The Future of Climate Modeling?

There was an interesting workshop last week focused on the Future of Climate Modelling. It was run by the World Climate Research Program (WCRP) Core Project on Earth System Modelling and Observations (ESMO) which is part of a bewildering alphabet soup of various advisory committees that exist for mostly unclear historical reasons. This one actually does something useful – namely it helps organize the CMIP activities that many modeling groups contribute to (which inform the assessment reports like IPCC and various national Climate Assessments). They had a wide variety of people and perspectives to discuss the changing landscape of climate modeling and what people want from these models. You won’t agree with everything, but it was informative.

The workshop was in four quite digestible chunks which are all on Youtube

Day 1 (21st March): (3h 10min)

Day 2 (22nd March): (1h 54min)

Day 3 (23rd March): (1h 33min)

Day 4 (24th March): (1h 45min)

Many of the presentations are also available. The organizers are working on a paper of some sort that digests what was said and will I think be reaching out to a wider audience for feedback.

TL;DR. Summary:

The main themes were familiar – how should we prioritize new activities (at the community level) given limited resources? Higher resolution? More complexity? More initial condition ensembles? More forcing ensembles? More perturbed parameter ensembles? More machine learning? Better post-processing? All of the above in little bits? In reality, these decisions are taken at the model group or national or agency funding manager level, and not by international committees, but the facilitating role the committees have can increase the utility of the individual group contributions and guide some choices. The tensions between these different directions has existed for decades, but some of the new elements (the role of AI/ML, the increased spread of ECS in CMIP6, the demonstrated utility of Large Ensembles etc.) add some wrinkles to the discussion.

One new theme which hasn’t come up much before at this level, is the carbon footprint of these activities – at the supercomputer centers, but also the in-person workshop and international meetings that until recently were commonplace. This was a virtual international meeting with active participation from Asia, Australasia, Europe, and the Americas which a few years ago would certainly have been in-person, with a much smaller attendance and a much higher cost. But whether this scales to the bigger meetings and how we can provide the important mentoring/socializing/community building/career aspects of the previous practice is as yet unclear.

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