Modelling the dynamics of the climate
In addition to the direct work on ice cores, the Centre for Ice and Climate also carries out research with computer model simulations of Earth's climate. The interplay between data and models is important and helps us interpret the results and understand what the measurements can tell us about climate in other parts of the world.
Models of the Earth's climate come in a variety of forms and complexities. The type of model and the processes and interactions included depends on the question one is trying to address. Sometimes the most complex model including the most detailed treatment of all known processes and interactions is preferred. Other times the output of such a model is too complex or the model is too computationally slow. In those cases, a simpler model is the most powerful tool. The range of models comprises:
- General Circulation Models (GCMs). The most complete models of the climate system are the so-called GCMs, in which the governing equations for mass, energy, moisture, radiation etc., are solved point by point over the globe time step by time step. This degree of detail comes at a price: GCMs are the slowest of the models and this limits how long time scales one can study with this type of model.
- Earth System Models of Intermediate Complexity (EMICs). When, for instance, longer time scales are of the essence, models of reduced complexity are useful. This type of model comes in a host of combinations: Some are full GCMs with very coarse resolution; some focus the details on the atmosphere and some on the ocean. Some even include models of the ice caps, vegetation or carbon cycle.
- Simple, conceptual models and statistical models. Very often, one attempts to understand large amounts of data in terms of few simple mechanisms. Due to the large number of degrees of freedom in the real climate system, such simplifications will rarely tell the full and correct story. Nevertheless, simple models often help us understand patterns in the data and general mechanisms in the climate system.
Within the Centre for Ice and Climate and our partner groups, models from all ends of the spectrum are employed. Click on the figure or below for examples:
Modelling Greenland precipitation sources (GCMs)
Modelling high-latitude greenhouse warming (several model types)
Modelling the bipolar seesaw (EMICs)
Modelling the statistics of glacial climate swings (simple conceptual model)
Ice Core Drilling Projects