Forty years of numerical climate modelling

K. McGuffie*, A. Henderson-Sellers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Citations (Scopus)


Climate modelling is now a mature discipline approaching its fortieth birthday. The need for valid climate forecasts has been underlined by the recognition that human activities are now modifying the climate. The complex nature of the climate system has resulted in the development of a surprisingly large array of modelling tools. Some are relatively simple, such as the earth systems and energy balance models (EBMs), while others are highly sophisticated models which challenge the fastest speeds of the most powerful supercomputers. Indeed, this discipline of the latter half of the twentieth century is so critically dependent on the availability of a means of undertaking powerful calculations that its evolution has matched that of the digital computer. The multi-faceted nature of the climate system demands high quality, and global observations and innovative parameterizations through which processes which cannot be described or calculated explicity are captured to the extent deemed necessary. Interestingly, results from extremely simple, as well as highly complex and many intermediate model types are drawn upon today for effective formulation and evaluation of climate policies. This paper discusses some of the important developments during the first 40 years of climate modelling from the first models of the global atmosphere to today's models, which typically consist of integrated multi-component representations of the full climate system. The pressures of policy-relevant questions more clearly underline the tension between the need for evaluation against quality data and the unending pressure to improve spatial and temporal resolutions of climate models than at any time since the inception of climate modelling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1067-1109
Number of pages43
JournalInternational Journal of Climatology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Archaean
  • Climate models
  • Climate system
  • Deforestation
  • Earth models of intermediate complexity (EMICs)
  • Feedbacks
  • Global climate (GCMs)
  • Greenhouse warming
  • Land-use change
  • Last glacial maximum
  • Mid-holocene
  • Milankovitch
  • Models
  • Ozone hole
  • Palaeoclimate


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