Toward a Regional Earth System Model

By CIRCulator Editorial Staff

Reprinted from: The Climate CIRCulator

NUMERICAL models of the climate system continue to evolve and improve, incorporating more and more elements that influence climate. Two important directions of improvement are finer spatial resolution (being able to drill down to smaller and smaller areas), and representations of that most unpredictable aspect of climate: human behavior.

These models are called “earth system models.” Besides accounting for climate variables (precipitation and temperature, for instance) they also account for human activity (agriculture, urbanization and economic behavior, to name a few). Two articles in the February 2015 issue of Climatic Change focused on regional earth system modeling with particular relevance for the Pacific Northwest.

In the first, Ian Kraucunas and colleagues at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory describe an effort called PRIMA (Platform for Regional Integrated Modeling and Analysis). Through PRIMA, the national lab is combining state-of-the-art models of regional climate, hydrology, agriculture, economics, and energy systems into a cohesive whole capable of modeling the complex ways humans are influencing climate and vice versa. The article describes how PRIMA was used to model the eastern United States. But that was just a sort of test drive. Kraucunas’ team hopes that PRIMA can be used to understand interactions between humans and climate at regional scales elsewhere.

The second article, led by Jennifer Adam of Washington State University (and includes CIRC’s Bart Nijssen at the University of Washington), covers an earth system modeling effort focusing specifically on the Pacific Northwest. Called BioEarth, the project’s idea is to create a highly complex, interactive model that is nonetheless responsive and flexible enough to work at the local and regional levels. BioEarth does this by combining models of sub-systems — such as land, air, water and economics — in flexible groupings that are problem-dependent and stakeholder-driven.

A series of stakeholder workshops led to recommendations about model components and a better understanding by the researchers of the questions they ask, their decision context and how they prioritize economic and environmental considerations.

Both PRIMA and BioEarth are just now getting underway. Results and reports on how the models are being used are expected in future publications.

Adam, J.C. et al. (2015) BioEarth: Envisioning and developing a new regional earth system model to inform natural and agricultural resource management, Climatic Change, 129, 3-4, 555-571. doi: 10.1007/s10584-014-1115-2

Kraucunas I, et al. (2015) Investigating the Nexus of Climate, Energy, Water, and Land at Decision-Relevant Scales: the Platform for Regional Integrated Modeling and Analysis (PRIMA). Climatic Change,129, Issue 3-4, 573-588. doi: 10.1007/s10584-014-1064-9