Static Climate Models In A Virtually Unknown Dynamic Atmosphere

by Dr. Tim Ball on July 13, 2012

in Atmosphere,Data,History,Land,Oceans,Theory

Knowledge about the atmosphere and lack of data are serious limitations on understanding climate change and building climate models. The atmosphere is three-dimensional so to build a computer model that even approximates reality requires far more data than exists and much greater understanding of an extremely turbulent and complex system.

The history of understanding the atmosphere leaps from Aristotle who knew there were three distinct climate zones, and about wind patterns and how they changed seasonally to the 18th century.

In 1735 George Hadley used the wind patterns recorded by English sailing ships to create the first 3D diagram of circulation. It was restricted to the tropics and became known as the Hadley Cell. Sadly, we know little more than Hadley. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) illustrates the point in Chapter 8 of the 2007 Report.

The spatial resolution of the coupled ocean-atmosphere models used in the IPCC assessment is generally not high enough to resolve tropical cyclones, and especially to simulate their intensity.

The problem for climate science and modelers is the Earth rotates. It’s rotation around the sun creates the seasons, but the rotation around the axes creates even bigger problems. Because of it a simple single cell system () with heated air rising at the Equator moving to the Poles, sinking and returning to the Equator, is broken up.

Figure 1

In the 1850s William Ferrell attempted to improve understanding and proposed a three cell system that still appears in most textbooks. This model shown in Figure 2 was convenient for teaching but didn”t work when research, like tracking nuclear fallout from atmospheric explosions, began.

Figure 2

Figure 2 is inaccurate for a variety of reasons, but especially the difference in height of the cells. is a slightly better representation. Few people know the Tropopause, the boundary between the Troposphere and the Stratosphere, is twice as high at the Equator as at the Poles.

Figure 3

Tropopause height at the Poles varies between 7 km in winter and 10 km in summer, at the Equator the range is 17 to 18 km. The difference in seasonal range is because of the difference in seasonal temperature range. How do you build even those simple dynamics into a computer model?

The Ferrell Cell was created to fill a gap but it doesn’t exist year round. Seasonally the cold air of the Polar Cell is more dense and pushes warm air out of the way. In Figure 3 the boundary between Polar and Ferrell Cells is at 55°N, an average position. The range is from 35° N in winter to 65°N in summer.

Figure 4 shows a more recent attempt to approximate what is going on.

Figure 4

Now it is the “Indirect Ferrell Cell”, but the most important part is the discontinuity in the Tropopause and the “Stratospheric – Tropospheric Mixing”. This is important because the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) don’t even include the critical connection between the stratosphere and a major mechanism in the upper Troposphere in their models;

Due to the computational cost associated with the requirement of a well-resolved stratosphere, the models employed for the current assessment do not generally include the QBO.

What are “the computational costs associated with the requirement of a well-resolved stratosphere”? This means they don’t know what is going on, but that’s true for most of the troposphere.
Climate models are mathematical constructs that divide the atmosphere into cubes shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5

It doesn’t matter how many cubes you create for finer resolution because the data is simply not available, especially above the surface. Now consider the dynamics required for seasonal, annual, decadal and millennial changes and you realize the computer models are incapable of even approximating reality. But the problems don’t end there.
The diagrams are cross-sections of average conditions, but they don’t show the complex dynamics. Figure 5 indicates the three-dimensional component,. How do you create a model that accommodates years with various combinations of zonal flow or meridional flow? (Figure 6)

Figure 6

None of the work of the IPCC bears investigation. They’re certain about what has and will happen based on computer models that claim to replicate the atmosphere. This is a serious and unjustifiable claim, but it is the basis of government policies on energy, environment, and economies.