New Models Hone Picture of Climate Impact on Earth

Credit: Colorado State University

While climate models can forecast temperature changes and precipitation, they struggle to indicate how climate change will affect the factors that make Earth habitable, such as the availability of water and food.

Last week, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany launched a program to make the actual narratives of possible futures more coherent to decision-makers. Climate-impact models combine projections of change in the physical climate with data on population, economics and other variables. However, they often leave out important elements such as the impact of social factors in the spread of disease and the models of water run-off.

Credit: Colorado State University

Pavel Kabat, director of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, states that impact research is lagging behind other physical climate sciences. The models have never truly been global, and their output is often sketchy.

The new program, dubbed the Inter-Sectoral Impact Model Intercomparison Project (ISI-MIP), involves more than two dozen modeling groups from eight different countries. It’s been agreed that within six months, they’ll complete a comprehensive set of model experiments, which will cover the globe at the same resolution.

This comparison should reveal systematic biases that lead the models to give widely differing results. The resulting refined models will still give a range of answers, but it is hoped that the diversity will be more informative than frustrating. While they’ll never be able to tell exactly what the future will look like, they hope to illuminate plausible paths.

By January 2013, the project will produce papers that will detail the impact of climate change on global agriculture and water supplies, vegetation, and health. Later in 2013, the researchers hope to expand the project to cover impacts on transport and energy infrastructures.

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