UC Berkeley researchers take part in national effort to predict climate change

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is taking part in a comprehensive effort to develop a model that can project how climates are likely to change in the next 40 to 50 years.

The project — named the Accelerated Climate Model for Energy — launched in June. It is spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Energy as part of its mission to predict climate patterns to lead to more informed decisions regarding, for example, the construction of future infrastructure or the acquisition of fossil fuels. The research is a collaboration among seven other national laboratories, one private sector company and researchers from four academic institutions, including UC Irvine and UC San Diego. They will work to develop one climate model that resembles all aspects of a climate system.

“People in the Department of Energy need to think about and make plans for what energy resources are best pursued in which parts of the world,” said Dorothy Koch, project manager for the Accelerated Climate Model for Energy. “The project is going to be trying to develop a climate model that is good in all respects.”

The teams started by addressing specific areas during the initial phase: water resources, the causes for sea-level rise and the interaction of land-based ecosystems with climate change.

One of the potential functions of the climate model would be to study the availability of water resources and how they might affect the accessibility of fossil fuels. Similarly, the model may be able to answer questions concerning water availability in California, such as whether the state’s current drought will persist.

The climate model will also examine the interaction between sea level and shifting ice sheets, as well as look at agricultural prospects in the Midwest through the potential to grow biofuels.

At the Berkeley lab, a team of researchers led by Bill Collins, a campus professor of earth and planetary science, is developing experiments that study how the carbon cycle interacts with the atmosphere, land, ocean, sea ice and land ice in regards to climate change. The current climate model is composed of approximately 1.5 to 2 million lines of code and considered a good starting point in the research, according to Collins.

“We’re hoping to make (the climate model) suitable for providing world-class simulations,” he added.

But building a model capable of exhibiting highly precise simulations would require the expertise of computer scientists to assist with the coding — a demand, Koch said, that is becoming more consistent with emerging projects at the Department of Energy.

“We think that this project is in that space of needing computational expertise working closely with climate expertise,” Koch said, emphasizing that the participation of computer scientists is crucial to developing a “high-resolution” climate model that can accurately mimic climate behavior and reduce the need for approximations.

Researchers are currently in preliminary development of the model and have until the end of a three-year funding cycle to develop a successful “version one.” Whether the current funding by the Department of Energy will be extended is subject to a successful performance.

“I hope we’re doing our best to deliver towards our objectives,” Collins said. “The team’s devoted, and we’re off to a good start.”

Lydia Tuan covers research and ideas. Contact her at ltuan@dailycal.org and follow her on Twitter @tuanlydia.

Read more here: http://www.dailycal.org/2014/08/26/uc-berkeley-researchers-take-part-national-effort-predict-climate-change/
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