London, May 16 : Climate scientists have called for a massive investment in computer and research resources to help revolutionize modeling capabilities, with their eventual aim being providing probabilistic climate predictions that are as useful, and usable, as weather forecasts.
According to a report in Nature News, the case for a major climate-prediction project was made by scientists at the end of a four-day summit held last week at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts in Reading, UK.
A key component of this scheme, which would cost something up to, or over, a billion dollars, would be a world climate research facility with computer power far beyond that currently used in the field.
Questions on how severe the effects of global warming will be, and which regions will be hit in what ways, are beyond the capabilities of current climate science, at least in part because of computing constraints.
Today's climate models are run on computers in the 10-teraflop range, meaning they are capable of 10 trillion operations a second. Despite this speed, models on these computers are still coarse-grained, cutting the world into cells more than 100 kilometres across.
But, increasing computing power 10,000 times - to speeds in the hundreds of petaflops - would allow modellers to study simulations at the kilometre scale, enabling better predictions on the activity of hurricanes and, eventually, the local deep convection that transfers much energy into the upper atmosphere.
According to scientists, some of the 'big' questions on the effects of global warming can be answered if this kind of technology was available.
"We're reaching the point where national resources are insufficient to answer the scientific questions," said Antonio Navarra, a climate modeller at the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Bologna, Italy.
"We need to be breathtakingly bold, frankly, in terms of some of the calculations that we're going to do in order to push the climate-prediction effort forward," said Leo Donner, a physical scientist at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory of Princeton University, New Jersey.
"We need a quantum leap in research to provide better predictions, even if the politicians don't get that," said Mitch Moncrieff from NCAR.
According to Brian Hoskins, director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London, UK, "We need a revolution as it has got to be done extremely quickly."