A Science-Organized Community: Organizing U.S. Climate Modeling (3)

By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 9:18 PM GMT on June 21, 2011

A Science-Organized Community: Organizing U.S. Climate Modeling (3)

In the previous entry I set out the need of a scientific organization; that is, an organization that is designed and run to honor the tenets of the scientific method. This stands in contrast to, say, a laboratory or a center that is populated by scientists carrying out a multitude of projects, each following the scientific method. One motivation for the scientific organization is the steady stream of reports from the past two decades calling for better integration of U.S. climate activities to provide predictions to meet societal needs. At the foundation of my argument is that the way we teach, fund and reward scientific investigation has been, traditionally, fragmenting. Without addressing this underlying fragmentation, there are high barriers to achieving the needed integration. (see, Something New in the Past Decade?, The Scientific Organization, High-end Climate Science).

What does it take for an organization to adhere to the scientific method? Ultimately, I will arrive at the conclusion that it takes a diligence of management and governance, but for this entry I will continue to focus on the elements of the scientific method, and specifically the development of strategies to evaluate and validate collected, rather than individual, results.

In May I attended a seminar by David Stainforth. Stainforth is one of the principals in the community project climateprediction.net. From their website, “Climateprediction.net is a distributed computing project to produce predictions of the Earth's climate up to 2100 and to test the accuracy of climate models.” In this project people download a climate model and run the model on their personal computers, then the results are communicated back to data center where they are analyzed in concert with results from many other people.

This is one example of community science or citizen science. Other citizen science programs are Project Budburst and the Globe Program. There are a number of reasons for projects like this. One of the reasons is to extend the reach of observations. In Project Budburst people across the U.S. observe the onset of spring as indicated by different plants – when do leaves and blossoms emerge? A scientific motivation for doing this is to increase the number observations to try to assure that the Earth's variability is adequately observed – to develop statistical significance. In these citizen science programs people are taught how to observe - a protocol is developed.

Education – that is another goal of these citizen science activities, education about the scientific method. In order to follow the scientific process, we need to know the characteristics of the observations. If, as in Project Budburst, we are looking for the onset of leafing, then we need to make sure that the tree is not sitting next to a warm building or in the building’s atrium. Perhaps, there is a requirement of a measurement, for example, that the buds on a particular type of tree have expanded to a certain size or burst in some discernible way. Quantitative measurement and adherence of practices of measurement are at the foundation of developing a controlled experiment. A controlled experiment is one where we try to investigate only one thing at a time; this is a difficult task in climate science. If we are not careful about our observations and the design of our experiments, then it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to evaluate our hypotheses and arrive at conclusions. And the ability to test hypotheses is fundamental to the scientific method. Design, observations, hypothesis, evaluation, validation – in a scientific organization these things need to be done by the organization, not each individual.

Let’s return to climateprediction.net. A major goal is to obtain a lot of simulations from climate models to examine the range of variability that we might expect in 2100. The strategy is to place relatively simple models in the hands of a whole lot of people. With this strategy it is possible to do many more experiments than say one scientist or even a small team of scientists can do. Many 100,000s of simulations have been completed.

One of the many challenges faced in the model-based experiments is how to manage the model simulations to provide controlled experiments. If you think about a climate model as a whole, then there are a number of things that can be changed. We can change something “inside” of the model, for example, we can change how rough we estimate the Earth’s surface to be – maybe grassland versus forest. We can change something “outside” of the model - the energy balance, perhaps, some estimate of how the Sun varies or how carbon dioxide will change. And, still “outside” the model, we can change the details of what the climate looks like when the model simulation is started – do we start it with January 2003 data or July 2007? When you download a model from climateprediction.net, it has a unique set of these parameters. If you do a second experiment, this will also have a unique set of parameters. Managing these model configurations and documenting this information allows, well, 100000s of simulations to be run, with a systematic exploration of model variability. Experiment strategy is explained here.

What impressed me about climateprediction.net is the ability to design and execute a volunteer organization that allows rigorous investigation with of a group of thousands of people on thousands of different computers distributed all over the globe. Protocols have been set up to verify that the results are what they should be; there is confidence in the accuracy of the information collected. Here is an example where scientists are able to define an organization where the scientific method permeates the organization. Is this proof that a formalized scientific organization is possible? What are the attributes that contribute to the success of a project like climateprediction.net? Are they relevant to a U.S. climate laboratory?

Bringing this back to the scale of U.S. climate activities – in 2008 there was a Policy Forum in Science Magazine by Mark Schaefer, Jim Baker and a distinguished number of co-authors. All of these co-authors had worked at high levels in the government, and they all struggled with the desire and need to integrate U.S. climate activities. Based on their experience they posed an Earth System Science Agency made from a combined USGS and NOAA. In their article they pointed out: “The synergies among our research and monitoring programs, both space- and ground-based, are not being exploited effectively because they are not planned and implemented in an integrated fashion. Our problems include inadequate organizational structure, ineffective interagency collaboration, declines in funding, and blurred authority for program planning and implementation.” Planning and implementation in an integrated fashion, I will add – consistent with the scientific method – that is what is needed for a successful scientific investigation by an individual; it is needed to make climateprediction.net substantive; it is needed for any climate organization that is expected, as a whole, to provide integrated climate information.


Figure 1: Location of participants in climateprediction.net. From the BBC, a sponsor of the experiment.

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

Reader Comments

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the Earth's core is like a disco inferno...

might as well do The Hustle and enjoy the ride...

as I stated previously, how arrogant are we to think that man will be on the earth forever? Tell that to the dinosaurs.... and the mastedons and saber toothed cats....

creatures have come and gone, with no help from man....

maybe it's man's turn to go as well...

bring on the Ancient Aliens.....
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting Neapolitan:

You mean how many do I have on ignore? Four at the moment: Karnakowy, seasonbust2011, BigJ2011, REALMASTER3. The first is a person who kept posting spammy comments filled with IP trackers; the rest are, I believe, variants of JFV. I can ignore the commenter without having him or her on ignore, you know.

Now, out of my own curiosity, why do you ask?

i just wanted to see if you had me on ignore

hey I think youre a great component to this whole chicken or the egg debate.

it can be a spitting contest sometimes, but i think, in general, debate on topics such as these keeps the truth from hiding under the coral.

thank you for being honest and good luck on all of our quests for the truth

because I have a funny feeling the truth will never be concluded. we just dont have enough time as a species. the random chaos of the universe keeps the game moving and always changes the rules without warning
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What was the other blanket that caused that?

i dont know buster, no one does. life did not exist yet but ice did and water and whatnot.

but who knows, maybe phytoplankton evolved at a rapid rate and 500 million years ago they somehow burned things to cloud the planet. i mean that sounds like what pro-GW people think we're doing today.

in reality, all it takes is one good super volcano to blow its stack or a nice sized space rock to impact and we're all toast

for a little while at least. life has bounced back from some pretty violent times its theorized.

but you know what. 500 million years ago ice melted on earth. 200 million years ago ice melted on earth. last tuesday ice melted on earth.

the most scientific conclusion I can make is, ice seems to melt on earth. as long as its core remains molten.

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Everyone should have an opportunity, right?

That's very true.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting PurpleDrank:
how many people have you ignored Neaop? just curious

You mean how many do I have on ignore? Four at the moment: Karnakowy, seasonbust2011, BigJ2011, REALMASTER3. The first is a person who kept posting spammy comments filled with IP trackers; the rest are, I believe, variants of JFV. I can ignore the commenter without having him or her on ignore, you know.

Now, out of my own curiosity, why do you ask?
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
hahahahaha!! The Tussin addict goes to the head of the class!! Priceless!!!
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Superman gets his power from our sun = Superman is causing Global Warming...

end of story...

Al Gore needs to suspend his search for ManBearPig and start the hunt for Superman....
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
when every study in science is government funded it is not science

it might as well be the will of the church 1000 years ago

and how do you cripple private studies?

you necessarily cause their cost of operation to rise.

just like a dominant corporate entity and more, the government can and does deny science from the truth

its the same thing over and over again

curb thought and progress to preach change but in reality keep the system the same to stay in power

two sides of a coin showing but there's much more in the middle of each of the two outter surfaces
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and that does not go for periods in earth's history where the entire surface was encased in a layer of ice.

which it has a few times in its history, or at least that's what crazy geologists say

ofcourse those periods happened when there was 100 times less co2 in the atmosphere

who do you believe more?

crazy dreamers of the past


govment backed prophets of the future

or superman
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superman knows this

that's because he's an Ancient Illegal Alien....
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
i'll make it even more scientific for you

if superman were to put a mountain-sized piece of ice in orbit around the moon, and somehow kept it in orbit, it would not melt.

but if he let it sit in greenland it would definetly melt.

because no ice, in our species history, has ever NOT MELTED in greenland. ever.

superman knows this
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precisely my point

all ice on earth is resting on a surface above a molten core

ice isnt supposed to melt

ice didnt melt on this planet until some evil genius started using fossilized wood to keep his stone oven hotter thru the nights

and then when some german guy invented a combustion engine, ice pretty much was doomed.

as if that molten iron and nickel core 260 miles down aint enuff..or that ever burning 8 billion year old mass of gas 93 million miles away.

its like paper rock and scissors

ice beats sun
man beats ice
sun beats man

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theres a lot of ice in greenland

naturally thats a good spot to theorize wild plantetary phenominon, right?

heck thats why it was named greenland

because its covered with ice, right?

i guess at that lattitude ice is green in color

and when has greenland ever gained any large deposits of ice?

how come there isnt evidence of glaciers rising and getting bigger?

could it be, maybe, that ice always melts in greenland?

or is that just a coincidence?

besides, if its true that 30-10000 years ago the earth was in an ice age..then could it be 10years ago to 20000 years in the future we'll see ice friggin melt, always and anywhere?

nah..its all those coal fired steam turbines and trucks and cars and jetplanes. ice aint supposed to melt on a molten iron and nickel cored space marble.

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maybe im being ignored and he cant see my question


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586. PurpleDrank 9:33 PM GMT on July 01, 2011

how many people have you ignored Neaop? just curious

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I agree with NRAamy; well said.

Edit: Disagree w/ McB
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how many people have you ignored Neaop? just curious
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Quoting cat5hurricane:

Sounds to me like someone is ducking and went into hiding.

So...you're saying Rusty is avoiding my question because he doesn't have an adequate or reasonable response? Okay, I'll buy that. Thanks for the clarification.
Quoting cat5hurricane:
Does FLWaterFront ring a bell? How about Eagle101. How about calusakat? Why don't you take a minute and try to remember what you had in common with just that sampling.

Ummm...I don't recall FLWaterfront. Eagle101 was a hard-right conservative. Nothing wrong with that, but he seemed to allow his ideology to blind him to the truth about science. Calusakat? Is that an earlier incarnation of you? (And, for that matter, was SeaStep?) All I know is that the name means he/she likely lives in SWFL, so we have that much in common, if nothing else.
Quoting cat5hurricane:
I'll give you a hint, old buddy. It has something to do with exactly what you have been doing the past few days here.

Do you mind clarifying that? Or at least providing another hint? Or two? Or three? My "past few days here" have been spent doing what I've spent the past 20 months here: interacting with others about climate and weather using the same one and only handle I've ever used here.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Yes and no Aamy.
Science keeps finding out that the balances in nature seem to counteract the seemingly bad results of any change.

I am going to try and find a story about an invasion of a foreign life form in the Potomac River actually saved the river.
A case of not understanding all we dont know.

thanks for the answer, spathy!

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Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog

About RickyRood

I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.