Royal Society Philosophical Transactions A Collins

August 14, 2007 at 7:33 pm | Posted in Climate change, Collins, Ensembles, Environment, Framing science, Met Office, Prediction, Probabilities, Reuters, Royal Society | 2 Comments

A Theme Issue ‘Ensembles and probabilities: a new era in the prediction of climate change’, compiled and edited by Matthew Collins and Sylvia Knight, is now available as part of Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society A, Volume 365, Number 1857 / 15 August 2007.

An editorial introduction by Mat Collins is online in PDF format as well as in HTML form (using the same title as the Theme Issue it introduces), Ensembles and probabilities: a new era in the prediction of climate change.

Thanks to Green Car Congress for highlighting this online introduction, which is one contribution of 13 to this issue.

Unfortunately, this paper appears to be the only* easily accessible reference I can find relating to the oddly framed article by Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent of Reuters, below.

This story about climate change predictions as told by Reuters does not refresh us with half a glass full of good news of good work being done to deepen our climate change knowledge. Instead, we are offered more like half a glass empty—it leaves a rather unpleasant taste by emphasising more of the bad and ugly unknowns in this business, telling us they will increase, which can only serve to unnerve people who are already scared, or delight sceptics with its lack of positive framing, as far as I can tell:

Scientists try new ways to predict climate risks

OSLO (Reuters) – Scientists are trying to improve predictions about the impact of global warming this century by pooling estimates about the risk of floods or desertification.

“We feel certain about some of the aspects of future climate change, like that it is going to get warmer,” said Matthew Collins of the British Met Office. “But on many of the details it’s very difficult to say.”

“The way we can deal with this is a new technique of expressing the predictions in terms of probabilities,” Collins told Reuters of climate research published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A.

Scientists in the U.N. climate panel, for instance, rely on several complex computer models to forecast the impacts of warming this century, ranging from changing rainfall patterns over Africa to rising global sea levels.

But these have flaws because of a lack of understanding about how clouds form, for instance, or how Antarctica’s ice will react to less cold. And reliable temperature records in most nations stretch back only about 150 years.

Under new techniques looking at probabilities, “predictions from different models are pooled to produce estimates of future climate change, together with their associated uncertainties”, the Royal Society said in a statement.

The approach might help quantify risks for a construction firm building homes in a flood-prone valley, for instance, or an insurance company wanting to work out what premiums to charge.

Collins said uncertainties include how natural disasters out of human control affect the climate. A volcanic eruption, such of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, can temporarily cool the earth because the dust blocks sunlight.

“Climate science is a very new science and we have only just begun to explore the uncertainties,” said David Stainforth of Oxford University in England who contributed research to the Royal Society.

“We should expect the uncertainty to increase rather than decrease” in coming years as scientists work to understand the climate, he said. That would complicate the chances of assigning probabilities.

As an example, he said designers of schools in Europe wanted to know if there would be more heatwaves like one in 2003 when children were sometimes barred from playing outside because of the risks of sunburn and possible skin cancers. If so, they might design schools with a lot of shaded outdoor play areas.

“But it might be the case that warmer temperatures mean more cloudiness, so then you won’t get the risk of skin cancers,” Stainforth told Reuters. “Non-temperature factors are the hardest to predict.”

* the Stainford document is available for a fee too. On the other hand, the statement by the Royal Society that has been relayed by Reuters around the world, repeated (complete with typo) by Yahoo!, Limbaugh, Marshall and others, remains undetectable to me as official commentary from the Royal Society press department … yet Reuters has garnered plenty of coverage:

Web Results 110 of about 291 for “predictions from different models are pooled”. (0.38 seconds)


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  1. The stainforth paper is available FREE at

  2. Thank you so much for this link, Ed. I have downloaded the paper and look forward to reading it soon.

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