Computer Models

A Climate model is a computer-based representation of the Earth system. Climate models solve mathematical equations that describe the planetary energy budget, with the aim of understanding and reproducing the processes that control climate. Climate models differ widely in their complexities; some consider only the balance of energy entering and leaving the Earth, whereas others attempt to describe the entire climate system, including the complex interactions between different components of the planet (such as the ocean and the atmosphere).

The first climate models were developed to study fundamental processes in the Earth system. These models attempted to capture the broad features of the climate and tried to reproduce the current climate state. Since this time, the issue of human-induced (anthropogenic) climate change has changed the focus of climate modeling; now many models are designed to investigate the effect of changing human emissions on climate and the prediction of future climates. Climate prediction is done with Earth System Models (ESM). These models are very complex and require large computer resources to run. Even so, many important processes must be simplified before they can be represented in a climate model.

Climate prediction models attempt to forecast the climate many years in the future. They do not aim to predict particular small-scale events (in comparison to weather forecasting, which attempts to predict, for example, the occurrence of a storm on a particular day). Instead, climate prediction takes a statistical approach in which the general properties of the climate are predicted; often the mean and the variance of the climate variable are predicted (such as the average temperature in July).

Climate models consider a number of different climate variables; some of which can be modeled with a relatively high degree of confidence (such as temperature), while others remain much more uncertain (such as precipitation). Climate models must capture different types of variability in the Earth system; natural and human-induced changes must be captured, along with variability that occurs on a range of time-scales (from a few days to many years).

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