Looking into the future of climate modelling

The Met Office supercomputing system is one of the most powerful in the world dedicated to weather and climate. It has allowed the UK research community to produce some of the most advanced climate modelling information available, for example in the UK Climate Projections.

These projections are invaluable for informing decisions on how we respond to the challenges of climate change. Increasing our supercomputing capacity will increase the capability of our climate models and improve their ability to produce climate projections for the benefit of society.

Met Office meteorologist

Advances in supercomputing capability are providing climate scientists and meteorologists with ever-improving forecasts and climate projections. Picture: Met Office.

Whilst our capacity is increasing significantly with new supercomputing capabilities, there are still decisions to be made about how to best use this resource, a topic which is being debated by climate scientists.

The debate about the future of climate modelling relates to three key areas: increasing resolution; improving the realism of climate models to capture more elements of the earth’s system; and increasing the frequency of the number of times a model is run to examine the likely frequency and intensity of extreme weather events which may only happen relatively infrequently.

This week several new scientific commentary pieces have been published in the journal Nature Climate Change which explore different aspects of the future of climate modelling.

One of the commentary pieces has been led by Prof Dame Julia Slingo – a former Met Office chief scientist – and looks at the climate benefits of ultra-high-resolution climate modelling down to a spatial scale of one-kilometre: sometime referred to as k-scale.

Prof Stephen Belcher, Chief Scientist at the UK Met Office, is a co-author on the paper. He said: “Year on year we are seeing increasingly severe impacts of climate change, affecting communities around the world. Our scientific understanding has moved on, as have the technological developments in computing and data storage.

“Making the most of increasing technological capability to understand more about the impacts of climate change to come is vital for our future resilience.”

Capturing more of the earth’s system

However, it’s not just increasing resolution that needs to be considered when it comes to climate modelling. In another comment piece led by Dr Helene Hewitt OBE, the benefits of increasing the capability of climate models to capture more of the earth’s system are discussed.

The piece looks at the value of modelling specific aspects of the ocean to better understand climate. She said: “There are some elements of the ocean such as the Atlantic Overturning Meridional Circulation (AMOC) – which in part contains the Gulf Stream – and sea level rise which are of particular concern for the UK and global climate.

“Capturing the small drivers, such as eddies and coastal effects, which can have large influences on high-impact low-likelihood events like AMOC or Antarctic ice sheet collapse are imperative for gaining an improved understanding for assessing climate risk.”

Overall, climate models might be complex, but they are vital for understanding climate change. Through working with decision makers to find the correct balance between the three key areas, future climate models will be key tools for providing people with the information they need so we can stay safe and thrive.

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