Climateprediction.net is the largest experiment to try and produce a forecast of the climate in the 21st century.To do this, we need people around the world to give us time on their computers - time when they have their computers switched on, but are not using them to their full capacity.
ClimatePrediction.net project URL; http://climateprediction.net/
Climate change, and our response to it, are issues of global importance, affecting food production, water resources, ecosystems, energy demand, insurance costs and much more. There is a broad scientific consensus that the Earth will probably warm over the coming century, climateprediction.net should, for the first time, tell us what is most likely to happen.
The aim of climateprediction.net is to investigate the approximations that have to be made in state-of-the-art climate models. By running the model thousands of times (a 'large ensemble') we hope to find out how the model responds to slight tweaks to these approximations - slight enough to not make the approximations any less realistic. This will allow us to improve our understanding of how sensitive our models are to small changes and also to things like changes in carbon dioxide and the sulphur cycle.
This will allow us to explore how climate may change in the next century under a wide range of different scenarios. In the past, estimates of climate change have had to be made using one or, at best, a very small ensemble (tens rather than thousands!) of model runs. By using your computers, we will be able to improve our understanding of, and confidence in, climate change predictions more than would ever be possible using the supercomputers currently available to scientists.
The climateprediction.net experiment should help to "improve methods to quantify uncertainties of climate projections and scenarios, including long-term ensemble simulations using complex models", identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2001 as a high priority. Hopefully, the experiment will give decision makers a better scientific basis for addressing one of the biggest potential global problems of the 21st century.
Introduction to Climate Models
What is a climate model? Climate models are numerical representations of various parts of the Earth's climate system. There are two ways of looking at this. In some respects, scientists are trying to reduce the complex behaviour of the climate down to a set of mathematical equations, in the hope that they can then begin to understand the processes that are going on. This is true especially of fairly simple models. In the case of state of the art General Circulation Models/ Global Climate Models (GCMs) such as the one used in the climateprediction.net experiment, it is more a case of trying to represent everything, even if things then get so complicated that we can't always understand what's going on. The equations are tweaked, within reasonable boundaries, so that the model does as well as possible at producing past and current climates (compared to archived observations). It can then be used to try to predict what the climate is going to do in the future.
GCMs try to simulate as much as possible about the climate system: the incoming and outgoing radiation, the way the air moves, the way clouds form and precipitation falls, the way the ice sheets grow or shrink, etc. They are frequently (as in the model we use) coupled to a representation of the ocean. They may take into account how the vegetation on the Earth's surface changes. Critically, they try to calculate how all these different parts of the climate system interact, and how the feedback processes work.
This is why the "best" estimates of future climate come from general circulation models, rather than simplified models.
Video about the ClimatePrediction.net experiment
The documentary of the BBC Climate Change experiment results (hosted by climateprediction.net); presented by Sir David Attenborough.
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