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What Is a Climate Model?

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  • Written By: C.B. Fox
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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A climate model is a tool used by scientists to examine the climate of the earth. These models can be small and used to examine the climate of a small area, but more often they are large, global climate models that examine the interrelatedness of the earth’s climate across all oceans and land masses. In order to make one of these models, scientists rely on supercomputers that solve various complex equations for every given point in a three dimensional grid of atmosphere. The sophistication of these models has improved a great deal over the past years and scientists are often able to accurately predict the global effects of local events such as volcanic eruptions or spilled pollutants.

An extremely complex and sophisticated tool, a climate model is able to synthesize the behavior of a number of different types of systems at once. The movement of the air, the currents in the ocean, the weather patterns created on land masses, the energy from the sun and the behavior of living organisms all generate data that can be fed into a climate model. As scientists develop a better understanding of the forces of nature and how they interact, they are better able to predict how a change in one system could change other systems on the planet.

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In order to make a climate model, scientists use supercomputers that are capable of solving extremely complex equations. The data gathered about the processes observed in nature can be fed into these equations and then the computer can come up with information for each point on a three-dimensional grid system. This information can include such things as temperature, air or water quality, and wind speed and direction.

Often, a climate model is used to model current weather patterns and conditions. These models can show the progression of a storm system or how the plume from a volcano deposits ash across a wide area. They can also be used to predict how the climate will change in the short term as a result of severe weather or changing weather systems. Predictive climate models are not perfect, but they do offer scientists some information that is often able to save lives and prevent property damage.

Climate change models can also be made using this technology. These models can show how the climate of the entire earth changes over a vast period of time. They models are often used to model earlier eras during which the climate on the earth was vastly different than it is today and future eras in order to predict what effects global warming might have on the earth’s various systems.

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