Computing the Climate: The Story of Global Climate Modelling

When and Where

Tuesday, November 16, 2021 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm


Professor Steve Easterbrook, Director School of the Environment



Centre for Global Change Science Lectures with Professor Steve Easterbrook, Director School of the Environment

At the heart of the latest IPCC assessment report on climate change is the largest set of internationally coordinated computational scientific experiments ever performed. The climate models used for these experiments represent the work of many thousands of scientists. Yet few people outside the climate modelling community understand how these models are built, and what they do. In this talk, Professor Easterbrook will present excerpts from his forthcoming book, Computing the Climate, which aims to fill this gap.

The book traces the long history of climate modelling, from Svante Arrhenius’s first energy balance model in the 1890s, through the birth of numerical weather forecasting in the 1940s, and Syukuro Manabe’s original experiments on climate sensitivity in the 1960s. It also draws on his field studies at climate modelling labs, where he studied the detailed scientific practices of climate modellers, to explain what goes on in a modern climate research lab. For this talk, however, he will focus mainly on the last chapter, which asks how good are today’s models. He will probe the question through philosophical, scientific, engineering, and sociological lenses: Is the code well engineered? Is the science reproducible? Are the models empirically valid? Have they made successful predictions? Surprisingly, today’s models are so good that when they disagree with observational data, it is often the data that is wrong. He will conclude that today’s models represent one of science’s greatest achievements, and certainly a fitting topic for this year’s Nobel prize in Physics.

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