Recent estimates of climate evolution over the coming century still differ by several degrees. This uncertainty motivates the work presented here. There are two basic approaches to apprehend the complexity of climate change: deterministically nonlinear and stochastically linear, i.e., the Lorenz and the Hasselmann approach. The grand unification of these two approaches relies on the theory of random dynamical systems. We apply this theory to study the random attractors of nonlinear, stochastically perturbed climate models. Doing so allows one to examine the interaction of internal climate variability with the forcing, whether natural or anthropogenic, and to take into account the climate system's non-equilibrium behavior in determining climate sensitivity. This non-equilibrium behavior is due to a combination of nonlinear and random effects. We give here a unified treatment of such effects from the point of view of the theory of dynamical systems and of their bifurcations. Energy balance models are used to illustrate multiple equilibria, while multi-decadal oscillations in the thermohaline circulation illustrate the transition from steady states to periodic behavior. Random effects are introduced in the setting of random dynamical systems, which permit a unified treatment of both nonlinearity and stochasticity. The combined treatment of nonlinear and random effects is applied to a stochastically perturbed version of the classical Lorenz convection model. Climate sensitivity is then defined mathematically as the derivative of an appropriate functional or other function of the system’s state with respect to the bifurcation parameter. This definition is illustrated by using numerical results for a model of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation. The concept of a hierarchy of models is the thread that runs across this chapter, and the robustness of elementary bifurcations across such a hierarchy is emphasized.

%B Climate Change: Multidecadal and Beyond %I World Scientific Publ. Co./Imperial College Press %P 31–51 %G eng %R 10.1142/9789814579933_0002