Supercomputer Update: Climate Models and a CO2 Snapshot

November 22, 2014

Been reading about this all week, someone sent it to me yesterday, and, damn – it’s pretty hypnotic. In a terra-frying sort of way.


An ultra-high-resolution NASA computer model has given scientists a stunning new look at how carbon dioxide in the atmosphere travels around the globe.

Plumes of carbon dioxide in the simulation swirl and shift as winds disperse the greenhouse gas away from its sources. The simulation also illustrates differences in carbon dioxide levels in the northern and southern hemispheres and distinct swings in global carbon dioxide concentrations as the growth cycle of plants and trees changes with the seasons.

The carbon dioxide visualization was produced by a computer model called GEOS-5, created by scientists at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office.

The visualization is a product of a simulation called a “Nature Run.” The Nature Run ingests real data on atmospheric conditions and the emission of greenhouse gases and both natural and man-made particulates. The model is then left to run on its own and simulate the natural behavior of the Earth’s atmosphere. This Nature Run simulates January 2006 through December 2006.

While Goddard scientists worked with a “beta” version of the Nature Run internally for several years, they released this updated, improved version to the scientific community for the first time in the fall of 2014.

This video is public domain and can be downloaded at:

Meanwhile, progress being made on climate modeling as well.


High-resolution simulations of the global climate can now perform much closer to actual observations, and they perform far better at reproducing extreme weather events, a new Berkeley Lab study has found. Lead author Michael Wehner heralds this news as evidence of a golden age in climate modeling, as not only did the simulation closer match reality but it also took a fraction as long to complete as it would have in recent history – just three months compared to several years.

“These kinds of calculations have gone from basically intractable to heroic to now doable,” Wehner said. “I’ve literally waited my entire career to be able to do these simulations.”

Even so, future modeling at high resolution like this will be a huge help in projecting long-term climate change. Wehner was a lead author on the chapter concerning this in the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report, which concluded that the contrast between wet and dry seasons will increase with global mean temperatures – leading to more extreme (in both magnitude and frequency) precipitation events in the wetter regions.

“Knowing it will increase is one thing,” Wehner said, “but having a confident statement about how much and where, as a function of location, requires the models do a better job of replicating observations than they have.” And the key to this is more high-resolution modeling.


A high resolution simulation of the Community Atmospheric model. Also a comparison to low resolution. All data from these simulations is freely available. The open access article describing this simulation may be found at this link:


4 Responses to “Supercomputer Update: Climate Models and a CO2 Snapshot”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    That is a neat simulation, but it doesn’t really tell us anything new. Yes, most CO2 is emitted by the U.S., Europe, and China, and it is pushed eastward by prevailing winds (which are chaotic and can only be “simulated” to a point).

    We need to accumulate a lot of hard data from the OCO 2 satellite so that we can see what is really happening. (and I fear it will be just more bad news).

    In fact, I would reword the statement “….the key to this is more high-resolution modeling” to add that the key to really understanding AGW is “gathering more high-resolution data for analysis and feeding into models”.

  2. anotheralionel Says:

    “In fact, I would reword the statement “….the key to this is more high-resolution modeling” to add that the key to really understanding AGW is “gathering more high-resolution data for analysis and feeding into models”.”

    This is something that was highlighted in a series of papers issued by the Met’ Office last year, there is much else of current relevance as the titles suggest:

    The recent pause in warming, unfortunate word use in title.

    A global perspective on the recent storms and floods in the UK

    Statistical models and the global temperature record

    but as I have noticed discussing in other lands, hardened deniers like to cherry pick statements and ignore the context. As they always do.

  3. MorinMoss Says:

    Global warming – it’s not just scary, it’s terra-frying!

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