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A thousand years of climate change

Accurately predicting global climate change demands complex and comprehensive computer simulation codes, the fastest supercomputers available, and the ability to run those simulations long enough to model century after century of the global climate. Scientists at NCAR in Boulder, Colorado, ran the millennium-long simulation of their new Community Climate System Model (CCSM2) for more than 200 uninterrupted days on the IBM SP supercomputer at NERSC.

According to Warren Washington, a senior scientist at NCAR and recently elected chair of the National Science Board, being able to more accurately model climate change over a very long time scale is of great societal importance. The scientific problem of climate prediction continues to require complex interactions between atmosphere, ocean, land/vegetation and the cryosphere. State-of-the-art climate models such as the CCSM are making the interactions over day- to century-long time scales much more accurate, though a number of uncertain aspects can still be improved.

"One reason we need a long control simulation is that it gives the climate modeling community a very good idea of the 'natural' model variability on annual, decadal, and century time scales, so that as we perform climate change simulations, we can separate the natural forcing from the anthropogenic changes caused by increasing greenhouse gases, aerosols and land surface changes," said Washington, an internationally recognized expert in computer modeling of the Earth's climate.

The CCSM2 effort is headed by Jeff Kiehl at NCAR. CCSM2 tightly couples four complex models, including atmosphere and land modeling codes developed at NCAR and ocean and sea ice models developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Because of its comprehensive integration of four complex component models, CCSM2 has emerged as one of the United States' flagship computer codes for studying climate change.

The CCSM2 simulations being run at NERSC are part of the Climate Change Prediction Program in the Office of Science of the Department of Energy. Data from CCSM2 simulations run at NERSC and NCAR will be made freely available to the nation's climate research community.

"As the Department of Energy's flagship facility for unclassified supercomputing, NERSC is able to provide both the uninterrupted computing resources and the staff expertise to enable this important simulation to run, as well as the data storage facility and network connectivity necessary to ensure that the resulting data can be easily accessed and analyzed," said Horst Simon, director of the NERSC Center.

Two hundred years of modeling El Nino events and surface temperatures on the Community Climate System Model (CCSM2) closely correlates with 50 years of actual climate data.

NCAR scientist Tony Craig began the CCSM2 millennium-long run at NERSC last January. The lengthy run served as a kind of "shakedown cruise" for the new version of the climate model and demonstrated that its variability is stable, even when run for century-after-century simulations.

"This simulation will enable climate scientists to study the variability of the climate system on decade to century time scales, which is an important aspect of climate change detection and attribution studies," said Jeff Kiehl, a climate scientist at NCAR and chair of the scientific steering committee for CCSM2. "The computational resource provided by NERSC was essential for accomplishing this important simulation."

Previous climate models have suffered in accuracy by allowing too much "drift," which meant the resulting climate temperature changes could have too much variation to be scientifically useful. The 1,000-year CCSM run had a total drift of one-half of one degree Celsius, compared to older versions with two to three times as much variance.

"The 1,000-year simulation is the first ever fully coupled climate simulation with this high of spatial resolution," Kiehl said.

The CCSM model was developed by a community of climate researchers that includes scientists and software engineers at the NCAR, many universities, and DOE laboratories. The CCSM simulates a number of natural variability signals such as El Nino, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and the North Atlantic Oscillation.

"This is a significant accomplishment, and results from the improved representation of physics of the atmosphere, land, ocean and ice," said Inez Fung, director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center at UC Berkeley. "Climate variability on interannual and interdecadal time scales reveals the dynamic non-linear internal interactions within the climate system. For example, there are 'active' periods when El Ninos are strong and frequent, as well as 'quiescent' periods for the El-Nino/ Southern Oscillations. The results establish the 'naturally varying' base-line against which externally forced climate change, such as from increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, can be compared."

In addition to Washington, Kiehl, and Craig, other scientists contributing to the successful 1,000-year run include Gerald Meehl, Jim Hack, and Peter Gent of NCAR, Burt Semtner of the Naval Postgraduate School and John Weatherly of the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory.--by Jon Bashor


Media contact: Jon Bashor, LBNL, (510) 486-5849, jbashor@lbl.gov
Technical contact: Jeffrey Kiehl, NCAR, (303) 497-1350, jtkon@ucar.edu

Related Web Links

Community Climate System Model (CCSM), University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) - http://www.ccsm.ucar.edu/

Researchers interested in working with the model's data can find it on the Web at: http://www.ccsm.ucar.edu/experiments/ccsm2.0/

"Climate Change Prediction with New Generation Models: Moderate and High Resolution Studies," NERSC Research Highlights, 2001 Annual Report - http://www.nersc.gov/research/annrep01/sh_BER_09.html

"New Computer Model Promises Detailed Picture of Worldwide Climate," Earth Observatory, July 1, 2002 - http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/MediaAlerts/2002/200207019812.html

"Factsheet: Recent Progress in Climate-Related Research at NCAR," National Center for Atmospheric Research, University Corporation for Atmoshpheric Research - http://www.ncar.ucar.edu/ncar/factsheet.htm

"NCAR's Warren Washington elected chair of National Science Board," SCD News, May 10, 2002 - http://www.scd.ucar.edu/news/02/features/0510.washington.html

"Jeffrey Kiehl: Beyond the Scientific Method," Science Now, October 1995, Volume 3, No. 1 - http://www.sirs.com/corporate/newsletters/snow/snow1095/snow1095.htm#Kiehl

CCSM Publications List: http://www.cgd.ucar.edu/csm/publications/bibliography.html

Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center, University of California at Berkeley - http://www.atmos.berkeley.edu/

Climate Change Prediction Program (CCPP), Office of Biological and Environmental Research - http://www.pnl.gov/ccpp/index.htm

NERSC's IBM SP Computer - http://hpcf.nersc.gov/computers/SP/

Funding: The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) is funded by the Department of Energy, Office of Science's Advanced Scientific Computing Research, and is part of the Computing Sciences Directorate at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. High-speed remote access to NERSC is provided by ESnet. The research is conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), operated by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.

NERSC is a world leader in accelerating scientific discovery through computation. NERSC provides high-performance computing tools and expertise that enable computational science of scale, in which large, interdisciplinary teams of scientists attack fundamental problems in science and engineering that require massive calculations and have broad scientific and economic impacts.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory was founded by Ernest Orlando Lawrence founded this Lab in 1931, making it the oldest of the national laboratories. Lawrence invented the cyclotron, which led to a Golden Age of particle physics and revolutionary discoveries about the nature of the universe. Of our nine Nobel Prizes awarded to LBNL scientists, five are in physics and four in chemistry. Today, LBNL is a multiprogram lab where research in advanced materials, life sciences, energy efficiency, detectors and accelerators serves America's needs in technology and the environment. LBNL is managed by the University of California for the DOE.

Author: Jon Bashor is a science writer at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who covers Computing Sciences research at the Lab and for the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center. For more science news, see Berkeley Lab's Science Beat.


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