Environment News Service

June 24, 2004

BOULDER, Colorado - A powerful new supercomputer climate modeling system at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) http://www.ncar.ucar.edu/ has found that global temperatures may rise more than previous projections if humans continue to emit large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The system, known as the Community Climate System Model, version 3 (CCSM3) was unveiled Wednesday in Boulder.

CCSM3 shows that global temperatures could rise by 2.6 degrees Celsius (4.7 degrees Fahrenheit) in a hypothetical scenario in which atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide are suddenly doubled.

That is greater than the two degree Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit) increase that had been indicated by the previous version of the model.

William Collins, a NCAR scientist who oversaw the development of the new system, says researchers have yet to pin down exactly what is making the model more sensitive to an increased level of carbon dioxide. But he says the model overall is "significantly more accurate" than its predecessor.

"This model makes substantial improvements in simulating atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial processes," Collins said. "It has done remarkably well in reproducing the climate of the last century, and we're now ready to begin using it to study the climate of the next century."

CCSM3 is one of the world's leading general circulation climate models, sophisticated computer tools that incorporate phenomena ranging from the effect that volcanic eruptions have on temperature patterns to the impact of shifting sea ice on sunlight absorbed by the oceans.

Climate models work by solving mathematical formulas, which represent the chemical and physical processes that drive Earth's climate, for thousands of points in the atmosphere, oceans, sea ice, and land surface.

CCSM3 is so complex that it requires about three trillion computer calculations to simulate a single day of global climate, NCAR explains.

NCAR developed the model in collaboration with researchers at universities and laboratories across the country, with funding from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

NCAR is sharing the model results and the underlying computer codes with atmospheric researchers and other users worldwide.

As scientists learn more about the atmosphere, the world's most powerful climate models are in general agreement over the climatic effects of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, which is emitted by burning of fossil fuels in motor vehicles and industrial plants.

Observations show that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have increased from 280 parts per million by volume (ppmv) in preindustrial times to more than 370 ppmv today, and the increase is continuing.

A doubling of carbon dioxide over present-day levels would significantly increase global temperatures, according to all the major models.

The models do not always agree, however, on the complex impacts of clouds, sea ice, and other pieces of the climate system.

Scientists will contribute findings from CCSM3 to the next assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international research body that advises policymakers on the likely impacts of climate change.


Informant: NHNE


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Juni 2004

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