The Theory of Parallel Climate Realizations

Journal of Statistical Physics in press, (2019)

Based on the theory of “snapshot/pullback attractors”, we show that important features of the climate change that we are observing can be understood by imagining many replicas of Earth that are not interacting with each other. Their climate systems evolve in parallel, but not in the same way, although they all obey the same physical laws, in harmony with the chaotic-like nature of the climate dynamics. These parallel climate realizations evolving in time can be considered as members of an ensemble. We argue that the contingency of our Earth’s climate system is characterized by the multiplicity of parallel climate realizations rather than by the variability that we experience in a time series of our observed past. The natural measure of the snapshot attractor enables one to determine averages and other statistical quantifiers of the climate at any instant of time. In this paper, we review the basic idea for climate changes associated with monotonic drifts, and illustrate the large number of possible applications. Examples are given in a low-dimensional model and in numerical climate models of different complexity. We recall that systems undergoing climate change are not ergodic, hence temporal averages are generically not appropriate for the instantaneous characterization of the climate. In particular, teleconnections, i.e. correlated phenomena of remote geographical locations are properly characterized only by correlation coefficients evaluated with respect to the natural measure of a given time instant, and may also change in time. Physics experiments dealing with turbulent-like phenomena in a changing environment are also worth being interpreted in view of the attractor-based ensemble approach. The possibility of the splitting of the snapshot attractor to two branches, near points where the corresponding time-independent system undergoes bifurcation as a function of the changing parameter, is briefly mentioned. This can lead in certain climate-change scenarios to the coexistence of two distinct sub-ensembles representing dramatically different climatic options. The problem of pollutant spreading during climate change is also discussed in the framework of parallel climate realizations.

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