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Unclouding our view of future climate

21 May 2014

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A NASA-led study may help narrow the range of climate models' global temperatures forecasts. It finds models that best match today's satellite records.

If we had a second Earth, we could experiment with its atmosphere to see how increased levels of greenhouse gases would change it, without the risks that come with performing such an experiment. Since we don't, scientists use global climate models.

In the virtual Earths of the models, interlocking mathematical equations take the place of our planet's atmosphere, water, land and ice. Supercomputers do the math that keeps these virtual worlds turning -- as many as 100 billion calculations for one modelled year in a typical experiment. Groups that project the future of our planet use input from about 30 such climate models, run by governments and organisations worldwide.

When these models calculate the potential climate impacts of the real-life experiment we are conducting by emitting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, they all agree that Earth will be warmer 50 years from now. They don't agree on how much warmer.

Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Image credit: CNES - Artist's concept of CALIPSO

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