Models and Books

Working as a summer student continues to be rewarding. I get to spend all day reading interesting things and playing with scientific software. What a great deal!

Over the weekend, I ran the “Global Warming_01” simulation from EdGCM, which is an old climate model from NASA with a graphical user interface. Strangely, they don’t support Linux, as their target audience is educators – I doubt there are very many high school teachers running open-source operating systems! So I ran the Windows version on my laptop, and it took about 36 hours. It all felt very authentic.

Unfortunately, as their Windows 7 support is fairly new, there were some bugs in the output. It refused to give me any maps at all! The terminal popped up for a few seconds, but it didn’t output any files. All I could get were zonal averages (and then only from January-March) and time series. Also, for some reason, none of the time series graphs had units on the Y axis. Anyway, here are some I found interesting:

CO2 concentrations increase linearly from 1958 to 2000, and then exponentially until 2100, with a doubling of CO2 (with respect to 1958) around 2062. (This data was output as a spreadsheet, and I got Excel to generate the graph, so it looks nicer than the others.)

Global cloud cover held steady until around 2070, when it decreased. I can’t figure out why this would be, as the water vapour content of the air should be increasing with warming – wouldn’t there be more clouds forming, not less?

Global precipitation increased, as I expected. This is an instance where I wish the maps would have worked, because it would be neat to look at how precipitation amount varied by location. I’ve been pretty interested in subtropical drought recently.

Albedo decreased about 1% – a nice example of the ice-albedo feedback (I presume) in action.

I also ran a simulation of the Last Glacial Maximum, from 21 thousand years ago. This run was much quicker than the first, as (since it was modeling a stable climate) it only simulated a decade, rather than 150 years. It took a few hours, and the same bugs in output were apparent. Time series graphs are less useful when studying stable conditions, but I found the albedo graph interesting:

Up a few percent from modern values, as expected.

It’s fairly expensive to purchase a licence for EdGCM, but they offer a free 30-day trial that I would recommend. I expect that it would run better on a  Mac, as that’s what they do most of the software development and testing on.

Now that I’ve played around with EdGCM, I’m working on porting CESM to a Linux machine. There’s been trial and error at every step, but everything went pretty smoothly until I reached the “build” phase, which requires the user to edit some of the scripts to suit the local machine (step 3 of the user guide). I’m still pretty new to Linux, so I’m having trouble working out the correct program paths, environment variables, modules, and so on. Oh well, the more difficult it is to get working, the more exciting it is when success finally comes!

I am also doing lots of background reading, as my project for the summer will probably be “some sort of written something-or-other” about climate models. Steve has a great collection of books about climate change, and keeps handing me interesting things to read. I’m really enjoying The Warming Papers, edited by David Archer and Ray Pierrehumbert. The book is a collection of landmark papers in climate science, with commentary from the editors. It’s pretty neat to read all the great works – from Fourier to Broecker to Hansen – in one place. Next on my list is A Vast Machine by Paul Edwards, which I’m very excited about.

A quick question, unrelated to my work – why do thunderstorms tend to happen at night? Perhaps it’s just a fluke, but we’ve had a lot of them recently, none of which have been in the daytime. Thoughts?

Learning Experiences

I apologize for my brief hiatus – it’s been almost two weeks since I’ve posted. I have been very busy recently, but for a very exciting reason: I got a job as a summer student of Dr. Steve Easterbrook! You can read more about Steve and his research on his faculty page and blog.

This job required me to move cities for the summer, so my mind has been consumed with thoughts such as “Where am I and how do I get home from this grocery store?” rather than “What am I going to write a post about this week?” However, I have had a few days on the job now, and as Steve encourages all of his students to blog about their research, I will use this outlet to periodically organize my thoughts.

I will be doing some sort of research project about climate modelling this summer – we’re not yet sure exactly what, so I am starting by taking a look at the code for some GCMs. The NCAR Community Earth System Model is one of the easiest to access, as it is largely an open source project. I’ve only read through a small piece of their atmosphere component, but I’ve already seen more physics calculations in one place than ever before.

I quickly learned that trying to understand every line of the code is a silly goal, as much as I may want to. Instead, I’m trying to get a broader picture of what the programs do. It’s really neat to have my knowledge about different subjects converge so completely. Multi-dimensional arrays, which I have previously only used to program games of Sudoku and tic-tac-toe, are now being used to represent the entire globe. Electric potential, a property I last studied in the circuitry unit of high school physics, somehow impacts atmospheric chemistry. The polar regions, which I was previously fascinated with mainly for their wildlife, also present interesting mathematical boundary cases for a climate model.

It’s also interesting to see how the collaborative nature of CESM, written by many different authors and designed for many different purposes, impacts its code. Some of the modules have nearly a thousand lines of code, and some have only a few dozen – it all depends on the programming style of the various authors. The commenting ranges from extensive to nonexistent. Every now and then one of the files will be written in an older version of Fortran, where EVERYTHING IS IN UPPER CASE.

I am bewildered by most of the variable names. They seem to be collections of abbreviations I’m not familiar with. Some examples are “mxsedfac”, “lndmaxjovrdmdni”, “fxdd”, and “vsc_knm_atm”.

When we get a Linux machine set up (I have heard too many horror stories to attempt a dual-boot with Windows) I am hoping to get a basic CESM simulation running, as well as EdGCM (this could theoretically run on my laptop, but I prefer to bring that home with me each evening, and the simulation will probably take over a day).

I am also doing some background reading on the topic of climate modelling, including this book, which led me to the story of PHONIAC. The first weather prediction done on a computer (the ENIAC machine) was recreated as a smartphone application, and ran approximately 3 million times faster. Unfortunately, I can’t find anyone with a smartphone that supports Java (argh, Apple!) so I haven’t been able to try it out.

I hope everyone is having a good summer so far. A more traditional article about tornadoes will be coming at the end of the week.