Warren M. Washington
National Center for Atmospheric Research

Future Development of Climate and Earth System Models for Scientific and Policy Use

Time and place
Fri 17 May 2013, 14.00
Aula Magna, Stockholm University

(This event has taken place)


The development of climate and Earth system models has been regarded primarily as the making of scientific tools to study the complex nature of the Earth’s climate. These models have a long history starting with very simple physical models based on fundamental physics in the 1960s. Over time they have become much more complex with atmospheric, ocean, sea ice, land/vegetation, biogeochemical, glacial and ecological components. The policy use aspects of these models did not start in the 1960s and 1970s as decision making tools but were used to answer fundamental scientific questions such as what happens when the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration increases or is doubled. They gave insights into the various interactions and were extensively compared with observations. It was realized that models of the earlier time periods could only give first order answers to many of the fundamental policy questions. As societal concerns about climate change rose, the policy questions of anthropogenic climate change became better defined; they were mostly concerned with the climate impacts of increasing greenhouse gases, aerosols, and land cover change. In the late 1980s, the United Nations set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to perform assessments of the published literature with the leadership of Bert Bolin. Thus, the development of climate and Earth system models became intimately linked to the need to not only improve our scientific understand but also answering fundamental policy questions. In order to meet this challenge, the models became more complex and realistic so that they could address these policy oriented science questions such as rising sea level.

The presentation will discuss the past and future development of global climate and Earth system models for science and policy purposes. Also to be discussed is their interactions with economic integrated assessment models, regional and specialized models such as river transport or ecological components. As an example of one development pathway, the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy supported Community Earth System Model will be featured in the presentation. Computational challenges will also be part of the discussion along with new results on future climate change projections.