New twist on getting climate models to deal with clouds properly

Watts Up With That?

Technique could help climate models sweat the small stuff

More isoprene is apparently produced on the border between ocean and atmosphere than previously thought. The gas contributes to the formation of clouds and has therefore influence on the global climate. Photo: Tilo Arnhold/TROPOS  Photo: Tilo Arnhold/TROPOS

From BROWN UNIVERSITY

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A team of physicists and mathematicians has come up with a statistical technique that puts the fine details back into computer simulations of large-scale phenomena like air circulation in the atmosphere and currents in the ocean.

Computer models are generally good at capturing the big picture, but they are often forced to ignore things that happen at small scales. For example, models of a planet’s atmosphere capture the large-scale dynamics of jets and airflows, but they don’t include small-scale dynamics created by things like clouds and localized turbulence, despite the fact that those dynamics can often influence the larger scales.

“There are simply too many numbers for the computer to simulate it at a reasonable speed,” said Brad Marston, a Brown University physicist. “It might take years to simulate a…

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