Before a global climate model can be used by scientists to predict future climate patterns, it must first successfully predict the climate of the past as known by historical records or as inferred by proxy data (for example, oxygen isotopes in ice cores and tree ring records). Because historical records are spatially and temporally scarce, many climate models rely on proxy data, which by definition introduce large amounts of error into model calibrations. Reducing these errors is of high importance to climate scientists.
The Earth's continents soak up heat from the Earth's atmosphere -- this heat penetrates the subsurface with time such that progressively deeper regions hold signatures for the temperatures of progressively older times.
Noting that this observation could provide an important check to climate models, MacDougall et al. compare records of subsurface temperatures with model-derived continental subsurface heat fluxes. They find that climate models do not adequately reflect the continental subsurface's role in the Earth's energy budget, and that models rather tend to simulate the effects of heat only from shallow depths.
Because subsurface heat can influence soil processes, hydrology, and plant life, which in turn can affect the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, the authors recommend that climate models factor deeper subsurface heat processes into their calculations.
Authors of the study incude: Andrew H. MacDougall: Environmental Sciences Research Centre, St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia, Canada; also at Department of Earth Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada; Hugo Beltrami and Evelise Bourlon: Environmental Sciences Research Centre, St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia, Canada; J. Fidel González Rouco, Departamento de Astrofísica y CC. de la Atmósfera, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain; M. Bruce Stevens: Environmental Sciences Research Centre, St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia, Canada; also at Department of Earth Sciences, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
- Andrew H. MacDougall, Hugo Beltrami, J. Fidel González-Rouco, M. Bruce Stevens, Evelise Bourlon. Comparison of observed and general circulation model derived continental subsurface heat flux in the Northern Hemisphere. Journal of Geophysical Research, 2010; 115 (D12): D12109 DOI: 10.1029/2009JD013170
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