Large ensemble climate model simulations: Introduction, overview, and future prospects for utilising multiple types of large ensemble

Nicola Maher*, Sebastian Milinski, Ralf Ludwig

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

70 Citations (Scopus)


Single model initial-condition large ensembles (SMILEs) are valuable tools that can be used to investigate the climate system. SMILEs allow scientists to quantify and separate the internal variability of the climate system and its response to external forcing, with different types of SMILEs appropriate to answer different scientific questions. In this editorial we first provide an introduction to SMILEs and an overview of the studies in the special issue "Large Ensemble Climate Model Simulations: Exploring Natural Variability, Change Signals and Impacts". These studies analyse a range of different types of SMILEs including global climate models (GCMs), regionally downscaled climate models (RCMs), a hydrological model with input from a RCM SMILE, a SMILE with prescribed sea surface temperature (SST) built for event attribution, a SMILE that assimilates observed data, and an initialised regional model. These studies provide novel methods, that can be used with SMILEs. The methods published in this issue include a snapshot empirical orthogonal function analysis used to investigate El Niño-Southern Oscillation teleconnections; the partitioning of future uncertainty into model differences, internal variability, and scenario choices; a weighting scheme for multi-model ensembles that can incorporate SMILEs; and a method to identify the required ensemble size for any given problem. Studies in this special issue also focus on RCM SMILEs, with projections of the North Atlantic Oscillation and its regional impacts assessed over Europe, and an RCM SMILE intercomparison. Finally a subset of studies investigate projected impacts of global warming, with increased water flows projected for future hydrometeorological events in southern Ontario; precipitation projections over central Europe are investigated and found to be inconsistent across models in the Alps, with a continuation of past tendencies in Mid-Europe; and equatorial Asia is found to have an increase in the probability of large fire and drought events under higher levels of warming. These studies demonstrate the utility of different types of SMILEs. In the second part of this editorial we provide a perspective on how three types of SMILEs could be combined to exploit the advantages of each. To do so we use a GCM SMILE and an RCM SMILE with all forcings, as well as a naturally forced GCM SMILE (nat-GCM) over the European domain. We utilise one of the key advantages of SMILEs, precisely separating the forced response and internal variability within an individual model to investigate a variety of simple questions. Broadly we show that the GCM can be used to investigate broad-scale patterns and can be directly compared to the nat-GCM to attribute forced changes to either anthropogenic emissions or volcanoes. The RCM provides high-resolution spatial information of both the forced change and the internal variability around this change at different warming levels. By combining all three ensembles we can gain information that would not be available using a single type of SMILE alone, providing a perspective on future research that could be undertaken using these tools.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)401-418
Number of pages18
JournalEarth System Dynamics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 22 Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes


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