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Modeling the Future of Climate Change

To figure out what the Earth might be like in the future, scientists need to know how Earth reacts to changes. Models help scientists to better understand how the Earth works and how it will react to climate change.

A model can help you understand how a something works. For instance, a model airplane is a small version of a real airplane. You can look at a model airplane from all sides to quickly understand what it is like. But it would be more difficult to look at a real airplane quickly from all sides. In the same way, a model of the Earth helps scientists understand more about the planet.

Unlike a model airplane, the models that scientists use to study the Earth system don’t look much like a small version of the planet. Global climate models use math to describe how the Earth works. Tons of math equations describe everything from the oceans to plants and animals. Supercomputers are needed to do all the calculations. These speedy computers can sometimes do more than 80 million math problems in an hour!

What will the next century bring? According to scientists, it is likely that temperatures will rise 1.8 to 4.0 degrees C (3.1 to 7.2°F) in the next 100 years if we continue to let more greenhouse gases loose in the atmosphere. More warming over the next century would likely cause many more changes to Earth.

Last modified September 23, 2008 by Lisa Gardiner.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF