IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis The Multi-Model Ensemble Approach

The use of ensembles of AOGCMs developed at different modelling centres has become established in climate prediction/ projection on both seasonal-to-interannual and centennial time scales. To the extent that simulation errors in different AOGCMs are independent, the mean of the ensemble can be expected to outperform individual ensemble members, thus providing an improved ‘best estimate’ forecast. Results show this to be the case, both in verification of seasonal forecasts (Palmer et al., 2004; Hagedorn et al., 2005) and of the present-day climate from long term simulations (Lambert and Boer, 2001). By sampling modelling uncertainties, ensembles of AOGCMs should provide an improved basis for probabilistic projections compared with ensembles of a single model sampling only uncertainty in the initial state (Palmer et al., 2005). However, members of a multi-model ensemble share common systematic errors (Lambert and Boer, 2001), and cannot span the full range of possible model configurations due to resource constraints. Verification of future climate change projections is not possible, however, Räisänen and Palmer (2001) used a ‘perfect model approach’ (treating one member of an ensemble as truth and predicting its response using the other members) to show that the hypothetical economic costs associated with climate events can be reduced by calculating the probability of the event across the ensemble, rather than using a deterministic prediction from an individual ensemble member.

An additional strength of multi-model ensembles is that each member is subjected to careful testing in order to obtain a plausible and stable control simulation, although the process of tuning model parameters to achieve this (Section involves subjective judgement, and is not guaranteed to identify the optimum location in the model parameter space.