Nav: Home

(Rain)cloud computing: Researchers work to improve how we predict climate change

March 03, 2016

Rao Kotamarthi and Jiali Wang spend their days looking at a future Earth.

At the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, the two scientists work on simulations and techniques to project what the climate will look like 100 years from now.

Last year, they completed the highest-resolution climate forecast ever done for North America, dividing the continent into squares just over seven miles on a side--far more detailed than the standard 30 to 60 miles.

Adding more resolution to climate models is extremely computationally intensive, like working with a video file containing every minute of your life instead of just every birthday. But the added accuracy is worth the extra computational cost, they said.

"In particular, places with sharp terrain changes, like the Rockies, saw big improvements," said Kotamarthi, who heads the department of atmospheric science and climate in Argonne's environmental science division.

In all, Kotamarthi said, the model's bias--found by having the model "predict" the climate for the past 30 years and then comparing it with the actual recorded weather--was much improved over a lower-resolution model.

The model was also better at predicting seasonal features, like Southwestern monsoons. The simulation predicted less rain over the Southwest but more on the eastern seaboard and much of Canada. These effects intensify later in the century.

"By far the largest uncertainty in a climate model is the water cycle," said Wang, an Argonne postdoctoral researcher. According to Wang, a higher-resolution model targets that issue. Scientists noticed a bias in their models that always seemed to make the Northern Great Plains wetter than it actually was; the higher-resolution reduced the bias, and preliminary results for an upcoming even higher-resolution run lower it by nearly a third, she said.

In addition, the data itself has a multitude of uses. For example, regional and city planners want to know how their local climates might change, so they can build roads to withstand more flooding or plant street trees that can handle more heat. The tighter resolution can help provide those regional predictions.

Other teams are already using the dataset to analyze particular areas: a group with Purdue University is modeling the agricultural impact on Midwest corn and soybean crops, for example, and University of Chicago researcher Colin Kyle is using the data to study how the range of a fungal pathogen that kills invasive gypsy moths might expand or contract in the future.

The dataset will be online shortly for anyone to download, Wang and Kotamarthi said. (It's hundreds of terabytes).

In a study just released with researchers from University of Chicago and Purdue, Wang and Kotamarthi explored a new method for calculating the likelihood of extreme weather events. Extreme events, such as severe thunderstorms or number of days with extreme heat, represent a serious threat of climate change--the worst storms will cause the most damage--but because models with large grid sizes are smoothed out over large spaces and often time, there's been suspicion that they aren't good at predicting infrequent events like disastrous storms.

Their new method, designed specifically for looking at chunks of the model rather than the entire US, was better at predicting days with extreme heat than conventional techniques, they said. It should add accuracy for other extremes, like precipitation, as well.

Next, Kotamarthi and Wang aim to improve their models' resolution even further. "For our next task, we want to tackle a two-and-a-half mile resolution," Kotamarthi said. "This is small enough to capture physical phenomena, like convection in the atmosphere." Convection refers to the vertical movement of heat and moisture in the atmosphere.

And locally--what will happen to Chicago in 2050?

"Like much of the eastern half of the country, our model predicted that overall precipitation in the Midwest would go up," Kotamarthi said.

The results of the high-resolution models are published in the open-access journal Earth's Future in the study "High-resolution dynamically downscaled projections of precipitation in the mid and late 21st century over North America." The study on extremes is titled "Evaluation of dynamically downscaled extreme temperature using a spatially-aggregated generalized extreme value (GEV) model" and was published in Climate Dynamics with co-authors Yuefeng Han and Michael Stein at the University of Chicago and Whitney K. Huang at Purdue.

The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense's Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program. Computational resources came from the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, both DOE Office of Science User Facilities.
-end-
Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation's first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America's scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit the Office of Science website.

DOE/Argonne National Laboratory

Related Climate Articles:

Climate action goes digital
More transparent and accessible to everyone: information and communication technologies bring opportunities for transforming traditional climate diplomacy.
Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.
Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.
How aerosols affect our climate
Greenhouse gases may get more attention, but aerosols -- from car exhaust to volcanic eruptions -- also have a major impact on the Earth's climate.
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
How trees could save the climate
Around 0.9 billion hectares of land worldwide would be suitable for reforestation, which could ultimately capture two thirds of human-made carbon emissions.
Climate undermined by lobbying
For all the evidence that the benefits of reducing greenhouse gases outweigh the costs of regulation, disturbingly few domestic climate change policies have been enacted around the world so far.
Climate education for kids increases climate concerns for parents
A new study from North Carolina State University finds that educating children about climate change increases their parents' concerns about climate change.
Inclusion of a crop model in a climate model to promote climate modeling
A new crop-climate model provides a good tool to investigate the relationship between crop development and climate change for global change studies.
Natural climate solutions are not enough
To stabilize the Earth's climate for people and ecosystems, it is imperative to ramp up natural climate solutions and, at the same time, accelerate mitigation efforts across the energy and industrial sectors, according to a new policy perspective published today in Science.
More Climate News and Climate Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Clint Smith
The killing of George Floyd by a police officer has sparked massive protests nationwide. This hour, writer and scholar Clint Smith reflects on this moment, through conversation, letters, and poetry.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Graham
If former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's case for the death of George Floyd goes to trial, there will be this one, controversial legal principle looming over the proceedings: The reasonable officer. In this episode, we explore the origin of the reasonable officer standard, with the case that sent two Charlotte lawyers on a quest for true objectivity, and changed the face of policing in the US. This episode was produced by Matt Kielty with help from Kelly Prime and Annie McEwen. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.