A perspective on climate model hierarchies
To understand Earth's climate, climate modelers employ a hierarchy of climate models spanning a wide spectrum of complexity and comprehensiveness. This essay, inspired by the World Climate Research Programme's recent “Model Hierarchies Workshop,” attempts to survey and synthesize some of the current thinking on climate model hierarchies, especially as presented at the workshop. We give a few formal descriptions of the hierarchy and survey the various ways it is used to generate, test, and confirm hypotheses. We also discuss some of the pitfalls of contemporary climate modeling, and how the “elegance” advocated for by Held (2005) has (and has not) been used to address them. We conclude with a survey of current activity in hierarchical modeling, and offer suggestions for its continued fruitful development.