Scientists have become pretty good at predicting the weather, at least up to 10 days in the future. But making accurate, longer-term predictions about how climate is changing remains challenging. The ability to predict climate change is important because it can help guide decisions about insurance coverage in fire- or flood-prone areas; it can also help architects design safer and more comfortable buildings for occupants in a warmer future.
Our ability to model climate change has been hampered by the enormous amount of computing power required to simulate all facets of climate, says Tapio Schneider, the Theodore Y. Wu Professor of Environmental Science and Engineering and a senior research scientist at JPL, which Caltech manages for NASA. To make a global climate model accurate, it needs to capture small-scale processes, such as those controlling droplet formation in clouds, over the entire planet. Simulating this huge range of relevant processes is currently impossible. [Caltech news]