User-inspired research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory can advance discovery and innovation and serve society
“With respect to the climate, this is an uncertain time. This report covers a period during which the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration reached a milestone of 400 parts per million—a level exceeding both the 350 ppm posited as safe by many prominent climate scientists and above the worst case scenarios explored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide drives a warmer world and possibly weather extremes like this past year’s deadly destruction from Sandy, the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history, and Haiyan, one of the most intense tropical cyclones ever, which devastated parts of Southeast Asia. Despite positive developments in the U.S. federal government during this period—notably President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and Department of Energy Secretary Moniz’s focus on domestic climate and energy policy—much remains to be done.”
Tianyu Jiang, a postdoctoral researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Climate Change Science Institute, achieved 3rd place in the Chinese-American Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s “best dissertation” competition. Jiang, a member of CCSI’s Earth System Modeling Group, received the award February 5 in Atlanta during the 94th annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society.
Jiang said what gave him the upper hand in the competition was a summer spent as a part of ORNL’s Higher Education Research Experiences program, under the supervision of Kate Evans, leader of the ORNL Computational Earth Sciences Group and a member of CCSI. “My experience here was world class,” said Jiang. “I had the chance to use high-performance computers and collaborate with the entire team to do cutting-edge work.”
Left: Tianyu Jiang
On January 29 the National Council for Science and the Environment presented its Lifetime Achievement Award to Jack D. Fellows, director of the Climate Change Science Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, for his part in co-founding the U.S. Global Change Research Program in 1990. The USGCRP consolidates global change research across 13 Federal departments and agencies to advance research on climate change in the United States and use that knowledge to inform policy and the public.
As long as there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than in the surface waters of the ocean, the ocean “sucks” carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, acting as a carbon sink. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true—if there’s more carbon dioxide in the water than the air, then the ocean releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That’s why scientists at the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are interested in studying the distribution and origin of carbon dioxide in the ocean.
Left: The Australian research icebreaker Aurora Australis braves Antarctic waters in search of carbon and other oceanographic measurements. PACIFICA merges data from locations all over the Pacific, including the Pacific sector of Antarctic waters. Photo credit: Alex Kozyr
Earth system models—computer simulations that run models of specific climate scenarios—require an immense body of knowledge against which to “check the answers.” The sheer volume of data requires sophisticated methods for archiving and distribution, a need which the Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Data Archive program excels at meeting.
“Climate change is a very complex science, and to successfully conduct research, we need a long time series of observational data, which we can use to improve climate change models,” said Giri Palanisamy, senior information analyst for ARM and head of the Data Distribution, Dissemination, and Informatics group at the Climate Change Science Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
By understanding changes in the Earth’s past and present climate to improve projections about the future, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Climate Change Science Institute are helping local stakeholders better prepare for a future likely rife with unexpected, and unpleasant, climate surprises.
Specifically, Moetasim Ashfaq, an atmospheric physicist and computational climate scientist with the institute, is using a suite of regional and global climate models to determine how future temperatures and precipitation will change as a result of climate change and how those changes will impact society.
“Once we know how the temperature and precipitation change, then we can try to answer how this affects our everyday lives,” said Ashfaq.
Ashfaq is pairing the model suite with Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Titan supercomputer, America’s fastest for open science. Titan’s hybrid architecture, which employs state-of-the-art central processing units as well as energy-efficient graphics processing units, enables achievement of a head-turning 27 petaflops of peak computational power, the type of muscle necessary to tackle one of mankind’s greatest challenges.
Carbon dioxide is all the rage these days. When it comes to climate change, it’s the culprit du jour and the chemical compound most Americans associate with a warming planet.
Despite its immense notoriety, however, it isn’t the only actor on the climate stage. A supporting cast of varied chemical compounds including nitrous oxide and methane likewise play important roles in the Earth’s changing climate.
And one character in particular has thus far been largely overlooked.
Black carbon (BC) aerosol, the byproduct of the unresolved combustion of fossil fuels, biomass, and biofuels, is perhaps the second strongest anthropogenic climate change agent behind carbon dioxide. BC absorbs more solar radiation than it reflects, consequently heating up the atmosphere.
Climate simulations make for memorable images of shrinking ice sheets and tapering coastlines, but behind these visual representations of predicted climate change is a lot—a lot—of math.
Kate Evans, leader for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) Computational Earth Sciences Group and member of the Climate Change Science Institute, where she focuses on Earth systems modeling, prioritizes informing the research community and public about the challenges of developing global climate models. So when the opportunity arose in July 2013, Evans accepted an invitation to talk about strategies for developing more sophisticated models at the international Mathematics of Planet Earth Conference in Melbourne, Australia.
A team of researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL’s) Climate Change Science Institute (CCSI) led a nationally attended workshop to discuss priorities for the next generation of ecologists who investigate threats of global change and work across scientific fields to develop mitigation methods. The workshop was organized as part of the 98th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America, held in Minneapolis in August.
Patrick Worley of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has been named a Distinguished Member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society. He is one of 40 ACM members so recognized in 2013. Worley is affiliated with ORNL’s Climate Change Science Institute (CCSI) and with its Computer Science and Mathematics Division.
The ACM Distinguished Member program recognizes members with at least 15 years of professional experience who have made significant accomplishments or achieved a significant impact on the computing field. The program can recognize the top 10 percent of ACM’s worldwide membership, which currently exceeds 100,000.
ACM President Vinton G. Cerf lauded the distinguished members as “the problem solvers, prophets, and producers who are powering the future of the digital age.” He noted that these ACM members “are the driving force for enabling the computing community to change how we live and work.”
Above: Patrick Worley. Photo credit: Jason Richards