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Caveat: Climate science has spurred several excellent climate diaries recently.  So far as I can tell this is new information.

Anybody running SETI@Home knows the general idea of distributed computing (link), an approach to supercomputing-without-the-supercomputer that just delivered its first major scientific discovery.  

As reported in Nature, distributed computing has delivered the largest-scale GCM ever.  In fact it delivered several GCMs.  Specifically, the authors selected 2,000 individual models capable of predicting current climate from past conditions and then ran each models into the future under various greenhouse predictions.  A good number of models before that might be 12.  

We're fucked.  More on the flip.

Nothing short of modeling a nuclear explosion demands as much silicon as modeling the weather at every point on Earth, beginning a hundred years ago and proceeding in daily increments until a hundred years from now.  The last time I checked the best resolution a global climate model (GCM) could get is an Earth composed of blocks several kilometers on a side.  Here's what better modeling gets us (all formatting mine):

The greenhouse effect could be far more severe than experts had previously predicted, according to results from the world's biggest climate-modelling study. In the worst-case scenario, doubling carbon-dioxide levels compared with pre-industrial times increases global temperatures by an average of more than 11 ºC.


Previous studies have included only the most probable values for these factors, whereas's power has allowed the researchers to investigate two or three settings for each parameter.

The project's final predictions are based on the 2,017 simulations that were able to mimic the current climate. All predicted temperature rises. Most were about 3.4 ºC, the average value predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; many were far more severe.

The researchers plan to improve their models, including a more sophisticated picture of how heat travels through the oceans, regional data and a more accurate picture of how temperatures will change during this century. "There's a huge database of which we've hardly scratched the surface," comments team member Mat Collins of Britain's Met Office in Exeter.

In case anybody has gotten confused by Michael Crichton's recent literary shark-jumping, the experts at deliver the formal beatdown here and here.  Bjorn Lomborg remains an idiot.  

Originally posted to Tom Frank on Wed Jan 26, 2005 at 08:09 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  An interesting paper (none)
    I read the paper, and I thought it was pretty interesting.  It's nice to see that their mean estimate was on target with what the IPCC has been saying.

    From a PR perspective, I think the new estimate of potential variation may do more harm then good.  When the public hears things like, "it could be even worse than anyone had predicted," people are likely to take this as evidence that the scientists don't really know what's going on.

    Still, it's good to see that people are using distributed computing for something more useful than looking for ET's.

    You can be active with the activists or sleepin' with the sleepers - Billy Bragg

    by Scott in NAZ on Wed Jan 26, 2005 at 08:17:23 PM PST

    •  Yep, (4.00)
      I see the news value here as much in the distributed computing angle as in the climate news.  The computing that they pulled off here astounds me.  

      One advantage of having thousands of simultaneous sims, each of which self-validates by correctly predicting modern climate from past climate, is that you can present your conclusions as statistics.  Judging by their language a 95% confidence interval would fall somewhere between 2.5 and 5 degrees celsius.  That would let scientists make the sort of categorical statements that get great press.  

  •  So Long Island will become tropical (none)
    Can't wait.

    Right now my comps at work are running Seti@home and the protein folding program. I definitely would have put them to work on this one if I had known about it.

    Yeah, the Crichton book is crap. My kids gave it to me for Xmas and I tried to make a show of reading when they were around but it pissed me off so much I stopped halfway through.

  •  sorry (none)
    I missed a timetable.  Are the projections for a century from now?  
  •  This highlights more than ever ... (none)
    ... that an absolute revolution in energy consumption patterns is needed.

    Just switching to a high-mileage car and driving the same amount as ever isn't going to do it.  By the same token, every last little thing we can do to minimize GHG emissions is a step in the right direction.

    I've been thinking I need to zero out my CO2-equivalent emissions for some time, as an act of personal responsibility.  Initially, this will mean buying some green tags as I trim into an already frugal energy lifestyle even further.

    More to the point, I feel a need to use my understanding of this issue to communicate about the problems and challenges to others.  This is the most significant challenge society has ever faced.

  •  11 degrees C is 58 degrees F !!!! (none)
    A 58 degree farenheit average temperature increase will mean that we all die.

    I'm not surprized that it's that bad but damn!

    Think about living somewhere that's 110 degrees in the summer and then one summer it's 150 or 180 degrees.

    Then, I imagine, the heat will continue to build up until it's 300 degrees....500 degrees Farenheit.....who knows where it will stop.

    Now I have a better idea what the climatologists mean when they say Earth may become uninhabitable. Our atmosphere is going to become a goddamned pressure cooker!

    To bad. It was a nice planet.

    "The future lies ahead"--President Eisenhower

    by Manix on Wed Jan 26, 2005 at 09:38:58 PM PST

    •  11 degrees C x 1.8 = 19.8 degrees Fahrenheit (none)
      Which is bad enough.

      My own estimate is that the temperature will increase by a net 17 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, perhaps stabilizing at 24 degrees about the average right now...or perhaps ramping all the way up to 1,100 degrees.

      It's up to us.

      I think heating (it's not warming; it's getting hot) is unavoidable; the only thing we can do at this point is dodge superheating of the planet.

      Liberals are always looking for something new to love; conservatives for something new to hate. :)

      by cskendrick on Wed Jan 26, 2005 at 09:57:39 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Really? (none)
        I did the conversion via Google and it came out with 51.8 degrees Farenheit.

        Freaking Google!

        It's not good either way. What do you think about the run-away temperature idea. Do you think that it could turn out to be a nasty slingshot where the temperature just keeps rising?

        "The future lies ahead"--President Eisenhower

        by Manix on Wed Jan 26, 2005 at 10:06:16 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  different zero points (none)
          If your thermometer read 51.8 degrees F, it would be 19 degrees C outside, but if it read 32 degrees F, it would be 0 degrees C outside.
        •  The conversion in air temperature (none)

          (Fahrenheit - 32)/1.8 = Celsius

          Celsius x 1.8 + 32 = Fahrenheit

          Or, you could just run around quoting everything in Kelvin

          Kelvin = Celsius + 273

          But if you do that on the street, no one's going to want to hang out with you. :)

          Liberals are always looking for something new to love; conservatives for something new to hate. :)

          by cskendrick on Thu Jan 27, 2005 at 09:53:49 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Bjorn Lomborg remains an idiot (none)
    Or a dishonest creep.

    Trying to do my part to make the whole world a "reality-based community".

    by cmk on Wed Jan 26, 2005 at 09:41:36 PM PST

  •  Protein folding (none)
    Right now my comps at work are running Seti@home and the protein folding program.

    There are several protein folding program.  My sig points to the one I've been running.

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