Crunching The Numbers Of Climate Change

From short-term weather forecasts to decades-long climate simulations, supercomputers are giving scientists a peek into our planet’s future.

AsianScientist (Apr. 6, 2021) – When much of the world began to implement lockdowns in March last year, shops shuttered, people stayed home and roads were emptied of traffic. Cities from Bangkok to Delhi collectively inhaled fresher air and basked under bluer skies.

While you’d assume near-universal stay-at-home orders would significantly cut carbon emissions—especially those from transport—think again. Though emissions had declined an unprecedented 17 percent by April, scientists note that this marked change is likely only temporary. After all, even as economic activity virtually ground to a halt, greenhouse gases continued to be emitted by everything from household appliances to factories.

Individual behavioral change—whether it’s commuting less or recycling more—will only have a small impact without a broader revamp of our energy system and industries. But how do we even quantify the environmental impacts of industrial activity? Or visualize the world as it warms so that we can better deal with it?

To find out, scientists have been collecting data ‘snapshots’ of our climate, measuring everything from temperature to air pressure and sea levels. Hidden within this deluge of data is a latent prophecy of a world decades from now—a future we can unlock with the help of powerful supercomputers that can rapidly process large amounts of data.

Whether they are trying to predict the weather in sunny Singapore or understanding planetary trends, climate researchers need supercomputers to help them understand the sheer scale and complexity of this place we call home.

Sheryl Lee covers science, business and culture, with a focus on Asia. She reports on topics ranging from climate change and cities to AI and health.

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