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Earth System Dynamics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-2019-70
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-2019-70
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 29 Nov 2019

Submitted as: research article | 29 Nov 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Earth System Dynamics (ESD).

How large does a large ensemble need to be?

Sebastian Milinski, Nicola Maher, and Dirk Olonscheck Sebastian Milinski et al.
  • Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Hamburg, Germany

Abstract. Initial-condition large ensembles with ensemble sizes ranging from 30 to 100 members have become a commonly used tool to quantify the forced response and internal variability in various components of the climate system. However, there is no consensus on the ideal or even sufficient ensemble size for a large ensemble. Here, we introduce an objective method to estimate the required ensemble size that can be applied to any given application and demonstrate its use on the examples of global mean surface temperature, local surface temperature and precipitation and variability in the ENSO region and central America. Where possible, we base our estimate of the required ensemble size on the pre-industrial control simulation, which is available for every model. First, we determine how much of an available ensemble size is interpretable without a substantial impact of resampling ensemble members. Then, we show that more ensemble members are needed to quantify variability than the forced response, with the largest ensemble sizes needed to detect changes in internal variability itself. Finally, we highlight that the required ensemble size depends on both the acceptable error to the user and the studied quantity.

Sebastian Milinski et al.
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Sebastian Milinski et al.
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Short summary
Initial-condition large ensembles with ensemble sizes ranging from 30 to 100 members have become a commonly used tool to quantify the forced response and internal variability in various components of the climate system, but there is no established method to determine the required ensemble size for a given problem. We propose a new framework that can be used to estimate the required ensemble size from a model's control run.
Initial-condition large ensembles with ensemble sizes ranging from 30 to 100 members have become...
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