UC Berkeley researchers take part in national effort to predict climate change

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Nathaniel Solley/File

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The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is taking part in a comprehensive effort to develop a model that can project how climates are likely to change in the next 40 to 50 years.

The project — named the Accelerated Climate Model for Energy — launched in June. It is spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Energy as part of its mission to predict climate patterns to lead to more informed decisions regarding, for example, the construction of future infrastructure or the acquisition of fossil fuels. The research is a collaboration among seven other national laboratories, one private sector company and researchers from four academic institutions, including UC Irvine and UC San Diego. They will work to develop one climate model that resembles all aspects of a climate system.

“People in the Department of Energy need to think about and make plans for what energy resources are best pursued in which parts of the world,” said Dorothy Koch, project manager for the Accelerated Climate Model for Energy. “The project is going to be trying to develop a climate model that is good in all respects.”

The teams started by addressing specific areas during the initial phase: water resources, the causes for sea-level rise and the interaction of land-based ecosystems with climate change.

One of the potential functions of the climate model would be to study the availability of water resources and how they might affect the accessibility of fossil fuels. Similarly, the model may be able to answer questions concerning water availability in California, such as whether the state’s current drought will persist.

The climate model will also examine the interaction between sea level and shifting ice sheets, as well as look at agricultural prospects in the Midwest through the potential to grow biofuels.

At the Berkeley lab, a team of researchers led by Bill Collins, a campus professor of earth and planetary science, is developing experiments that study how the carbon cycle interacts with the atmosphere, land, ocean, sea ice and land ice in regards to climate change. The current climate model is composed of approximately 1.5 to 2 million lines of code and considered a good starting point in the research, according to Collins.

“We’re hoping to make (the climate model) suitable for providing world-class simulations,” he added.

But building a model capable of exhibiting highly precise simulations would require the expertise of computer scientists to assist with the coding — a demand, Koch said, that is becoming more consistent with emerging projects at the Department of Energy.

“We think that this project is in that space of needing computational expertise working closely with climate expertise,” Koch said, emphasizing that the participation of computer scientists is crucial to developing a “high-resolution” climate model that can accurately mimic climate behavior and reduce the need for approximations.

Researchers are currently in preliminary development of the model and have until the end of a three-year funding cycle to develop a successful “version one.” Whether the current funding by the Department of Energy will be extended is subject to a successful performance.

“I hope we’re doing our best to deliver towards our objectives,” Collins said. “The team’s devoted, and we’re off to a good start.”

Lydia Tuan covers research and ideas. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @tuanlydia.

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  • Charles_Siegel

    Basic science. It has been known since the nineteenth century that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat. For hundreds of thousands of years, CO2 levels fluctuated between 120 ppm during ice ages and 300 ppm during warm interglacial periods. Now, because of our use of fossil fuels, it is up to 400 ppm.

    The earth has already warmed 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit from preindustrial levels. That is only part of the increase that will be caused by CO2 emissions that have already occurred.

    People with political motivations are good at ignoring the basic science and the big picture and citing isolated details to support their bias. The most common disinformation is that warming has stopped because *surface* temperatures have not risen for 20 years. In reality:
    — surface temperatures have continued to rise, but more slowly.
    — global warming affects the earth’s overall temperature, including the temperature of the oceans, and not just surface temperatures.

    For those who want facts rather than ideology, the latest report on the science is summarized at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/27/science/earth/greenhouse-gas-emissions-are-growing-and-growing-more-dangerous-draft-of-un-report-says.html

    • Mel Content

      The earth has already warmed 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit from preindustrial levels.

      Temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere were warmer than today about 1000 years ago. I don’t know about you but most of would consider Medeival Europe and pre-Columbian North America to be pretty much “pre-industrial”…

      • Charles_Siegel

        I don’t know where you got the idea that global temperatures were higher 100 years ago. Look at the graph on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Temperature_record and you will see that they are more than 1 degree higher today than 100 years ago.

        Ah, but you said “temperatures in the northern hemisphere.” We are talking about GLOBAL warming, not about northern hemisphere warming. It looks like someone is cherry picking the data to support a preconceived conclusion.

        • Mel Content

          I don’t know where you got the idea that global temperatures were higher 100 years ago. Look at the graph on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T… and you will see that they are more than 1 degree higher today than 100 years ago.

          I concede that it was a typo as I was referring to the Medieval Warming period of 1000 (one thousand) years ago.

          Ah, but you said “temperatures in the northern hemisphere.” We are
          talking about GLOBAL warming, not about northern hemisphere warming.

          The vast amount of industrialization responsible for increased CO2 levels has occurred in the Northern Hemisphere, so it is a relevant point for discussion.

  • rhjames

    If they use climate trends from the past 20 years, their models will show that the climate 50 years from now will be exactly the same as now. This is a waste of money and effort. They have no idea what the climate will be in 50 years time. It could be warmer, or cooler, wetter or drier. The most likely outcome, if based on known facts, is that it will be unchanged.

  • Mel Content

    The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is taking part in a
    comprehensive effort to develop a model that can project how climates
    are likely to change in the next 40 to 50 years.

    Is that a tacit admission that the current “accurate” models that the climate change Chicken Littles have been peddling (and that our politicians have used to justify imposing their “green” policies on the rest of us) have not worked out as well as the NYT and the rest of the uncritical mainstream media have claimed to no end?