Scientists have completed building the UK’s first Earth System Model, UKESM1, which will help predict future climate change.

The complex computer model has been developed by researchers from the Met Office and the Natural Environmental Research Council’s institutes, including the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

Traditionally, such models have focused on a combination of atmosphere, land, ice and ocean components, but UKESM1 integrates multiple additional environmental factors, including atmospheric chemistry and aerosols, how people are using the land and the limitation on plant growth due to nutrient deficits.

By providing a representation of the planet that draws on all these factors, it will transform the UK’s capacity for predicting future environmental change, such as the impacts of atmospheric gases and aerosols on climate change. These long-term projections will inform government policies worldwide through initiatives such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

UKESM1 consists of mathematical equations that represent diverse process from wind and rain to key biogeochemical, chemistry, aerosol and vegetation processes.

The model has been used to run simulations of the past climate, dating from 1850 to present day, and possible future climates based on different economic choices. The results are being shared via a worldwide network, where scientists from different countries can compare and analyse the outcomes with their own global climate models. UKESM1 has now been released to the wider UK scientific community for the basis of experiments for the next six-10 years.

Dr Richard Ellis, a modeller at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who is involved in the project, says: “UKESM1 gives us an idea of what the Earth’s climate could be like up over the next few decades, up to the year 2100.

“Very few previous climate models have incorporated a lot of natural processes that have an impact on climate - such as trees emitting chemicals into the atmosphere and the impact of human use of the land surface.”

Dr Ellis explains UKESM1 is the first version and that the model would be improved and updated. Other countries are working on their own Earth System Models, with the results of them being compared and incorporated into the international Climate Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP).

Researchers looking for information on how to access and configure UKESM1 can visit http://cms.ncas.ac.uk/wiki/UM/Configurations#UKESM1


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