Bernie Madoff recently got a jail sentence for promising a huge return on investment in defiance of common sense.

New research published by scientists from the UK's National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) in the Bulletin for the American Meteorological Society shows they apparently don't follow the American press because they say that investments made now can lead to as much as 10-20% improvement in climate predictions for the UK and Europe in the coming decades - and up to 20% across the rest of the globe. 

"Our work suggests that investments in ocean observations, for example, and their use in setting the initial conditions of climate models and in verifying predictions, could give some of the best returns in improved models and climate forecasts for the next 5-50 years. It is not until the 2050s that the dominant uncertainty is in the unknown future emissions of greenhouse gases," said Dr. Ed Hawkins, lead scientist of the study and climate scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science.

The results are from researchers based at the Walker Institute, University of Reading, who used data from a suite of black box climate models to identify the main causes of uncertainty in predictions of temperature change over different space and time scales.  This type of study had previously been done on a global scale but this was the first time on regional scales (2000 km) across the globe.

Their results showed that for all regions for the next four decades, the main uncertainties in climate predictions are dominated by:

(i) differences between the climate models themselves - in the way they represent different atmospheric processes;

(ii) the natural variability of the climate - changes in the climate not brought about by human influences.

How do they suggest reducing both types of uncertainty?   Investment in climate science. 

Hawkins, said, "A certain amount of climate change is inevitable, and we will need to adapt. This work has highlighted the need for a debate about where best to target investment in climate science and to consider the return we get in terms of better climate forecasts and reduced adaptation costs."

Issues about how much money climate scientists want now will also be debated at the World Climate Conference-3 in Geneva at the end of this month, where the focus will be on climate predictions and information for decision-making.