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Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather by Mike Smith tells the story of our storm warning system. See our online store book collection.
What’s in a global climate model? The Community Climate System Model (CCSM version 3) that is run with the supercomputer at the National Center for Atmospheric Research incorporates data about all of the natural processes shown in this diagram to simulate Earth’s complex climate system.
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UCAR

How Climate Models Work

A global climate model uses math to describe the things that happens on Earth everyday, things like wind, stormy weather, ocean currents, and growing plants.

When a large climate model is run on a big computer called a supercomputer, it solves hundreds of difficult math problems over and over to show what Earth’s climate is like. The model runs through simulated days, weeks, months, and years. Usually this is done to make climate predictions for 100 or more years into the future. Sometimes models are run backwards to find out how climate may have changed thousands or even millions of years in the past.

Global climate models represent how natural processes of our planet work using an imaginary grid that covers the planet. The grid isn’t really there. It is part of the model. It covers the surface of the modeled Earth and extends upward in layers through the modeled atmosphere. At every point where the lines of the grid cross, the model makes its calculations. Small things that happen between a model’s grid points cannot be “seen” in the model results, but they can be described in other ways. Some models have wide spacing in the grid. This means that there are fewer points where the model calculates. These models run faster and are useful when less detail is needed. Some models have very closely spaced grid points. These are much more detailed models and it can take a long time for the supercomputer, even a fast one, to run the model.
Last modified July 18, 2007 by Lisa Gardiner.

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The Fall 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist, which includes articles on student research into building design for earthquakes and a classroom lab on the composition of the Earth’s ancient atmosphere, is available in our online store.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA