On the Necessity and the Possibility of Revolutionizing Climate Prediction

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There is considerable historical evidence that major scientific and technical discoveries are often followed by the creation of institutions that can take advantage of those discoveries for the betterment of society. The breakthrough in our understanding of atmospheric dynamics that was developed during and after the Second World War, accompanied by the technological breakthrough of fast automatic computing devices, led to the rapid development of numerical weather prediction, a capability that has been institutionalized by many governments around the world and commercialized into a multi-billion Euro enterprise worldwide. A second example is the development of our scientific understanding of chaos in nonlinear dynamical systems and the potential for predictability at seasonal time scales in the midst of that chaos. Now we have before us, thanks to IPCC, a third discovery: humans are affecting the Earth’s climate.

This lecture will argue that, because of the complexity of the climate system, and because the regional manifestations of climate change are mainly through changes in the statistics of regional weather variations, the scientific and computational requirements to predict its behavior reliably are so enormous that the nations of the world should make the dual commitments of enhancing their national climate modeling efforts, and creating a small number of multi-national research and high performance computing facilities dedicated to the grand challenges of predicting climate change on both global and regional scales over the coming decades. Such facilities will play a key role in the development of next generation climate models, build global capacity, nurture a highly trained workforce, and engage the global user community, policymakers and stakeholders.

Motivated by the success of internationally-funded infrastructure in other areas of science (CERN, ITER, etc.), it is recommended that a small number of highly connected multi-national facilities should have computer capability at each facility of about 20 petaflop in the near future and about 200 petaflop by the end of the next decade. Such facilities will enable future IPCC assessment to be made using about 10 km resolution climate models, and dynamical seasonal predictions using 3-5 km cloud system resolving atmosphere models and 5-10 km eddy revolving ocean models. This will enable the climate community to provide society with high resolution regional climate predictions, which are based on our best knowledge of science and the most advanced technology.