Develop and Apply Models Print E-mail

What are climate and Earth system models?

Climate and Earth system models are computer-based numerical techniques to solve mathematical equations, yielding a projected evolution of the climate system.

Rather than trying to predict the exact future state of the weather, climate models predict changes in the frequency and characteristics of weather phenomena (such as droughts and hurricanes) and average seasonal weather patterns.

Most modern climate models also include representations of the oceans, atmosphere, cryosphere, and land surface, and their interactions. Some Earth system models also simulate a range of biophysical processes that involve terrestrial and marine ecosystems and human activities.

Why do we need models?

Climate models encapsulate scientists' best understanding of climate and related Earth system processes and are important tools for understanding past, present, and future climate change. Conceptual models help bridge the gaps between observations and theory and between theory and scientific prediction.

In order to take on the challenge of projecting impacts and vulnerability caused by climate change, we must strengthen our ability to predict climate at regional and local scales and at the decadal time scale. This information serves as the starting point for policymaking, planning, and decision support models, as well as impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability studies of energy, the environment, and economic security. The results can also inform significant U.S. infrastructure decisions and investments.

The Earth System

USGCRP Efforts

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) aims to improve and develop advanced models that integrate across the physical, chemical, biological, and human components of the Earth system, including the feedbacks among them, to represent more comprehensively and predict more realistically global change processes.

To achieve this goal, the Program promotes greater scientific progress in the following areas:

  • The development of complex, integrated modeling systems for improved understanding of the richness of Earth system interactions and feedbacks over a wide range of space and time scales
  • The development of simplified and conceptual models for improved interpretation of these complex modeling systems in light of observations and theory
  • The advancement of integrated modeling to support decision making through improved understanding of complex human-natural system dynamics

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