Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Key New Ingredient in Climate Model Refines Global Predictions

13.10.2009
For the first time, climate scientists from across the country have successfully incorporated the nitrogen cycle into global simulations for climate change, questioning previous assumptions regarding carbon feedback and potentially helping to refine model forecasts about global warming.

The results of the experiment at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory and at the National Center for Atmospheric Research are published in the current issue of Biogeosciences. They illustrate the complexity of climate modeling by demonstrating how natural processes still have a strong effect on the carbon cycle and climate simulations.

In this case, scientists found that the rate of climate change over the next century could be higher than previously anticipated when the requirement of plant nutrients are included in the climate model.

ORNL’s Peter Thornton, lead author of the paper, describes the inclusion of these processes as a necessary step to improve the accuracy of climate change assessments.

“We’ve shown that if all of the global modeling groups were to include some kind of nutrient dynamics, the range of model predictions would shrink because of the constraining effects of the carbon nutrient limitations, even though it’s a more complex model.”

To date, climate models ignored the nutrient requirements for new vegetation growth, assuming that all plants on earth had access to as much “plant food” as they needed. But by taking the natural demand for nutrients into account, the authors have shown that the stimulation of plant growth over the coming century may be two to three times smaller than previously predicted. Since less growth implies less CO2 absorbed by vegetation, the CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are expected to increase.

However, this reduction in growth is partially offset by another effect on the nitrogen cycle: an increase in the availability of nutrients resulting from an accelerated rate of decomposition – the rotting of dead plants and other organic matter – that occurs with a rise in temperature.

Combining these two effects, the authors discovered that the increased availability of nutrients from more rapid decomposition did not counterbalance the reduced level of plant growth calculated by natural nutrient limitations; therefore less new growth and higher atmospheric CO¬2 concentrations are expected.

The study’s author list, which consists of scientists from eight different institutions around the U.S. including ORNL, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Earth System Research Laboratory, and several research universities, exemplifies the broad expertise required to engage in the multidisciplinary field that is global climate modeling.

“In order to do these experiments in the climate system model, expertise is needed in the nitrogen cycle, but there is also a need for climate modeling expertise, the ocean has to be involved properly, the atmospheric chemistry . . . and then there are a lot of observations that have been used to parameterize the model,” said Thornton, who works in ORNL’s Environmental Sciences Division.

“The biggest challenge has been bridging this multidisciplinary gap and demonstrating to the very broad range of climate scientists who range everywhere from cloud dynamicists to deep ocean circulation specialists that [incorporating the nitrogen cycle] is a worthwhile and useful approach.”

The ability to handle the increase in complexities of these models was facilitated by the capabilities of ORNL’s Leadership Computing Facility, which currently houses the world’s fastest supercomputer for civilian research. Jim Hack, director of the National Center for Computational Sciences, emphasizes that Thornton and his team were not limited by computational resources in the construction of his model. “It’s one of the laboratory competencies, so we want to make sure we enable leadership science,” he said.

This breakthrough is one more step toward a more realistic prediction for the future of the earth’s climate. Nevertheless, potentially significant processes and dynamics are still missing from the simulations. Thornton also stresses the importance of long-term observation so scientists can better understand and model these processes.

A 15-year study of the role nitrogen plays in plant nutrition at Harvard Forest was an important observational source used to test their mathematical representation of the nitrogen cycle--a long experiment by any standards, but still an experiment that, according to Thornton, could improve the accuracy of the simulation if conducted even longer.

Other shortcomings of climate simulations include the disregard of changing vegetation patterns due to human land use and potential shifts in types of vegetation that might occur under a changing climate, although both topics are the focus of ongoing studies.

The research was funded by the DOE Office of Science. Additional resources were contributed by NASA Earth Science Enterprise, Terrestrial Ecology Program; National Center for Atmospheric Research through the NCAR Community Climate System Modeling program and the NCAR Biogeosciences program.

UT-Battelle manages Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the Department of Energy.

Ron Walli | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.ornl.gov

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past
28.04.2017 | National Science Foundation

nachricht Citizen science campaign to aid disaster response
28.04.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>