Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog

Cold and Snowy and Warm and Wet

By: RickyRood, 10:58 PM GMT on February 24, 2011

Cold and Snowy and Warm and Wet

Yes it is, again, a cold and snowy winter in the eastern parts of the U.S. (Master’s Wunderblog) You might recall that it was very cold and snowy in Europe at Christmas time. In the middle of Asia, January was very cold. Of course those whose opinions on global warming are anchored in the political arguments use the cold and snowy winter to substantiate their position that global warming is not real. I do not write to convince you.

Others become sensitized to the weather and start to think about climate and changing climate and what such a cold and snowy winter means.

A lot of scientists start out explaining the cold and snowy winter by making the statement that there are certain weather patterns, for example, the Arctic Oscillation. (see this blog in Washington Post for a different take) These patterns are part of dynamical or internal variability, and when the Arctic oscillation is in one phase of the pattern it is cold and snowy in the eastern U.S. and northern Europe. It should also be warm in Greenland. It’s been cold in central Asia and warm in northern Siberia. (Master’s Wunderblog: Near Record Warmth in Canada and Siberia) Hot-Cold-Hot-Cold = natural variability. It's just part of what we have to live with. All of this is true, accurately stated, but it does not strike me as a terribly intuitive explanation for those who just lost their crops in northern Mexico or central Florida. I am going to try to develop a more broadly intuitive framework to think about a cold and snowy winter in a warming world. I have written a number of previous blogs on this, one of which is reproduced at the end of this one. Also, I just finished lecturing on dynamical variability in class, and I have put those lectures on line - Lecture 11 and Lecture 12. There are a lot of links in these lectures.

An Intuitive Approach to the Cold and Snowy Winter: I will write from the point of view of the gardener or someone who likes to be outdoors and pays attention to the season and the weather.

In the winter the Sun becomes low in the sky because of the tilt of the Earth’s orbit. At polar latitudes, the Sun is below the horizon. There is no solar heating. It is dark at the pole.

During winter at the pole, the Earth continues to emit energy to space. This energy is emitted as infrared radiation. It gets cold.

It is worth remembering that if there is no solar energy to heat the Earth, the Earth will get very, very cold. It would start to approach the background temperature of outer space. At the pole, in the winter, it gets cold, say, – 40 degrees below zero. (The cool thing about 40 degrees below zero is that this is where Fahrenheit and Celsius are equal.)

Here in the U.S. it is intuitive to the gardener that the winter is cold, and dark, and it gets colder and darker the farther north you go. It’s right there on the back of the seed packet.

The atmosphere responds to this cooling at the pole; whenever and wherever there is a hot-cold contrast, a temperature gradient, there is motion. The wind blows.

A fact of the Earth is that it rotates. That rotation strongly determines the winds; the motion of the air aligns with the rotation of the Earth. (Here are two neat movies from MIT’s Climate Modeling Initiative Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory: .mpg format (large ones) non-rotating fluid, … rotating fluid )

Something of a river of air, the polar jet stream, forms around the pole. (perhaps a home boy’s figure) Most outdoor people have gotten pretty familiar with the jet stream, and that the jet stream is sometimes wavier than at other times and that that influences the weather – a lot.

Now here is something that is important, that is not quite as intuitive. The jet stream that forms around the pole largely isolates the air in the polar region from air outside the polar region. Here is how I would develop some intuition, imagine you are next to a rapidly flowing stream and you put a leaf in the stream. Does it flow across the stream to the other side, or is it rapidly carried downstream? It is carried downstream, and therefore, one side of the stream is effectively isolated from the other. The jet stream around the pole, this river of air, effectively isolates the pole. Therefore, not a whole lot of heat is carried to the pole; the sun is down; it gets cold at the pole.

This isolation of the pole during the winter occurs, whether or not there is global warming. The Sun goes down for a long period of time. Without transport of heat to the pole, the pole can get as cold now as it did 50 years. It might take a few days longer, but if it is isolated long enough then it gets just as cold. So we have a store of cold air at high latitudes.

Here is another, perhaps less intuitive fact. For the rotating atmosphere of the Earth, the hot-cold contrast, the temperature gradient, represents a source of energy for atmospheric motion. The atmosphere does not like these gradients. It wants to mix them up. If it as cold at the pole as it used to be, and warmer outside of the pole, then there is MORE energy for that mixing. So when the mixing occurs it is, likely, more vigorous, more energetic.

With this more energetic mixing, then it is possible that when the jet stream is wavy, it is very wavy compared to history. It is possible that the cold polar air goes farther south than it used to go. And more warm middle latitude air finds itself at the pole. Previously isolated polar air is pushed off the pole. It sits over Asia, Europe – North America. For a time in the middle of the winter, it can stay cold for a long time. And up at the pole it is warm. And if that cold polar air is pushed just a little bit farther south than historical, it can be damaging record cold.

And that is what January looked like. Here it is:

Figure 1: Observations of temperature in December of 2010. The temperatures are represented as a difference (anomaly) from a 30 year average. See more from (Master’s Wunderblog: Near Record Warmth in Canada and Siberia)

I don’t know if that helps. I apologize not being able to draw some new figures. There are some things that are worth thinking about for the sake of consistency.

Do we see these episodic record cold temperatures in unusual places in the middle of the winter, when we would have stronger temperature gradients, perhaps more vigorous mixing?

Do we see it taking a little longer for the pole to get cold in the transition from fall to winter?

Does the temperature at the pole bottom out at about the same temperature as it always has, but the temperature in middle latitudes gets a little warmer?

Is spring coming earlier?

Is it possible that midwinter risk to crops at southern middle latitudes increases, at the same time the spring growing season starts earlier?

Is it snowier in the middle of winter, but less snowy in the spring?

What does it mean when the United States is as cold as it has ever been for a month in the middle of winter, but the planet as a whole is still the 17th warmest on record?


Relevant Blog from 2010 linked here and repeated below.

Warm Cold Warm Cold

You may remember that early last winter it was cold in the eastern half of the United States. There was a lot of press about what the cold weather implied about global warming. I wrote a series of blogs last year that are:

Cold in a Warm World
Cold in the East
Last Year and This Year
Last Year and This Year – and the Next Big Story?

I have started teaching again. One of things we do in the beginning of the class we talk about what people already know about global warming. Two of the students raised the issue of “what’s in name?” That is, if it is called “global warming,” then people are confused when it is not, always, uniformly warmer all the time. (Might remember this discussion as well.)

As I stand in front of these students prattling on, I am always thinking of ways to explore, challenge, and expose ideas. Early on, we talk about the role of greenhouse gases in the natural climate of the Earth. We have known since, at least, 1800 that water vapor and carbon dioxide are greenhouse gases that make the Earth “warm.” That is, if you take away these gases which act like blankets and hold the Sun’s energy near the surface of the Earth for a while, then the Earth would be MUCH colder – say, about zero degrees Fahrenheit. Restating this, without the atmosphere the surface of the Earth would be cold. (Spencer Weart’s great history) Water is about two thirds of the greenhouse warming.

One could take from this fact, and it is not often I use the word “fact,” – one could take from this fact, that there is a strong physical reason that works to take the Earth towards this “equilibrium” temperature. Think of it this way, suppose you have a pot of boiling fresh organic chicken broth on the stove. Once you get the pot boiling, if you want to keep it boiling then you have to keep adding a little heat to the bottom of the pot. If you turn off the heat, then the pot stops boiling. This loss of energy which works to stop the boiling is always occurring, and you are always adding energy through the burner to counter this loss. For the Earth, the Sun is the burner, the source of energy, and the Earth is always cooling to get rid of this energy. It’s a little like a spring trying to pull the Earth’s temperature to, on the average, about zero degrees Fahrenheit. (A question for the reader: what is the impact of putting a top on the pot?)

If you were to turn off the Sun, then the Earth would get cold fast. That is what happens when winter comes to the poles. In the north, throughout October and November, the North Pole starts to cool. The Earth emits radiation to space. Since the heating from the Sun is totally absent at this time, it can get far colder than that equilibrium temperature of zero degrees Fahrenheit. The atmosphere and the oceans continue to transport heat to the north, but they can’t keep up. This process of cooling at the poles in the winter is a fact of the planet that will continue even as greenhouse gases build up.

This is where weather comes into play. We have this cold air up towards the North Pole. The atmosphere and the ocean have many different types of - I will call them features - features that have characteristic types of motion associated with them. An example of such a feature is a hurricane, which has closed circulation around an eye. The hurricane then moves around, but pretty much no matter how it bounces around for a week or two, after a while the hurricane heads out to the north. Really they head off to the pole, and north or south depends on which hemisphere. What the hurricane does is transport heat from the tropics to the pole, and that is what the atmosphere and oceans do all the time. They are trying to reduce the contrast between warm and cold.

The hurricane is an example of a dynamical feature. There are many more dynamical features and many of them behave like waves. A hurricane behaves more like a spinning top; it’s a vortex. The atmosphere is full of waves, and professors like me torment students of meteorology with mathematical descriptions of these waves. There are many ways that waves come into being, but one way is because of air flowing over mountain ranges. You can imagine, more intuitively, a stream of water flowing over a rock. I have tried to convey this idea of a wave in the figure below.

Figure 1: A schematic picture that represents a wave in temperature. There are hot and cold parts of the wave. Do other climate bloggers draw such compelling figures?

What I have drawn with the dashed line is a “small” wave, perhaps a wave that would form in October. Then I draw, with the solid line, a bigger wave, perhaps a wave of December or January. These waves are always growing and decaying, sometimes moving a little bit to the east and the west. If we label the graph so that the bottom is the south, the top is the north, the left hand side is west and the right hand side is east, then we can imagine North America siting under this wave. If the left hand side is the Pacific Ocean and the right hand side is the Atlantic Ocean, then it sets up the story. If the wave grows in the west, the warm air pushes up to the north towards the pole, and the cold air is displaced south into the United States. This is not some random, made up thing, because 1) there are the Rocky Mountains that help make the wave, 2) the way the Earth rotates makes the air flow from west to east, 3) northern part of North America, we call it Canada here in the South, gets cold because the Sun is down, and 4) the Pacific Ocean starts to look warm as the continent starts to get cold.

If I hear people talking about how cold it is in the east of the U.S., I ask them to, using Wunderground.com of course, to look at what is going on in California and Alaska. If it is cold in the East, then usually it is warm in the West. And if this wave gets big enough, then it pushes up towards to pole, and it looks warm in the north, and the air that is displaced to the South, off the pole, looks cold. And to weak-kneed academics from Florida State University, it might look VERY cold. (What’s going on at Florida State? Must be all of that money that goes to cushy climate scientists.)

Even if there is a lot of carbon dioxide it still gets cold when the Sun goes down at the poles, and that cold air can get pushed down away from the pole, and there is still winter. In fact, if that push of air towards the pole is especially vigorous, then the cold air can get pushed to new places, and we have a record cold. If you are going to play the “record game,” look for new highs that might be paired with the new lows. (Jerry Meehl and colleagues did this recently, many, many more new highs. They concluded that it’s getting warmer.)

OK …. Let’s look at last December. It’s from the usual place the National Climatic Data Center.

Figure 2: Observations of temperature in December of 2009. The temperatures are represented as a difference (anomaly) from a 30 year average.

I recall Boulder, Colorado being really cold in December, as well as a blizzard in Baltimore. The map shows two cold centers over North America and Siberia. It’s pretty warm in Greenland and Alaska, and you can study the map more. Here is a link to the excellent discussion at the National Climatic Data Center. In the northern hemisphere this map shows a distinctive wave pattern. (There are good reasons that these waves appear as 1, 2, or 3 , but I will make you take dynamics on your own.)

I deliberately did this without referring to the Arctic Oscillation. I was driving around this afternoon thinking about that. If the pole has spent the last few years with its cold phase at the pole, and that cold phase was, by historical standards, not so cold, does that mean something? Just thinking on the way to Sprayberry's.

I posed the question at the end of a recent blog about what a record December blizzard in Baltimore might or might not say about climate change. Since then there have been record snow storms all over the northern hemisphere. At a very real level, a set of storms in one winter says NOTHING about global warming. Nothing. It surely does not say that global warming is abated, or of no concern. In fact, as a couple of comments pointed out, if the atmosphere is warmer, and the air is moister, if it is cold enough to snow, then there is a lot of snow. Others say that cold is cold.

There is still cold weather. Fact is, when the entire surface of the globe is considered, December 2009 was a warm month, in a warm year, of the warmest decade we have measured. (see this write up) Prepare in the next week for a bunch of storms to hit California. (Of course, that’s just a model prediction.) I wonder how many people will attribute those storms to El Nino, based on the science, but at the same time dismiss the far more certain science of global warming. I’ll be at the American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting in Atlanta. Our group has eight talks, so there is student stress and faculty worry. More and more climate at the meeting as we start to think about a National Climate Service.


And here is

Faceted Search of Blogs at climateknowledge.org

Climate Change Extreme Weather

Updated: 3:16 AM GMT on February 25, 2011


Declaring victory and moving on?

By: RickyRood, 6:34 AM GMT on February 14, 2011

Declaring victory and moving on?

In 2006 I started teaching climate change to all comers. It was my first year at Michigan, and I was approached by a set of three students to start a course on climate change. None of these students were physical scientists. It is a fact of universities that professors often start courses so that the professor can learn a subject. I was recruited to Michigan to help develop a focus on climate and climate change, but I was not really a climate scientist. I entered this course with a lot to learn. With the help of the students I structured a course that looked at the intersection of climate change with economics, policy, and business (class link). I think I had 12 guest lecturers the first year.

During the first couple of years there were some truths that became self evident. One of first of those truths was that in the popular discourse of 2006, the arguments around the U.S. not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol was a red herring. Namely, there was this idea that if the U.S. had signed the Kyoto Protocol, then we would have dealt with the climate change problem. It was evident by 2006 that this was not the case; the Kyoto Protocol could not effectively address climate change. In 2006 the students in the class talked about the symbolic meaning of the U.S. as a member of the global community, by 2007 the students arrived at the conclusion that the protocol was, practically, irrelevant.

Several other self-evident truths emerged. People often talk about wanting to look at the evidence themselves and come to their own conclusions. That’s not an easy thing to do in your spare time, and, for climate change, I had the benefit of it being my job. After going through reports and papers and thinking about how to communicate climate-change science to all comers, you realize this massive body of knowledge supports the fact that the surface of the Earth is warming. The evidence is what I called, at the time, coherent and convergent. (In fact, my third blog, a better blog) The correlated information from many measures of the Earth’s climate, the measurements of the feedbacks that follow from the warming, and the stunning amount of evidence from ecosystems form a body of work that, using the word of IPCC 2007, is “unequivocal.”

When we place ourselves in the middle of the climate and its importance to us, the responses to surface warming appear complex. It is easy to conclude that the average temperature of the surface of the Earth will increase, ice will melt, sea level will rise, and the weather will change. We can also say that the changes will be larger in some regions than the other, and that the changes will be disruptive. It is we, the people, that make this more than an academic problem.

More study, more information, and a few outstanding student projects and other truths emerge. One is that there really are not reliable, safe ways to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere(Reliability of the Forest). Related to this, we conclude that a carbon market cannot be an effective policy vehicle. There are no choices, and markets need choices. There needs to be, at a marginal cost, choices of reduced-carbon energy sources and choices of reliable, safe ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere. All we really have working for us right now is energy efficiency, and we cast efficiency more as a moral value than a monetary value. If we want to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with a market, then we are going to have to use technology and biotechnology to develop those market choices. Without market choices, we are not going to reduce our emissions, because we are not going to give up the standard of living that comes from the use of energy.

Today, right now, our ability to mitigate climate change by reduction of emissions is severely limited. We can design strategies that could make a difference; people teaching classes like mine anchor themselves in Pacala and Socolow, who describe a portfolio of technologically feasible solution paths to reduce emissions. But are we going to build a meaningful number of nuclear power plants in the next 10 years? Most large solar and wind projects are challenged for a variety of environmental consequences – ending or delaying them. Each year of delay is a few more parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. We have no algorithm for trading off a large area of desert for invisible tons of carbon dioxide. Our environmental consciousness has no way to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide except by appealing to efficiency. And with that appeal, to argue that we need no new energy infrastructure, or we can personalize our energy generation. How can we reconcile this with the need for an energy-based economy to grow 2-3% every year to make enough jobs for a growing population? How do we put invisible carbon dioxide emissions in balance with perceived unemployment?

No consensus-based international policy is going to emerge in the next decade that will lead to near-term reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. My takeaway message from Copenhagen 2009 was that if there had ever been a European, Japanese, and U.S. opportunity to set the standard for carbon dioxide reduction it was lost. Emerging economies like China, Brazil, India, and South Africa have lots of emissions and plans to grow. They are spending a lot of money on the development of alternative energy; they are spending a lot of money on the development and use of fossil fuels. They spend enough on alternative energy to claim an environmental high ground, and to develop new technologies, new industries, and new standards. We use enough fossil fuels that even with these new sources of energy, carbon dioxide emissions increase at or above historic rates. Our only measure of success is to point to how high the emissions would be without these new developments.

We have to plan for an Earth with a lot of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The synthesis provided by the recent National Research Council document, Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia put the stamp of authority and certification on the fact that once fossil-fuel carbon dioxide is placed in the Earth’s atmosphere, it stays there for a very long time. If we held our accumulated carbon dioxide to a trillion tons, then the carbon dioxide would stabilize at about 440 parts per million. That would be a stunning accomplishment. Far more likely, we will emit two or three trillion tons of carbon dioxide, and we will be living with values at double or more compared with pre-industrial levels; we are looking at 600 parts per million.

What is my intent? If you look at the issues raised above, many of them are where we have maintained and will maintain ongoing public arguments. These arguments attract attention, take our time, and take our minds. We align behind ideas like cap and trade and Kyoto, but by the time they might, maybe, possibly be made politically viable, they do little for addressing climate change. They take on the spirit that if we support them, then they are a symbolic first step. We align behind ideas of alternative energy and advocating efficiency, but the implementation of these ideas is met with opposition and challenges. Climate change is from the invisible gas, and the consequences are in the future; we relegate it to an issue of the common good. The urgency to address climate change is lost again and again; it is easily derailed by convenient political arguments and philosophical beliefs. The short-term always trumps the long-term. Our continued use of fossil fuels confirms that we want our energy; our resistance to a comprehensive energy policy relegates attention to climate change as secondary.

The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society has a special issue on world at four degrees warmer. In the Introduction by Mark New and colleagues many of the ideas addressed above are addressed more elegantly and more completely - new ideas emerge. The rate of warming matters a lot. The projected rate of population growth and our current warming trajectory work to maximize stress at the same time. With warming approaching four degrees, stress on resources and human systems related to climate change become comparable to those from population stress.

The acceptance that, with even our best efforts, we are moving to a world that is much warmer removes the incapacitating anxiety of argument. It gets us past the idea that we are going to avoid dangerous warming. We can get to work. I believe that the climate change projections provide us opportunity. I want my students to learn to exploit these opportunities. I believe that trying to exploit these opportunities will make the problem real to many more people, and that their talking about their opportunities, their solutions, will beget more of the same. They will gain, ultimately, advantage.

It is disingenuous to continue to teach my course in the same way. I will talk about the ways we can reduce emissions. I can talk about the need to keep our average warming below two degrees centigrade, our convenient definition of “dangerous climate change.” I can and will talk about policy options, but the truth is, our population and economic imperatives in combination with our lack of real alternatives and policy opportunity leave us with very little wiggle room. Describing that warm world and developing adaptation strategies will make the climate change problem more concrete. It will make the costs far more real. It will bring the problem home to cities, communities, and people. It will motivate technology, solutions.

Here, I advocate we do something different, because what we are doing is not working. I heard arguments for more than a decade that talking about adaptation would keep us from addressing mitigation. Now if we talk about geo-engineering we will fall into the false security that we can manage the climate. It is not rational that by avoiding these subjects that we will somehow change our energy system and reduce our emissions. It is not rational that our denying and ignoring the possibilities, while others take advantage of the information, somehow contributes to a productive dialogue to development of abstract policy solutions to seemingly distant problems. I assert that by addressing these real problems of adaptation, we will identify risk in a meaningful way, and we will make real the need for mitigation.


Figure 1. Cover of Four degrees and beyond: the potential for a global temperature increase of four degrees and its implications

Climate Change

Updated: 4:24 PM GMT on February 14, 2011


Something New in the Past Decade? Organizing U.S. Climate Modeling (1)

By: RickyRood, 5:05 AM GMT on February 05, 2011

Something New in the Past Decade? Organizing U.S. Climate Modeling (1)

Next week in Washington a panel is convening to write about “A National Strategy for Advancing Climate Modeling.” (link) I am a member of this panel, and I have been asked to review an older report on which I was a lead author. The report was published in 2000, and it is still available on line at the USGCRP website. (U.S. Global Change Research Program)

When my co-authors and I wrote this report, we presented the results to several panels of distinguished people. Over the years, people have continued to send comments to me about the report. I contend that this report was different from a lot of other reports. I think it is safe to say that the authors of the report were chosen because of a willingness to look beyond their home agencies. Also we included as an author a sociologist who is expert in organizations and how to make organizations function.

The report was motivated by what I might call discontent by some of those responsible for oversight of Federal climate expenditures. There was in the late 1990s a (highly politicized) national assessment of climate change. Much of the information for model predictions came from Canadian and British models. This occurred despite the fact that not only were their several U.S. modeling efforts, but the U.S. spent (far) more money on modeling than these other countries. A natural question, what was wrong with the U.S. efforts?

In the report, we concluded some things that some of our colleagues considered radical. We focused much of our discussion on issues of management of scientific programs and organizations, and concluded that the culture and practice of science in the U.S. was, fundamentally, fragmenting. We even went as far as to state that “Without addressing these management issues, providing additional funds to the existing programs will not be effective in the development of the Climate Service." (Not sure that statement helped my career and reminding people of that might take me right through retirement.)

For my presentation next week, I need to return to the report and perhaps think about what is different in the past 10 years.

In the spirit of being conversational – there was press coverage of the report at the time, and most of that press coverage was in publications that focused on computing and supercomputing. We authors quickly regretted this emphasis on computing, and the document being cast as a “computing report.” True we did say that U.S. policy on supercomputing and our ability or inability to import supercomputers impacted, negatively, the competitiveness of U.S. climate and weather modeling. But we did not feel that our primary message was about computing.

Our primary message was meant to be about fragmentation and distribution of resources that could be brought together to address integrated problems such as climate assessments. The U.S. scientific culture values highly innovative, curiosity driven research. This is often best achieved through the efforts of individual scientists and small groups. This individuality is exciting, and it is how scientists get promoted. It develops a culture of expertise. Our point in the document was that there needed to be another path of scientific practice, one that valued the integration of all of the pieces and the production of validated, science-based products. We called this “product-driven” research. We could have as easily called it applied research.

So the question comes forward, how do we value product-driven research? It’s hard. In the U.S. we have this idea that if we generate products from our research, then that is in some way damaging to innovation and the generation of the “best science.” The “science” gets compromised. The word “operational” is invoked, and there is a prejudice that operational systems, ones that produce products on a schedule, must be less than they can and should be scientifically. Hence, anytime there is a push towards product-driven research, there is both individual and institutional resistance that rises to defeat the push. This makes sense, because it is asking people to change, and it is asking them to do something for which they cite plenty of evidence that it will assure less successful careers.

We have institutions where people are expected to work on community models but, at least historically, their performance plans make no mention of community activities. I have worked on documents for U.S. agencies as recently as 2010 where I tried to write that we were building climate models that could be used in energy planning, policy decisions, and by society to anticipate and plan for climate change. This, however, was deemed as contrary to the true agency mission of fundamental research for the benefit of the nation. People are hired to do multi-disciplinary research, but they are promoted or given tenure for their individual accomplishments in specific disciplines. Individuals are recognized for novel breakthroughs, programs are recognized for funding novel breakthroughs, and agencies are recognized for having programs that fund novel breakthroughs.

So in the final presentations we made of the 2000 Report we drew pictures like the one below. We put in arrows and money signs and suggested lines of management, and argued that there needed to be internalized incentive structures. (For those with energy, the article continues below the figure!)

Figure 1. An organization designed to deliver product-driven research (maybe what we should do).

What I have stated above is that the fragmented way we approach the practice of science is valued because it encourages innovation and fundamental discovery. One the other hand, it stands in way of the cross-disciplinary unifying branch of science. As climate scientists we have a need to perform assessments, and assessments are, by definition, cross-disciplinary unifying science. Therefore, to align our assets and efforts to perform assessments comes into basic conflict with not only our fragmented scientists and science organizations, but with the underlying culture of our practice of science.

The fragmentation extends beyond the practice of research. There are separate organizations responsible for high-performance computing, and they have their needs to demonstrate breakthroughs. Such a goal might be the greatest number of calculations in a second. Goals like that are achieved with special problems and computer codes, not with messy real problems like weather prediction and climate modeling. Computers are often provided for a set of grand challenge problems. Another point in the report was that the climate models and computational platforms needed to co-evolve; they needed to be managed together.

And if computers and models need to co-evolve, then there needs to be balanced development of software and data systems and analysis capabilities. In fact, in the 2000 report, we identified the greatest deficiency in federal investment being in software infrastructure. Since 2000, there has been significant development of software and data systems and analysis capabilities.

Perhaps then, there is some impact from the report, with more balance in the funding of all of the pieces that are needed in a robust climate program. The expenditures, however, are still fragmented, and the developments have a tendency to be independent. Even given the recognition that these expenditures are essential for a robust climate program, there is always a fight to maintain the expenditures as they are viewed to take away resources from “the science,” from research, from discovery. The program managers and software engineers and the data system professionals have to compete with the high profile breakthroughs of research and high-performance computing.

I paint here a fundamental characteristic of our practice of science. It is deeply ingrained, and in many ways, it is highly successful. Therefore, approaches to provide assessments, to address cross-disciplinary unifying science, to develop climate services – these approaches need to build from this practice and from these successes. This is a challenge to agencies who like to think in terms of re-organizations, institutions, and programmatic collocation of needed assets. Reorganization does not address the basic fact that the underlying structure is fundamentally fragmenting, that there is perceived value in that fragmentation, and that there is investment in that fragmentation.

In the 2000 report we described the type of organization that we thought was needed to address the issues of climate modeling, high-performance computing, and climate services. Today, I would nuance or refine that recommendation, based on emergence of community-based approaches to complex problem solving. A new type of organization is needed, one with stable, balanced, coordinated, product-focused investments in all of the elements necessary for science-based climate products. Essential in this organization is giving value to those who perform cross-disciplinary unifying scientific research to address complex problems. This is not reorganization or restructuring; this is not merging agencies and programs; this is focused, mindful development of a capability to achieve a specific, needed goal.


Climate Change Climate Models

Updated: 4:06 PM GMT on April 16, 2012


Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog

About RickyRood

I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.

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Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.
Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.
Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.
Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.