The influence of atmospheric noise and uncertainty in ocean initial conditions on the limit of predictability in a coupled GCM

Cristiana Stan, Ben P. Kirtman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


The influence of atmospheric stochastic forcing and uncertainty in initial conditions on the limit of predictability of the NCEP Climate Forecast System (CFS) is quantified based on comparisons of idealized identical twin prediction experiments using two different coupling strategies. In the first method, called the interactive ensemble, a single oceanic general circulation model (GCM; the Modular Ocean Model version 3 of GFDL) is coupled to the ensemble average of multiple realizations (in this case six ensemble members) of an atmospheric GCM (NCEP Global Forecast System). In the second method the standard CFS is used. The interactive ensemble is specifically designed to reduce the internal atmospheric dynamic fluctuations that are unrelated to the sea surface temperature anomalies via ensemble averaging at the air-sea interface, whereas in the standard CFS, the atmospheric noise (i.e., stochastic forcing) plays an active role in the evolution of the coupled system. In the identical twin experiments presented here, the perfect model approach is taken, thereby explicitly excluding the impact of model error on the estimate of the limit of predictability. The experimental design and the analysis separately consider how uncertainty in the ocean initial conditions (i.e., initial condition noise) versus uncertainty as the forecast evolves (i.e., noise due to internal dynamics of the atmosphere) impact estimates of the limit of predictability. Estimates of the limit of predictability are based on both deterministic measures (ensemble spread and root-mean-square error) and probabilistic measures (relative operating characteristics). The analysis examines both oceanic and atmospheric variables in the tropical Pacific. The overarching result is that noise in the initial condition is the primary factor limiting predictability, whereas noise as the forecast evolves is of secondary importance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3487-3503
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 15 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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