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A Climate-Modeling Strategy That Won’t Hurt the Climate – NYTimes.com

2015-06-02

Dr. Palmer said the case for the required investment should be self-evident.

“It’s a trivial amount of money when you think of climate impact being in the trillions of dollars,” he said. “It’s actually an existential question. If it’s at one end of the spectrum, we can adjust, but if it’s at the other end of the spectrum, we’re not going to come out of it unless we cut emissions in the next decade.”

via A Climate-Modeling Strategy That Won’t Hurt the Climate – NYTimes.com.

This article appeared in the May 11, 2015 online version of the New York Times (NYT) and the quote is from the very end of the article.   The primary thrust of the article from its first paragraph was that new computing techniques will be needed to solve the problems of climatology– specifically the scientific question of how quickly global warming will occur and, in general, what is likely to be the trend of the climate over the next hundred years.  The new computing techniques will be required because a sufficiently fine-grained model of the earth for climatological purposes– say one kilometer on a side as the pixel size– would require 200 million cells to be computed per cycle, suggesting a 30 megawatt power consumption by the computer used to run the simulations.  Large numbers, to be sure, and calculating the climate may be very expensive and will generate a lot of heat!

Therefore, the innovators of the Times article discuss using an inexact computing model to allow for approximate results that would give good enough conclusions with much less power required.  One can imagine the analogy of using a slide rule to get results to two or three significant digits– approximate but close enough to point to a correct conclusion.  The mechanisms of an inexact computation are discussed, and its theoretical advantages pressed, in this article, convincingly I think.

The final quotation refers to something very important that really has not been addressed– the inexact nature of our ability to predict what will happen over the next hundred years.  The climate change may be mild enough, in the best case, for us to adapt to easily– or, in the worst case, the change may be so severe as to threaten the survival of the human species.  We don’t really have an exact answer to the question that says: how bad is it going to be?

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