The task of evaluating comprehensive earth system models is vast involving validations of every model component at every scale of organization, as well as tests of all the individual linkages. Even the most detailed evaluation of each of the component processes and the individual links among them should not, however, engender confidence in the performance of the whole. The integrated earth system is so rich with complex feedback loops, often involving components of the atmosphere, oceans, biosphere, and cryosphere, that it is certain to exhibit emergent properties very difficult to predict from the perspective of a narrow focus on any individual component of the system. Therefore, a substantial share of the task of evaluating comprehensive earth system models must reside at the level of whole system evaluations. Since complete, integrated atmosphere/ ocean/ biosphere/ hydrology models are not yet operational, questions of evaluation must be addressed at the level of the kinds of earth system processes that the models should be competent to simulate, rather than at the level of specific performance criteria. Here, we have tried to identify examples of earth system processes that are difficult to simulate with existing models and that involve a rich enough suite of feedbacks that they are unlikely to be satisfactorily described by highly simplified or toy models. Our purpose is not to specify a checklist of evaluation criteria but to introduce characteristics of the earth system that may present useful opportunities for model testing and, of course, improvement.
University Corp. for Atmospheric Research, Modeling the Earth System, Volume 3; p 441-462