Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog

Stickiness and Climate Models: Open Climate Models (2)

By: RickyRood, 5:04 AM GMT on November 30, 2010

Stickiness and Climate Models: Open Climate Models (2)

In the previous entry I motivated the need for communities other than scientists to have access not just to the results from climate models, but to the ability to configure climate models for possible changes to the Earth’s surface and to investigate the impact of those changes. An example I used was the possibility of a project to irrigate the Sahara – a project where it was reasonable to ask how both weather and climate might be modified.

We don’t have to imagine futuristic projects like this to make the argument that more access to configurable, evaluated climate models is needed. Some might recall an entry where I was writing about managing aerosols and greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide to control warming in the near-term. That entry had been motivated by an outstanding presentation by Professor V. Ramanathan from the University of California San Diego. (I recommend specifically this part of Ram’s web page.) He was talking about an experiment where he was going to investigate whether or not changing cook stoves in India could reduce black carbon in the atmosphere, leading to reduced warming of the planet. While Professor Ramanathan has access to climate models and access to experts to design model experiments, he is not the only interested party in the execution and the results of the model experiments. It is easy to see that all of the regional governments would be interested in their own evaluations; many non-governmental organizations would be interested, as well as corporations and citizens.

In order to get buy in from all of these entities, people will want to be able to evaluate the information and its quality. They are likely going to want to pose their own questions. If such an undertaking was to proceed under the auspices of a treaty, then it is easy to imagine a country wanting to, say, develop its own climate modeling capabilities. And, of course, we will want to evaluate whether or not any action has had the predicted effect. Finally, remember that a scientific evaluation would require that independent researchers verify the information from other researchers.

My argument, suggested in a couple of earlier entries, is that community approaches are called for because of the complexity and ultimate scale that is involved (Using Projections, Downscaling). This stands in contrast to other ways to approach this problem, for example, users forming collaborations with scientists at universities and laboratories, or a new breed of climate consultancy with the needed expertise. No doubt, these other forms of developing climate information will occur and grow; it is the way that weather information is obtained. Restating, I don’t think that the simple extension of the way we provide weather services provides what is needed for climate services.

I want to state, explicitly, that I am in no way making the statement that the community of climate scientists and the availability of climate data and climate information are, fundamentally, closed. In fact, I have argued the contrary - that by the standards of any large, complex knowledge base that I can think of - the data, the analysis, and the deliberations of the climate community are free and available (for example Trust, but Verify, Strength in Many Peers). And without exaggeration, historian Paul Edwards has studied both weather and climate science as pioneering examples of the development of data and information sharing communities - A Vast Machine). That the climate community is excessively closed is part of the political argument. If any readers are aware of good studies about openness of research communities, then please send me (directly) references. My argument is that the requirement to extend the use of climate information to uncountable application communities challenges the current notions of community.

The provision of climate models that are configurable by non-scientists, presumably non-expert communities, is difficult and controversial. I recently gave a talk on this subject at Supercomputing 2010, and the slides of my presentation are linked here. In the next few articles in this series I want to explore some of the challenges that need to be overcome if there were to be open innovation and development of climate models, some ideas on how address the challenges, and some strategies on how to think about uncertainty in climate projections.

Developing Climate Models: Some basic problems

A climate model is built from component models that represent the atmosphere, the oceans, the land surface and the Earth’s ice – the cryosphere. Each of these models is composed of sub-component models, for example, cumulus cloud models. If you were to look around at the clouds, sky, the plants, the people, the landscape, the streams, and ask the question – how do I represent these things as numbers? How do I represent how these things will change? How do I represent how these things interact with each other? If you ask these questions, then you start to appreciate what needs to be included in a climate model. The answers to these questions get written up as narratives and computer codes that in some approximate way represents both the observed behavior and how that behavior changes. This leads to hundreds of thousands lines of computer code, which represent the knowledge of hundreds of types of researchers. To bring all of this together is a big management problem. To make sure that all the pieces work together is not straightforward; there is no single prescription; it is, sometimes, arcane and artistic.


Figure 1. Components of a model of the Earth’s Climate.

Add on top of this inherent tangle of ideas and codes our history, and it only makes the problem harder. We build on existing models, which requires us to use what exists. In some cases it is safe to say that there is computer code 30 years old, written in languages that are no longer taught. It’s a little like trying to keep ancient stone buildings from falling down. This heritage code provides a stubborn inertia that inhibits change and modernization.

Then to this heritage code add to the mix the nature of the computational problem. For as long as I have been a scientist, say 30 years, weather and climate models require the largest computers available, and these supercomputers are not programmed like your Apple or your PC. I know people Putman at NASA today who are trying to scale climate models to run on more than 100,000 processors. To be clear, that is a single model requiring 100,000 processors to run in concert with each other, which is far different than having 100,000 little models running independently. (Weather fans should remember L. F. Richardson). And we cannot stop the weather forecasts and the climate assessments to build something fundamentally new; our mission requires us to keep working along with what we have.

The take away message from this little exposé is that we have a highly specialized problem, with potentially overwhelming complexity, and a long history of how we have managed to get things done. “Managed to get things done” is at the core. All of the scientists and the codes are spread all over. They are not in any formal sense, managed, and we have had to develop management strategies to help control the complexity. We have this tension between management and community and creativity.

I have managed large weather and climate modeling activities when I was at NASA. On a good day, I maintain that I managed this successfully. When I was a manager I sought control, and I grimaced at some naïve ideas of community. My experience tells me that we need to investigate new ways of model development and model use. This need arises because the complexity is too large to control, and this is especially true as we extend the need to use climate models to investigate energy policy decisions and, especially, adaptation to climate change.

In the past decade we have seen the emergence of community approaches to complex problem solving. Within these communities we see the convergence of creativity and the emergence of solution paths. We see self-organizing and self-correcting processes evolve. Counter intuitively, perhaps, we see not anarchy, but the emergence of governance in these open communities. The next entry in the series will focus more on describing open communities.

r


Pakistani Flood Relief Links

Doctors Without Borders

The International Red Cross

MERLIN medical relief charity

U.S. State Department Recommended Charities

The mobile giving service mGive allows one to text the word "SWAT" to 50555. The text will result in a $10 donation to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Pakistan Flood Relief Effort.

Portlight Disaster Relief at Wunderground.com

An impressive list of organizations


Climate Change Climate Models

Updated: 3:08 AM GMT on December 01, 2010

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Greening of the Desert: Open Climate Models (1)

By: RickyRood, 8:33 PM GMT on November 21, 2010

Greening of the Desert: Open Climate Models (1)

A couple of years ago a student of mine brought me the following problem. He described a project where desalinization plants would be built off of the West Coast of Africa. The water would be used to irrigate the Western Sahara for agriculture. The project proposer realized this would change, in a fundamental way, the surface of the Earth. Presumably it would change from white reflective sand to green absorbing leaves. And there would be huge changes in the water.

The person proposing the project knew that there was a relation between the Sahara and hurricanes in the North Atlantic. The question posed was whether or not there might be a weakening of the hurricanes, and perhaps, the project might engender support because of this. Of course there would also be the possibility of increased risk, and opposition to project.


Figure 1. Schematic of African Easterly Waves that I use in dynamics class, but I forget where I got it originally.


In a general sense, this is not a crazy question. The Sahara is an important ingredient of regional climate. There is enough heating in the Sahara that the normal condition of temperature decreasing as you move away from the equator is reversed during the summer, leading to the conditions that cause African easterly waves, which do influence the generation of hurricanes. But there are other influences of the Sahara that are more direct. Even the Romans talked about dust from the Sahara influencing Europe. Therefore, a large regional agricultural or energy project that altered the surface of the Sahara is likely to have regional, perhaps even global, climate effects. There might be benefit, or damage, or risk, or liability.

If we are to imagine alternative energy sources like wind and solar being built to large enough scales to displace fossil fuels, then that will require huge alterations to the surface of the Earth. In 2005 David Keith investigated changes that would occur if wind farms were placed near population centers in the Northern Hemisphere; these covered 10% of the land surface. Nathan Lewis on his web site talks about the scale of the projects needed for alternative energy projects.

The Keith et al. paper referenced above is the type of simulation that is needed when preparing for climate change, new energy systems, and providing energy and food for increasing population. That is, we have to alter the surface of the Earth in some significant way, and then compare, for example, the costs and risks of wind energy, to using other types of energy, including continued emissions of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. Regional climate impacts also need to be investigated fully.

If you compare this sort of simulation to weather forecasting there are several differences. While there have been studies of weather modification in the past, for the most part we think of weather forecasting as defining with observations what the atmosphere looks like at a particular time and then projecting forward for a few days what the atmosphere will look like. Climate projections are, however, mostly about how the forcing of the climate changes. Forcing? How is the energy budget being changed? What changes absorption and reflection? How does the surface change?

We often focus on how will the greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide change? While this is the most important global problem, when we think about what I will call large-scale adaptation, major energy projects that cover the Earth’s surface with windmills and solar panels, these land-use changes might be more important. And their importance might be in terms of local changes to the weather. Going back to the question posed at the beginning of this entry, benefits, risks, and liability for a specific project, I imagine the desire, the need, maybe even the requirement to do climate impact assessment studies.

Such an assessment study would necessarily be a set of model simulations with changes to the land-surface. There would need to be experiments designed to extract any possible signal from what is bound to be significant noise – variability within the system. New analysis techniques would be required. Given the need to evaluate specific projects, project designers would need access to and the ability to change climate models. This means that the ability to configure, run and evaluate climate simulations needs to exist outside of government laboratories and universities. Compared with weather forecasting, where we are pretty settled on the idea of collections of observations of the current state of the atmosphere, followed by prediction of the future, this is an enormous change. That is, there are few people who have the vested interest to want to play around on the insides of a weather model, but there are potentially many people with the interest and desire to play around with the insides of a climate model.

With this as introduction, the next articles will be a series on the challenges of how to address this potential need: the need for communities other than scientists to have access not just to the results from climate models, but the ability to configure climate models for particular changes to the Earth and investigate the impact of those changes.

r


Pakistani Flood Relief Links

Doctors Without Borders

The International Red Cross

MERLIN medical relief charity

U.S. State Department Recommended Charities

The mobile giving service mGive allows one to text the word "SWAT" to 50555. The text will result in a $10 donation to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Pakistan Flood Relief Effort.

Portlight Disaster Relief at Wunderground.com

An impressive list of organizations


Climate Change Climate Models

Updated: 4:16 AM GMT on November 24, 2010

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Cancun and News

By: RickyRood, 2:12 AM GMT on November 11, 2010

Cancun and News

My recent blogs have been long analyses of climate change science and politics and communication and organization. I am delighted to have seen them propagate around, both publically and not – for example American Meteorology Society. It’s very gratifying to see others use and improve on what one does. This entry is going to be far simpler. A little about Cancun Conference of the Parties, Roger Pielke Jr.’s new book, Merapi volcano, and some news from Pakistan. OK, it’s news.

Cancun, Conference of the Parties - 16: A year ago, November 2009, I was planning a trip to the Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen. The Conference of the Parties (COP) are the annual meetings that are part of the governing body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Before Copenhagen there was great energy, with some notion that the Copenhagen meeting would lead to a breakthrough on international climate change agreements. Of course, that did not happen and while there was spin that the meeting was a success, most people that I know were not enthusiastic about the outcome. (The Copenhagen Accord) My take of the outcome was that there was symbolic political recognition that global warming needed to be addressed, but no substantive steps were taken to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases. Plus, the political, economic and technological realities are that we will not see international agreement on reducing emissions anytime soon. It will be much longer before there is any real reduction of emissions. (Here are student blogs and my blogs from last year. UoM and Alma Students, Rood)

I am not going to Cancun. There is a group of students from Michigan and Alma going this year, and again, they will be blogging from the meeting on the Climate Blue website. This year my expectations are (even) lower than last year. The U.S. is further away from a national position than a year ago, and without the U.S. having a coherent voice, then there is no real way to be effective in the U.N. And, of course, there is no real international desire for a climate treaty. The press and the politicians are not playing up this meeting. There will still be thousands of people and lots of action on the ground; people will still look for opportunities and build towards the future.

The intractable nature of greenhouse gas emission reduction policy is one of the reasons that I advocate exposing and scaling up of local and commercial activities ( here).

Roger Pielke Jr: On October 25, 2010 Roger Pielke Jr spoke at the Ford School at the University of Michigan. ( Pielke Seminar) I was the commentator at the presentation. Roger was talking about material in his new book, The Climate Fix. Roger Pielke Jr. is a highly controversial, strongly stated political scientist who is expert in climate change. He is a prolific and early blogger. The gist of his talk was that what we are doing now to develop climate policy does not work, and it is time to consider the underlying reasons why and to do something different. There were those in audience who expected me to take exception to this message, but I did not. My experience over the past five years is that what we are doing on the international level to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is broken and that there are fundamental reasons why. At the center of reasons, we don’t really have any market-viable alternative energy sources and no technological ways to abate the emission of carbon dioxide. This, in combination with our imperatives for economic growth (read, energy use), makes the situation currently intractable. Combine that with the political realities, we do have to do something different. Pielke Jr. provides a more thorough, more quantitative, and controversial analysis of this situation (The Climate Fix).

Merapi Volcano: Some time ago I wrote a piece called Climate, Belief and the Volcano. In that piece I wrote about Mr. Marijan who was the spirit keeper of the volcano. In these recent eruptions Mr. Marijan died.

Pakistan: I am certain to maintain an interest in Pakistan far longer than the average disaster attention span. My youngest sister Elizabeth is Counsel General in Peshawar so I keep an eye on the news. I saw her this past week (a good thing), and it is a tough, tough place to be. Flood wise, there is progress in the Northwest, and there are efforts to plant winter wheat. Sindh, in the South, is still flooded. One thing Elizabeth pointed out to me that the flood had deposited 12 feet of silt in places, and amongst other things the land was now higher than the irrigation systems. UNICEF says they are running out of money, food, and vaccines, and a bad situation is likely to get worse. Attention to the Pakistan flood is moral imperative, a humanitarian imperative, and a security imperative. (Pakistan Flooding: A Climate Disaster, Yours truly on Chicago-based Radio Islam, Rood interview)

Here are some places that my sister has recommended for the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan. Organizations she sees.

Doctors Without Borders

The International Red Cross

MERLIN medical relief charity

U.S. State Department Recommended Charities

The mobile giving service mGive allows one to text the word "SWAT" to 50555. The text will result in a $10 donation to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Pakistan Flood Relief Effort.

Portlight Disaster Relief at Wunderground.com

UNICEF Donations



Figure 1. Despair of Pakistan’s forgotten flood victims: BBC coverage of continuing flood in Pakistan



Climate Change Climate Change News

Updated: 3:06 AM GMT on November 11, 2010

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Regional Climate Information: Real-world use (2)

By: RickyRood, 3:03 PM GMT on November 02, 2010

Regional Climate Information: Real-world use (2)

There is, perhaps to an outsider, a curious contradiction evolving in the climate-science community. On one hand we have concluded that the warming of the planet is unequivocal, attributable to the release of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel consumption, and that we need to do things to limit the warming – which most simply is to reduce emissions from fossil fuels. Therefore, we feel that there is enough confidence in climate change projections to warrant changes in the very foundation of our energy consumption; hence, the foundation of our economic success.

On the other hand, when we talk about the need for climate projections to contribute to planning for adaptation to climate change, there are many in the community who will make the argument that the projections are so uncertain that it is not possible to provide such information. An example of this sort of decision might be the size of the drain pipes in the urban flood controls or the need for a barrier to protect city water supplies.

This contradiction, we know enough to say we have to do something, but not enough to say what to do, is not a comfortable situation. To some, it raises issues of basic credibility; it is definitely fuel for the political position that it is too risky to our economic well being to take action on climate change. This sort of contradiction is, however, not so unusual. Think about the floods in Pakistan. We knew for 2-3 weeks that the water was flowing down the Indus Valley, but in a general way, it was not clear what to do downstream. It is still flooded in the Sindh.

Those people most interested in developing adaptation plans often want numbers, digital data, for the year, say, 2040. Their intuition is to ask for data that looks like today’s weather station observations. The reason for this is relatively simple – there are present-day tools for design and warnings that have been developed to use weather data and weather forecasts. This recognizes the implicit fact that weather is how climate interacts with people.

Though we have developed some skill in seasonal prediction, largely based on our ability to predict the El Nino-La Nina cycle, we have not developed much skill in actual climate prediction (see for instance, here and here). By climate prediction I mean, for example, will there be a flood at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers in June of 2019? The conclusions that are drawn from climate models, with varying degrees of confidence, that there will be more intense floods and droughts use the models to provide guidance. This guidance is used in combination with understanding of basic theoretical knowledge like warm air holds more water; hence, it can support more intense storms. In some cases, we can use observations from the past to provide circumstantial evidence to support the robustness of our conclusions. With this information it is possible to provide guidance for those trying to make decisions, but it is a complex process that requires inputs from a variety of people who are knowledgable in the circumstances of a particular problem. This expert guidance or advice is sometimes referred to as translation, and more and more, we understand the need to have translators at the interfaces of all of the different types of expertise needed for problem solving. We understand the need to cogenerate solutions, and that one field of study, climate science, handing off information to another field of study, city wastewater managers, does not work so well. We simply do not have the ease of providing weather-like data without qualification.

I threaten to digress. A comprehensive climate model can provide a set of numbers that are time stamped with every hour of any year at every point on Earth. It is relatively straight forward to provide a bunch of numbers that look like the Wunderground Personal Weather Station network in Chicago for the year 2043. In fact, we have talked about this as a cool thing to do for the climate page. Most Wunderground devotees would immediately recognize that such a set of numbers may only constitute a party trick. There is not enough skill to pick out in which years there will be regional droughts, much less, whether or not it will rain in Naperville on July 4, 2043.

Nevertheless, there has grown up in the past few years a huge industry which not only takes archived climate model output and tries to increase the effective resolution through a variety of methods, but also use weather generators to generate daily high and low temperatures. This is called downscaling, the process of taking coarse resolution information and adding fine resolution information to customize it for a particular application. As you might imagine, there are widely varying opinions about this process. Some scientists think that this is a waste of time and resources, and others think it is a critical process in developing necessary climate adaptation plans. (For those who want to know more: a whole bunch of downscaling references from my class.) (and for your pleasure ClimateWizard and Canadian Climate Change Scenarios Network)

From a market perspective, there are many customers who want downscaled information and the basic information to feed downscaling algorithms is readily available through the CMIP-3 archive. Therefore, whether or not a subset of climate scientists think that downscaling makes sense, there will be downscaling of climate projections and use of that information.

Early in the 1990s I was involved in ozone research, and in particular, the development of weather-resolving global ozone models. These models challenged not only the computational resources of the time, but the human resources to evaluate their quality and interpret their results. In a meeting in the Damon Room of the National Center of Atmospheric Research, we were discussing the use of this new generation of model in official United Nations’ assessments of ozone depletion. I was on the side that it was too early to use these models, and that we needed months if not years to assess their quality and assure their robustness. On the other side was the argument that these new generation models WOULD be used; they existed, and someone would use them. One stream of the argument was that it was the responsibility of those most knowledgeable of both the strengths and weaknesses of the models to try them out in the assessment studies.

I was on the wrong side of that argument in the Damon Room. It was true that new generation models would be used for a whole variety of reasons, ranging from scientific reasons to reasons of one research group trying to make their mark relative to another group. Not only was there a responsibility for the leading research groups to participate, but there was also a lot to be learned from trying to do those assessments.

In the discussion about whether or not model projections are ready for applications, there are arguments made that addressing applied problems are not really science. That a focus on applications diverts resources from needed science and diverts the most trained minds away from needed research. Such a position, however, does not recognize the challenging research problems of how to use climate information in real-world applications. Neither does it recognize that the demand for information is there, and that that demand will be met in some way.

Imagine that you are spending money for bridges or power plants or flood control. These expenditures are expected to last generations. You know that you need to consider climate change. You need to consider climate change in concert with many other issues, and the question might reduce to what incremental change do I need to make to my plans to accommodate climate change. Or the question might be more severe – is salt water intruding into my water supply? As a decision maker you are concerned technically and ethically. You might need to answer to political concerns, and increasingly, you are answering to your insurance company. You need climate data now – you can’t wait until the skill score of decadal predictions improve.

The scientific investigation of climate has revealed the need to do something, and you cannot wait until a certain skill score is achieved in climate models. There are many ways you can get some information. It would be nice to get vetted and branded information, but in the absence of that, you can get some information. Usually the information that you will use with be strongly influenced by ease of access and use. It would be nice to have ease of access and use to the best available data at any given time. It is not a simple manner to define “best available;” it is not a simple thing to manage the logistics of access.

If you examine the problem from the generation of climate knowledge to the use of climate knowledge, then there are research issues all the way along the path. Above, I mentioned the need for cogeneration of solutions to problem. Cogeneration means that all of the information providers are working together in the generation of solution paths. With this participation, the users of climate information learn how to account for the uncertainties of climate projections in their problems and climate scientists learn the requirements that are faced by the users.

We have been studying the use of climate information for, at least, 20 years, and from this experience, we know that it is naïve to image simply providing digital data. There is a need to develop translation services to complement the digital data. We know from experience in the weather community, that the notion that we can make the provision of digital data operational, somehow separated from research, is far from optimal. It sets up barriers between new developments that might improve forecasts, and it sets up barriers on best use of information. The idea that we might wait until the climate projections achieve some undetermined skill level, then pass it off as useful, neglects the fact that the bottleneck in the use of climate data does not lie first and foremost in the quality of the climate projections. This position of wait until the data are better neglects the research from years of learning how to use climate data. In fact, to wait until the data are better serves to fuel a wait and see approach in the development of policy and development of solution paths. We have made the argument that climate projections are robust enough to motivate controlling the emissions of fossil fuels. We need to address with equal energy the problem of determining the size of the levees in Fargo and New Orleans.

r

First Blog in this series

Pakistan: I am certain to maintain an interest in Pakistan far longer than the average disaster attention span. My youngest sister Elizabeth is Counsel General in Peshawar so I keep an eye on the news. Sindh is still flooded. Attention to the Pakistan flood is moral imperative, a humanitarian imperative, and a security imperative. (Pakistan Flooding: A Climate Disaster, Yours truly on Chicago-based Radio Islam, Rood interview)

Here are some places that my sister has recommended for the humanitarian crisis in Pakistan. Organizations she sees.

Doctors Without Borders

The International Red Cross

MERLIN medical relief charity

U.S. State Department Recommended Charities

The mobile giving service mGive allows one to text the word "SWAT" to 50555. The text will result in a $10 donation to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Pakistan Flood Relief Effort.

Portlight Disaster Relief at Wunderground.com



Figure 1. Despair of Pakistan’s forgotten flood victims: BBC coverage of continuing flood in Pakistan


Climate Change

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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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