Press Release

NASA Climate Modelling Spurs Next Computing Revolution

By SpaceRef Editor
June 1, 2001
Filed under ,

NASA would like to examine our home planet just as
scientists study living cells under a microscope or an atom in
an accelerator. NASA wants to understand how nature’s energy
is transformed and used by Earth, and the role it plays in
global climate change.

Advanced computing systems are the only tools we have to model
our planet as a whole interactive system to mimic nature’s
behavior. NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise is dedicated to
developing computer models that will unlock the secrets to how
natural and human-induced changes impact our global

Unlike atoms and cells, which can be studied in the
laboratory, the only effective way to study the inner workings
and future course of our environment is through advanced
computer modeling capabilities, which will show global climate
change through computation of massive and complex mathematical

“Through math and science, and the advancement of our computer
capabilities, we can unlock the mysteries of our planet’s life
cycle,” said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, Associate Administrator for
the Office of Earth Sciences, NASA Headquarters, Washington,

“Currently, we model the climate system in a degree by degree,
latitudinal and longitudinal grids, allowing us to examine
global and continental atmospheric and oceanic conditions,”
Asrar said. “That resolution lets us see what is happening in
the current and near term climate system, but not in the long
run and why change is happening, and the consequences of such
change at local levels.”

“Today we’re announcing the selection of nine proposals that
span across all of NASA that we expect to mature into advanced
computing systems that will be robust enough to handle massive
amounts of data every second — the kind of platforms that
will be able to incorporate vast amounts of Earth Sciences
data in ‘living’ models of our global climate, yet able to
resolve regional and perhaps local phenomena such as severe
storms and hurricanes,” Asrar added.

“These computer models will incorporate factors such as
chemistry of the atmosphere and the physics of clouds and the
variability in the Sun’s radiation that reaches Earth.
Increasing our computer capabilities into an advanced
interface that allows for multi-discipline scientific models
to operate together in a coherent, interoperable computing
environment is the only way we can achieve the nation’s goal
of understanding long-term global climate change. The
selection of these proposals will take us down the path toward
improving both weather and climate predictive capabilities by
three to five times over our current computing power.

“We need to make a leap from today’s segmented and
evolutionary systems to a unified, revolutionary pathway into
the future of advanced computing,” Asrar concluded.

NASA’s efforts initiated here constitute a direct response to
recommendations made recently by the National Research Council
(NRC) in its report Improving the Effectiveness of U.S.
Climate Modeling. In this study, the NRC states that efforts
in climate modeling need to be linked together and with
related efforts in the broader research community through a
common infrastructure. The selected efforts, which constitute
the combined efforts of scientists within NASA, other
government agencies and the academic community, should greatly
facilitate this needed component of the overall effort.

The connection between NASA’s efforts and those of the other
federal agencies that constitute the U.S. Global Change
Research Program also is crucial to the improvement of the
nation’s climate modeling capability. A recent USGCRP report,
“High-End Climate Science: Development of Modeling and Related
Computing Capabilities,” also made the argument for the
development of a software infrastructure to support climate
research such as has been initiated here by NASA.

NASA has selected nine proposals in response to an Agency-wide
solicitation titled “Increasing Interoperability and
Performance of Grand Challenges Applications in the Earth,
Space, Life and Microgravity Sciences,” announced in 2000. The
proposals selected will now have their costs negotiated, with
science teams expected to finish a joint-framework policy by

NASA has committed $18 million to this development phase, with
the expectation that the first advanced Earth System Models
will begin production in 2004. Additional tasks selected in
response to this announcement cover a broad variety of topics
in Earth and space science. NASA will subsequently announce
individual team selections and award values this fall.

SpaceRef staff editor.