model using different parameters has been used.

The Met Office stresses that the work is experimental.

It says it still stands by its longer-term projections that forecast significant warming over the course of this century.

The forecasts are all based on a comparison with the average global temperature over the period 1971-2000.

The earlier model had projected that the period 2012-16 would be 0.54C above that long-term average - within a range of uncertainty from 0.36-0.72C.

By contrast the new model, known as HadGEM3, gives a rise about one-fifth lower than that of 0.43C - within a range of 0.28-0.59.

This would be only slightly higher that the record year of 1998 - in which the Pacific Ocean's El Nino effect was thought to have added more warming.

If the forecast is accurate, the result would be that the global average temperature would have remained relatively static for about two decades.

This would seem to be qualified good news, but would you have realised this had you visited the Met Office website and read the original report which Shukman’s article above was an explanation of. The Met Office original was published in December 2012.

Activity One

Read the Met Office Press release from December 2012. Reflect on whether you would have discovered anything exceptional or newsworthy from this web page. What might account for this?

Comment

I found it difficult to think there was anything that was newsworthy here. This was because the tone of the page, compared to a piece of journalism, was rather dull, and extracting the significant piece of information was difficult because there was a lot of other information.

I speculated on why this might be. I assume that the Met Office is very circumspect and did not want to overplay what the new model suggests. Also, the new model obviously means that the old model was inferior in some way, and it is the older model that would have informed much of the debate around climate change in the UK over the previous decade.

It may also be that they do not wish their work to become a ‘football’ in the heated debates between those that are very alarmed about the prospect of global warming and those that are not convinced it is happening, the so called climate sceptics.

This Learning Journey is part of the Creative Climate project on OpenLearn. You can return to the first page or move on to the next part: Vegetation and flooding research

 

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