When you’re just getting started on simulating the weather, it’s good to start with an aqua-planet. That’s a planet like our Earth, but with no land!
Click on this picture to see an aqua-planet created by H. Miura:
Of course, it’s important to include land, because it has huge effects. Click on this to see what I mean:
This simulation is supposed to illustrate a Madden–Julian oscillation: the largest form of variability in the tropical atmosphere on time scales of 30-90 days! It’s a pulse that moves east across the Indian Ocean and Pacific ocean at 4-8 meters/second. It manifests itself as patches of anomalously high rainfall… but also patches of anomalously low rainfall. Strong Madden-Julian Oscillations are often, but not always, seen 6-12 months before an El Niño starts.
Wouldn’t it be cool if math majors could learn to do simulations like these? If not of the full-fledged Earth, at least of an aqua-planet?
Soon they will.
Climate science at Cal State Northridge
At the huge fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, I met Helen Steele Cox from the geography department at Cal State Northridge. She was standing in front of a poster describing their new Climate Science Program. They got a ‘NICE’ grant from NASA to develop new courses—where ‘NICE’ means NASA Innovations in Climate Education. This grant also helps them run a seminar every other week where they invite climate scientists and the like from JPL and other nearby places to talk about their work.
What really excited me about this program is that it includes courses designed to teach math majors—and others—the skills needed to go into climate science. Since I’m supposed to be developing the syllabus for an undergraduate ‘Mathematics of the Environment’ course, I’m eager to hear about such things.
She told me to talk to David Klein in the math department there. He used to work on general relativity, but now—like me—he’s gotten interested in climate issues. I emailed him, and he told me what’s going on.
They’ve taught this course twice:
• Phys 595 CL. Mathematics and Physics of Climate Change. Atmospheric dynamics and thermodynamics, radiation and radiative transfer, green-house effect, mathematics of remote sounding, introduction to atmospheric and climate modeling. Syllabus here.
They’ve just finished teaching this one:
• Math 396 CL. Introduction to Mathematical Climate Science. This course in applied mathematics will introduce students to applications of vector calculus and differential equations to the study of global climate. Fundamental equations governing atmospheric dynamics will be derived and solved for a variety of situations. Topics include: thermodynamics of the atmosphere, potential temperature, parcel concepts, hydrostatic balance, dynamics of air motion and wind flows, energy balance, an introduction to radiative transfer, and elementary mathematical climate models. Syllabus here.
In some ways, the most intriguing is the one they haven’t taught yet:
• Math 483 CL. Mathematical Modeling. Possible topics include fundamental principles of atmospheric radiation and convection, two dimensional models, varying parameters within models, numerical simulation of atmospheric fluid flow from both a theoretical and applied setting.
There’s no syllabus it yet, but they want to focus the course on four projects:
1. Modeling a Lorenz dynamical system, using the trajectories as analogies to weather and the attractor as an analogy to climate.
2. Modeling a land-sea breeze.
3. Creating a 2d model of an aqua-planet: that is, one with no land.
4. Doing some projects with EdGCM, a proprietary ‘educational general climate model’.
It would be great to take student-made software and add it to the Azimuth Code Project. If they were well-documented, future generations of students could go ahead and improve on them. And an open-source GCM would be a wonderful thing.
As more and more schools teach climate science—not just to Earth scientists, but also to math and computer science students—this sort of ‘open-source climate modeling software’ should become more and more common.
Do you know other schools that are teaching climate modeling in the math department?
Do you know of efforts to formalize the sharing of open-source climate software for educational purposes?