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A UK Modeler's Personal Perspective on the Status of Climate Modeling
Reference
Williams, P.D. 2005. Modelling climate change: the role of unresolved processes. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 363: 2931-2946.

What was done
Dr. Paul D. Williams of the University of Reading's Centre for Global Atmospheric Modelling presents "a personal perspective of the current state of knowledge regarding the problem of unresolved scales in climate models."

What was learned
Williams begins his review by noting that "the major difficulty of climate modeling stems from the coexistence of climatological phenomena on a vast range of scales," some of which are simply too small to be adequately modeled at the present time. Among the latter "important unresolved features," as he describes them, are "ocean eddies, gravity waves, atmospheric convection, clouds and small-scale turbulence, all of which are known to be key aspects of the climate system." Furthermore, he forthrightly states that "the full spectrum of spatial and temporal scales exhibited by the climate system will not be resolvable by models for decades [our italics], if ever [our bold]." Nevertheless, Williams encourages climate modelers to not be "dismayed by the enormity of the challenge facing them," and he suggests - somewhat incongruently, we feel - that "stochastic techniques offer an immediate, convenient and computationally cheap solution." However, he acknowledges in his very next sentence that "much is still unknown about the potential of stochastic physics to improve climate models."

What it means
Faced with the potentially unsolvable problem of improving climate models, for which the most promising solution has an unknown potential for success, it is strange indeed that the present-day outputs of these vastly imperfect tools are considered by some to be so sound as to justify a complete restructuring of the way the world produces and uses energy. Have such folks all gone mad???

Reviewed 17 May 2006