Most Read: Local

Posted at 12:18 PM ET, 05/17/2012

Viewpoint: pitting climate change research against weather research is unproductive

(UPDATE: Cliff Mass has responded to this post with a lengthy response in the comment area below. Short excerpt: “Life is about priorities and our field has decided to prioritize climate simulation over weather forecasting. . . . we do not provide state-of-the-art [weather] prediction to the nation. A new balance is required.)

Yesterday, I discussed a blog post from University of Washington’s Cliff Mass which argued computer resources for models of climate change are unjustifiably far greater than for weather forecasting.

But some feel what Mass, a professor of meteorology, wrote may not be helpful in advancing atmospheric science goals and could create unnecessary conflict in the community.


Marshall Shepherd
Marshall Shepherd, president-elect of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and director of the atmospheric science program at University of Georgia, sent me the following comment on the overall debate:

This is an interesting discussion, but there are levels of complexity that must not be ignored. This argument should not serve as a wedge to further create divisions within the weather-climate community.

I think most in our community are sensitive to the issues at hand and can have frank discussion. I am particularly concerned about how external communities will view this and perhaps misuse it.

Further, I think the National Weather Service has demonstrated advances with the ongoing Doppler Radar upgrade to dual-polarization, next generation satellites like GOES-R, NPP, and NPOESS, and the WeatherReady Nation program, all of which get at some of the same weather threats that Cliff mentions. NOAA spreads investments in many critical areas that save lives and protect property.

Having said this, I think more computing capacity is always good for our weather modeling enterprise, but I frown upon the notion of a perceived “have and have nots’ argument when I look at the entire portfolio...

I would mention that AMS has a statement from 2009 that somewhat speaks to this: On the Infrastructure Supporting Weather, Water, Environmental, and Climate Sciences, Services, and Assessments

[Marshall noted viewpoints are his own and do not represent the AMS]


Heidi Cullen, chief climatologist for Climate Central, said she agreed with Shepherd’s perspective.

“During tough budgetary times, it’s more important than ever that the weather and climate community stand together and build a case for the important work being done across both short and longer-term timescales,” she said.

Several other Capital Weather Gang readers/contributors expressed views supporting Shepherd.

Dadmeister wrote:

Why do so many assume it has to be a zero-sum game? Do you assume cuts in funding for computing for seasonal forecast models and climate models would automatically be transferred to computing for weather prediction models?

In the early 1980s we saw a major improvement in numerical weather prediction when physics parameterizations developed in climate models were introduced into weather models.

Andrew Freedman added:

I guess overall this whole discussion makes me squirm. I think we can all agree that we need to have a healthy weather and climate enterprise in which advances are made at all timescales. Arguing that one component is worth more than another is rather pointless, in my view.

The sad part is that due to budgetary realities here and abroad, the entire spectrum of forecasting may suffer in the next several years.

A reader identified as “thefactor” contended Mass didn’t fairly characterize the computing resource landscape:

...his blog is misleading. First, he compares current NWS technology with new technology at other centers - indeed, the NWS recently signed a $502M contract with IBM for upgrades thru 2021, starting with a system later this year which will increase NWS computing power 10-fold. Second, despite what he says in his blog (hey, it is a blog!), his examples from other centers DO NOT devote their entire resource to climate. For example, DOE devotes less than 15% to climate, and NCAR allocates less than 40% of their compute power to climate. Plus, he fails to acknowledge the supercomputers at DOD centers devoted to weather prediction (yes, the military is much more interested in weather than climate!).

Thus, NWS is not as bad off as he states. And the other centers are not as climate-centric as he leads the reader to believe.

Some readers found merit in Mass’ arguments, however. CWG contributor Steve Tracton - who spent 30 years working on numerical weather prediction issues, for example, wrote (excerpts from several comments):

I could not agree more with Cliff. Along with the excessive expense on satellites, computer resources within NOAA for climate models is a big drain on those necessary for accelerating improvements in short term weather forecast models...

.... Put it this way: again, it’s a zero sum game, so whatever $$ go to climate change research/modeling is not available for shorter term weather model development, just as is the case for reduced budgets for the latter because of excessive spending on satellites (see my earlier post).

...Why sacrifice almost certain gains in shorter term weather prediction systems that demonstrably will save life and property in the very near term future.

My position on this remains that - particularly in a budget-challenged environment - leaders in atmospheric science (such as at NOAA) need to critically look across areas of research and identify where strategic investments will bear the most fruit.

By  |  12:18 PM ET, 05/17/2012

Categories:  Latest, Climate Change, Government, Science

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company