Climate models are used for a variety of purposes from the study of dynamics of the weather and climate system to projections of future climate.
NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory has created several ocean-atmosphere coupled models to predict how greenhouse gas emissions following different population, economic, and energy-use projections may affect the planet.
"Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) are not new, fully integrated scenarios (i.e., they are not a complete package of socioeconomic, emissions and climate projections). They are consistent sets of projections of only the components of radiative forcing that are meant to serve as input for climate modeling, pattern scaling and atmospheric chemistry modeling," according to the RCP Database.
Global climate models represent the planet as millions of grid boxes and then solve mathematical equations to calculate how energy is transferred between those boxes using the laws of thermodynamics. If done correctly, these models of how energy is cycled through all parts of the planet can be used to estimate dozens of environmental variables (winds, temperature, moisture, etc.). The models are tested by simulating historical conditions and then matching the results to our historical observational records. If the models can adequately recreate the past, they are then run forward in time to predict what may happen in the future.
Shown here are the predicted surface temperatures under the RCP 2.6 emissions scenario using GFDL's CM3 model. The CM3 is just one of many climate models that are analyzed to make predictions about our changing climate. The RCP 2.6 scenario is a so-called "peak" scenario, which means the radiative forcing level reaches 3.1 W/m2 by mid-century but returns to 2.6 W/m2 by 2100.
In this imagery, if temperature is colored red, it is predicted to be higher than the 20th century average; if it is blue, then it is predicted to be lower than average.
C1 Patterns. Students identify similarities and differences in order to sort and classify natural objects and designed products. They identify patterns related to time, including simple rates of change and cycles, and to use these patterns to make predictions.
C7 Stability and Change. Students measure change in terms of differences over time, and observe that change may occur at different rates. Students learn some systems appear stable, but over long periods of time they will eventually change.
C1 Patterns. Students recognize that macroscopic patterns are related to the nature of microscopic and atomic-level structure. They identify patterns in rates of change and other numerical relationships that provide information about natural and human designed systems. They use patterns to identify cause and effect relationships, and use graphs and charts to identify patterns in data.
C3 Scale Proportion and Quantity. Students observe time, space, and energy phenomena at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small. They understand phenomena observed at one scale may not be observable at another scale, and the function of natural and designed systems may change with scale. They use proportional relationships (e.g., speed as the ratio of distance traveled to time taken) to gather information about the magnitude of properties and processes. They represent scientific relationships through the use of algebraic expressions and equations
C5 Energy and Matter. Students learn matter is conserved because atoms are conserved in physical and chemical processes. They also learn within a natural or designed system, the transfer of energy drives the motion and/or cycling of matter. Energy may take different forms (e.g. energy in fields, thermal energy, energy of motion). The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a designed or natural system.
C7 Stability and Change. Students explain stability and change in natural or designed systems by examining changes over time, and considering forces at different scales, including the atomic scale. Students learn changes in one part of a system might cause large changes in another part, systems in dynamic equilibrium are stable due to a balance of feedback mechanisms, and stability might be disturbed by either sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time
C1 Patterns. Students observe patterns in systems at different scales and cite patterns as empirical evidence for causality in supporting their explanations of phenomena. They recognize classifications or explanations used at one scale may not be useful or need revision using a different scale; thus requiring improved investigations and experiments. They use mathematical representations to identify certain patterns and analyze patterns of performance in order to re-engineer and improve a designed system.
C7 Stability and Change. Students understand much of science deals with constructing explanations of how things change and how they remain stable. They quantify and model changes in systems over very short or very long periods of time. They see some changes are irreversible, and negative feedback can stabilize a system, while positive feedback can destabilize it. They recognize systems can be designed for greater or lesser stability
ESS1.C The History of Planet Earth. Certain features on Earth can be used to order events that have occurred in a landscape.
ESS2.D Weather & Climate. Climate describes patterns of typical weather conditions over different scales and variations. Historical weather patterns can be analyzed so that they can make predictions about what kind of weather might happen next.
ESS3.B Natural Hazards. A variety of hazards result from natural processes; humans cannot eliminate hazards but can reduce their impacts.
ESS3.C Human Impact on Earth systems. Societal activities have had major effects on the land, ocean, atmosphere, and even outer space. Societal activities can also help protect Earth’s resources and environments.
ESS3.D Global Climate Change. If Earth’s global mean temperature continues to rise, the lives of humans and other organisms will be affected in many different ways.
ESS1.C The History of Planet Earth. Rock strata and the fossil record can be used as evidence to organize the relative occurrence of major historical events in Earth’s history.
ESS2.D Weather & Climate. Complex interactions determine local weather patterns and influence climate, including the role of the ocean.
ESS3.B Natural Hazards. Mapping the history of natural hazards in a region and understanding related geological forces can help forecast the locations and likelihoods of future events, such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and severe weather.
ESS3.C Human Impact on Earth systems. Human activities have altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging it, although changes to environments can have different impacts for different living things. Activities and technologies can be engineered to reduce people’s impacts on Earth.
ESS3.D Global Climate Change. Human activities affect global warming. Decisions to reduce the impact of global warming depend on understanding climate science, engineering capabilities, and social dynamics.
ESS1.C The History of Planet Earth. The rock record resulting from tectonic and other geoscience processes as well as objects from the solar system can provide evidence of Earth’s early history and the relative ages of major geologic formations.
ESS2.D Weather & Climate. The role of radiation from the sun and its interactions with the atmosphere, ocean, and land are the foundation for the global climate system. Global climate models are used to predict future changes, including changes influenced by human behavior and natural factors
ESS3.B Natural Hazards. Natural hazards and other geological events have shaped the course of human history at local, regional, and global scales. Human activities can contribute to the frequency and intensity of some natural hazards.
ESS3.C Human Impact on Earth systems. Sustainability of human societies and the biodiversity that supports them requires responsible management of natural resources, including the development of technologies that produce less pollution and waste and that preclude ecosystem degradation.
ESS3.D Global Climate Change. Global climate models used to predict changes continue to be improved, although discoveries about the global climate system are ongoing and continually needed.
The Earth gets warmer as CO2 increases in the atmosphere
The Earth doesn't warm uniformly, the oceans warm slower than the continents and arctic
Projections are based on a high emissions scenario
Projections for temperature according to RCP 2.6 W/m2 show the level of radiative forcing by greenhouse gas emissions peaking by mid-century then returning to 2.6 W/m2 by 2100
A large-scale, global and differentiated greenhouse gas mitigation strategy and new technologies would need to be widely employed very soon in order to attain this reality of the scenario depicted here