Climate Models: Images of the future

Prof. Dr Thomas Jung, head of the Climate Dynamics section, spokesperson of the research programme "Changing Earth - Sustaining our Future" and Vice Director of the Alfred Wegener Institute and Professor at the University of Bremen.

Climate modelling

Polar predictions

Everyone who wants to know how the weather of the Earth’s climate will develop in the future needs powerful weather or climate models. They are in fact our most important glance into the future and at the same time one of the most central tools of climate research. The better these models reproduce the natural processes in the climate system, the more accurate and reliable their simulations of the climate future will be. This applies to global climate models as well as to models that focus on specific regions of the world.

An increasing number of measurement data, advances in the understanding of climate physics and new powerful supercomputers have significantly advanced climate modelling at the AWI in the past decade. Our experts concentrate their work on two sub-areas. The first focuses on the methodological development of regional and global models. This means, for example, that our scientists increase the spatial resolution of their models so that they can also take small-scale physical processes into account with the help of the laws of nature. Or they incorporate additional climate components such as sea ice or vegetation into the models, thus increasing their complexity and predictive accuracy. The AWI global climate model is now so powerful that we were able to participate in the international model comparison for the 6th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the first time in the past three years. The results of these CMIP6 climate simulations have meanwhile been downloaded thousands of times from the corresponding database.

The second area is about the concrete application of the models for climate change predictions. Our key questions are: What possible changes will climate change bring for the polar regions, the mid-latitudes and the rest of the world? What changed physical processes are lying behind this and what do these changes mean for life on Earth? With the help of climate models, we are investigating, for example, how the retreat of Arctic sea ice will affect extreme weather events such as winter polar cold snaps in Central Europe. At the same time, we are researching what force currently experienced heat waves, droughts and heavy rainfall events would develop in a warmer world.

In this way, we draw pictures of the earth’s climate future in very different ways, which should help us humans to understand what is coming, what options for action we have as a society and what must be done to avert great harm to people and nature.